For months, there has been talk of an inevitability in light of George Floyd’s death at the hands of the Minneapolis police and the protests that followed. Thursday became reality: the New Orleans Pelicans and Utah Jazz, the first two teams to speak with the restart of the NBA season, knelt during the national anthem as a form of silent protest against racial inequality in this country. They were joined by their coaches and game officials.
Players wore shirts that read Black Lives Matter while Jon Batiste’s pre-recorded anthem played on Orlando’s video screens. The anthem did not include lyrics. The coaches wore social justice messages on their polo shirts.
Pelicans issued a statement following the anthem on their commitment to social justice.
“New Orleans pelicans uphold the ideals of free speech and the right to protest peacefully. Collectively with Utah Jazz, our organization joins the NBA in supporting our players and coaches. To promote significant changes related to social justice and to racial equality, New Orleans pelicans collaborated with our players, staff and coaches to create a Social Justice Leadership Alliance committed to promoting discussion, listening and learning and to take action to bring about changes positive in our community and in our country. “
No player knelt for the anthem in 2017 when the phenomenon was at its peak in the NFL. The NBA technically has a rule on its books that prohibits players from kneeling for the national anthem. Commissioner Adam Silver has confirmed that he will not apply this rule, however, due to the unique circumstances surrounding this game and moment of history. “I respect the unified act of peaceful protest of our social justice teams and, in these unique circumstances, I will not enforce our longstanding rule that requires us to remain standing while performing our national anthem,” he said. Silver, according to Yahoo Sports‘s Chris Haynes.
Players across the league have taken up the cause of the fight for social justice in the United States. The NBA has taken steps to help them do so, such as allowing them to wear approved social justice messages on the back of their shirts. But the fact remains, there were players who did not feel comfortable with the idea of returning to the field in light of the movement that has swept the nation. Playing, some claimed, would have distracted the movement. Even after the union has decided to restart the season, many of those players are struggling for greater diversity at the highest leadership levels in basketball.
These efforts are still in their early stages, but many of the players who eventually decided to end the season in Orlando did so with the idea that stage basketball would offer them the opportunity to spread awareness of these problems. The importance of the words “Black Lives Matter”, both in the field and on other warm-up shirts, helps these efforts. Even on your knees. Thursday’s actions will be just the beginning as players try to make the most of the platform they have in Orlando.