Sports only serve as an escape from society if you’re white.
A long time ago, in 2020, this country was in the midst of what White America deemed a “racial awakening.” The fact that they called it that was all the proof anyone needed to realize that it was less of an awakening and more of an oxymoron. But yet, here we are, three years post that “awakening,” and everything is back to business as if Nancy Pelosi taking a knee in kente cloth and all those DEI workshops that were held at your job magically fixed hundreds of years of racism.
And if you don’t believe me, both of Sunday’s Game 7s were proof that the awakening was only a brief moment of pseudo-accountability that’s passed.
In The Bubble, when the NBA had “Black Lives Matter” on the floor, players had social justice slogans on their uniforms, and Adam Silver was allowing — think about that for a second — Black people to kneel because the police love shooting Black people, the NBA — and the WNBA — were prioritizing the humanity of their players. There was even a boycott of a playoff game, which caused the entire sports world to come to a halt, as players finally saw just how much power they have. But that was then, and this is now. Players aren’t getting asked how they feel about things outside of 94 feet after games as much. It’s as if basketball, or whatever sport they play, is all that should matter to them. Sideline reporters aren’t asking them about Roe v. Wade or if their loved ones are scared to go to the grocery store like they used to.
On Saturday, the latest evidence that hate and racism are learned behavior was on display when an 18-year-old white man — yes, a man, not a boy — put on his tactical gear and drove hours to a Black section of Buffalo, N.Y., to kill Black people with an assault weapon that had the word “nigger” written on it — 11 of the 13 people he shot were Black.
On Sunday, four teams played in two Game 7s. The Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics were up first, followed by the Phoenix Suns and the Dallas Mavericks. Three of the four head coaches are Black, along with the overwhelming majority of those teams’ rosters. However, in Boston — where one of the games was played — over 52 percent of the population is white, according to the latest census. And in Phoenix, where the Suns were the host, over 68 percent of the residents are white.
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What does this mean?
That a day after Black America was shaken to its core because we’ve now realized that a grocery store on “our side of town” has become the latest place where we can be killed just for existing, Black players from the Celtics, Bucks, Suns, and Mavericks had to play in a win-or-go-home game to advance to the conference finals, despite the feelings that all of us were experiencing. And yet, no one seemed to care or ask them about it. It was clear that basketball mattered, but not Black lives or the Black psyche so much.
Things intensified on Sunday when there was an initial report that a gunman had shown up at a Black church in Buffalo where the governor, state attorney general, and other local officials were in attendance. And while the facts of that incident were eventually made clear and rumors debunked, it was a triggering moment for many. Let’s not forget that Charlottesville happened twice. Or that Dylann Roof walked into a Black church just to shoot up a bible study. And despite how Republicans may want you to remember it, January 6th wasn’t “overblown.” Never forget that Kyle Rittenhouse is a free man.
So many times in just the last few years, there have been nerve-wracking incidents that have left Black America even more paranoid than we’ve always been. And while everybody else gets to move on, we’re still left with dealing with the trauma despite how it might not always show itself on the outside. So if you ever see us tense up while driving when we see police, or wonder why our sanctuaries have security, or why we tell each other to be careful when somebody is going out, even if it’s just to run an errand at the store, it’s because this is what we have to do to survive on a daily basis. We never get to fully exhale and let go.
And despite how well Jayson Tatum and Grant Williams played Sunday in Boston, or how Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie stepped up on the road in Phoenix, just know that they did despite what happened to people that look like them on Saturday. Because when you’re a Black athlete in America, competing at the highest level as a form of entertainment to the rest of the world, all the while knowing that the majority of the people that cheer for you don’t think your life matters, may be the hardest part of the game that you work at that a reporter will never ask about.