We are now three months removed from the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. Three months removed from protesters in downtown Minneapolis chasing police out of the local precinct, and burning it down. Three months removed from a moment that captured the world. People all around the globe, from Minneapolis to Phoenix, from Detroit to Tokyo, joined together to protest police violence. Not just Floyd’s killing, but all police violence, and how it has impacted their communities.
Something about these protests seemed to really click. Black Lives Matter finally became popular in public opinion. In maybe the weirdest example of virtue signaling and performative guilt imaginable, every corporation you can think of released some sort of statement condemning racism as an abstract concept.
This, obviously, led to a lot of backlash, and majority of it surprisingly justified. How does Nike, a brand that makes billions off of exploiting people working in disgusting sweatshop conditions, get off being our moral compass? How do companies like Northrop Grumman and Boeing—whose bombs rain over Black people across the world—try to take the moral high ground over us regarding the Black Lives Matter movement? Amazon is controlled by the richest man in the world who could singlehandedly boost the lives of millions of Black Americans; why are they pretending to have a sense of morality?
And that is where the Detroit Lions come in. They, like many others, released a statement endorsing the concept of good, condemning the concept of racism as bad, [after the death of George Floyd.
Like every other company on the planet, the Lions’ main motive is profit. Every action taken by ownership, executives, and other members of the front office is made with money in mind. It costs a mortgage payment to take your family to a football game at the moment, and that is because a bunch of economists figured out that is the most they can charge you before you literally cannot afford to go to games anymore. It costs over $100 for a jersey despite the production costing pennies (remember what I said about Nike).
Players and coaches are in an interesting spot, though. They are the most important part of the profit-making machine, and without them, there are no profits to be made at all. Despite the status they have in the organization, they actually do not have to worry about it much. Their salaries do not change either way, and their way of bringing in money is by playing and coaching well on the field. If they win games, the value of the franchise goes up. They don’t have to crunch numbers or anything, just win.
Freedom from that burden allows players to make decisions without profit in mind, and that is what we saw on Tuesday when the team cancelled practice in protest of police violence and to bring awareness to the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
It turned out that statements on social media and donations to “social justice causes” that never appear anywhere by corporations did not actually stop police violence. A few days ago in Kenosha, local police responded to a street altercation. When police arrived, Blake, an unarmed black man, captured their attention. He was tased and shot in the back seven times while walking into his car despite never showing a threat to the officers. Fortunately, Blake survived the incident, but the men who may have stolen his ability to walk still have not been arrested.
The Lions’ players and coaching staff elected to cancel practice Tuesday in solidarity with Blake and the other victims of police violence across the country. Players like Duron Harmon and Trey Flowers spoke on their personal experiences with the police, and why they, and so many other Americans, feel wary of any sort of relationships with the police.
This is an example of the Lions—not the organization, but the actual players and coaches that represent the team—truly using the platform they have been given to try and make an impact in society. As many have mentioned by now, many others would not be afforded this privilege to be able to sit out a day at work in protest with no real repercussions. They can, though, and they are using that privilege for something they truly believe in.
It also may have sparked something. The Milwaukee Bucks boycotted their potential close out playoff game against the Orlando Magic on Wednesday, leading to the other two games of the night being postponed as well. The Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics of the NBA have apparently discussed a potential boycott of Game 1 of their playoff series this week. A report from Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix tells that many NBA players now feel shattered by the shooting in Kenosha.
Personal observation: Players are visibly shattered the last 48 hours. Many believed coming down to Orlando, using the platform would inspire change. See what happened in Wisconsin — it’s made many wonder if it was worth it.— Chris Mannix (@SIChrisMannix) August 25, 2020
This all comes months after Brooklyn Nets point guard Kyrie Irving was largely disparaged for wanting players to potentially hold off on returning to the NBA, and instead sitting out to raise awareness to social causes.
Making a move like Irving recommended is a gigantic risk, though. Despite recent shifts in public opinion, someone like Colin Kaepernick is still out of the NFL after being blackballed for protesting less than four years ago. Hell, athletes who decide to take time off to avoid the deadly virus that has killed over 150,000 Americans are largely disparaged by media and fans alike; forget about social causes. But once someone takes that first step, it becomes easier for those around them to take that step with them.
In the grand scheme of things, what Detroit did on Tuesday will not change the world. Cancelling practice for one day is not going to solve police violence, it will not even get the officers who assaulted Blake arrested. But it can inspire other athletes who have similar platforms and similar privileges afforded to them to make bold moves in support of Blake as well.
Virtue signaling, releasing statements, turning a social media avatar to a black dot, that does not do anything or help anyone. Cancelling practice, cancelling games, and making other similar actions that disrupt your day-to-day lives and remind everyone that what is happening is not normal, that is a step to actually fighting racism and police violence.