Space Needle and basketball hoop

For a little while, it looked like Seattle might be on the sidelines for the most significant sports protest in decades. Early Wednesday afternoon, the Milwaukee Bucks refused to take the court for Game 5 of the team’s playoff series against the Orlando Magic. Though the team had been competing inside the NBA’s Florida “bubble,” its players couldn’t ignore the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

“We’ve seen the horrendous video of Jacob Blake being shot in the back seven times by a police officer in Kenosha, and the additional shooting of protestors,” the team said in a statement, also alluding to the killings of two people at demonstrations (a white teenager was charged with first-degree intentional homicide afterwards). “Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball.”

The NBA soon postponed all of the day’s action, as did the WNBA. Neither league featured a Seattle team in action. The Storm had a day off, and our NBA squad…well, you know.

But Seattle athletes would eventually make headlines on a historic day. While other baseball clubs suited up for their contests, the Mariners voted unanimously against playing their Wednesday night game in San Diego. “There are serious issues in this country. For me, and for many of my teammates, the injustices, violence, death and systemic racism is deeply personal. This is impacting not only my community, but very directly my family and friends,” tweeted Dee Gordon, one of the team’s many Black players. He added, "Instead of watching us, we hope people will focus on the things more important than sports that are happening.”

The Sounders and LA Galaxy also called off their match. “Sometimes as a professional athlete you live in some kind of a bubble, but we wanted to show everybody that, listen, we see what happens around us and those are things that can affect us too,” Sounders defender Kelvin Leerdam said.

Teams released statements backing their players. The Mariners’ and Sounders’ evoked the broader messages that many organizations offered after the police killing of George Floyd. “We are resolved and committed as an organization to use our platform in furtherance of change—real systemic change—to make our community a more just place to live for everyone,” the Sounders said.

Conversely, the Storm, who have honored the memory of Breonna Taylor as they’ve dominated the WNBA this season, provided information to act on. The franchise posted the phone numbers  and email addresses of Kenosha’s district attorney and mayor and city administrator, as well as the Wisconsin Department of Justice, in an effort to spur accountability for yet another instance of police brutality. Specifics, not sweeping statements.

As of this writing, nobody knows exactly when the NBA or any other league will resume a full slate of games. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll didn’t deny that his players could sit out this fall, calling it “the season of protest.”

But it’s clear that many players do not want their games, their entertainment, to distract from the latest episode of injustice in America.