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In our opinion: Using your influence for good doesn’t make you ‘rich and spoiled’

Milwaukee Bucks players elevated themselves far above the unfair stereotypes

Referees huddle on an empty court at game time of a scheduled game between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Orlando Magic for Game 5 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Associated Press

The decision by NBA players to boycott playoff games Wednesday was a positive step in the fight for racial justice.

When members of the Milwaukee Bucks chose to spend their game time calling Wisconsin’s lieutenant governor and attorney general and discussing what they could do to bring about change, they elevated themselves far above the unfair stereotypes of rich, spoiled athletes. They chose to use their considerable power and influence in American culture to work within the system to effect meaningful and permanent change.

That’s what adults searching for solutions do.

The NBA in recent days may have provided the most powerful and iconic moments in 2020’s struggle against racism. L.A. Clippers’ Coach Doc Rivers’ emotion-filled words — “We keep loving this country and this country doesn’t love us back” — cut through much of the politically tinged rhetoric of the day.

Former player Robert Horry’s tearful description of how “It’s hard to tell your 14-year-old son that I worry about him when he walks out that door,” spoke volumes. LeBron James’ comment that, “People get tired of hearing me say it, but we are scared as Black people in America,” was hard to ignore.

Yes, everyone involved in the officer-involved shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, deserves a fair hearing. No, all the facts are not yet publicly known. But the evidence on a widely disseminated video — images of an unarmed Black man being shot seven times in the back as he tried to enter a vehicle — demands an explanation. Why did officers not choose other alternatives for subduing him? Would a white suspect have been treated similarly?

More importantly, what can the nation’s influencers — its lawmakers, business leaders and clergy — do to avoid similar scenes in the future?

The Utah Jazz owner Gail Miller added to the positive dialog with a statement that said, “Our family and organization remain fully committed to and focused on building a country that is equitable, just and safe. We also echo Jacob Blake’s mother’s plea to ‘use our hearts, our love and our intelligence to work together to show the rest of the world how humans are supposed to treat each other.’”

Working together is key. Recognizing a common humanity is vital. But real change can come only within the bounds of the nation’s system of governance.

Wisconsin’s governor, Tony Evers, has called a special session of the Legislature in hopes of passing nine bills that are proposed as police reforms. Lawmakers so far have been reluctant to take any action.

Politics can be frustrating. A representative government represents all viewpoints, which sometimes leads to inaction, rather than meaningful compromise. But powerful outside influences can nudge things along.

“We are calling for justice for Jacob Blake and demand the officers be held accountable,” Milwaukee guard and former Utah Jazz player George Hill said in a statement Wednesday. “For this to occur, it is imperative for the Wisconsin State Legislature to reconvene after months of inaction and take up meaningful measures to address issues of police accountability, brutality and criminal justice reform.”

Despite all the criticisms of how much they get paid, professional athletes wield a great deal of influence. Americans love sports. Even in a year when a pandemic has forced cancellations and postponements, and when midsummer resumptions of play have garnered subdued TV ratings, the boycott of a playoff game was powerful.

Those games will resume again soon, according to reports Thursday. We hope, however, that the players’ resolve to use the political system for change doesn’t end.