At the start of quarantine, the world was in an odd place. School closures, followed by stay-at-home orders, all ensued internationally throughout the months of March and April. “Six feet” became a common phrase, summer plans hindered, and most importantly, life for many became dull and uneventful without the existence of televised sports. I fell into the latter.
Fast forward to nearly a month, George Floyd is killed by a Minneapolis policeman. This sparks passionate anti-racism protests across the United States. Feuling these calls for action is the Black Lives Matter movement. Voicing to put an end to racially targeted violence and white supremacy.
Now as nations begin to reopen, the pandemic’s pace is quickening worldwide, and the Black Lives Matter movement is continuing to gain traction, we see how these factors all intertwine with the return of sports.
NASCAR & PGA Tour
The Professional Golfers Association Tour returned on June 11. NASCAR returned on May 17. Both including an abundance of testing and safety measures. Both had no spectators.
A point speaking against systemic racism, for both sports, had been set. Every morning of the PGA Tour officials dedicate the 8:46 am tee time to a minute of silence to “amplify the voices and efforts underway to end system issue of racial and social injustices impacting our country”. NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace raced a car with a Black Lives Matter paint scheme. The hood and rear bumper presenting a painting of a black and white hand clasped with the saying “compassion, love, understanding.”
“Listening and learning. Educating ourselves. So people will look up what this hashtag means. And hopefully, get a better understanding.” Says Wallace, the first Black driver in the Cup Series since 1971.
Soccer was one of the first major sports to return since the coronavirus crisis. German Bundesliga became the first league to return on May, 16. Followed by Spain’s La Liga on June 11 and English Premier Leauge on June 17. All returning as a continuation of the season before the coronavirus. Major League Soccer returned in North America as a new tournament cup-style competition on July 8.
All returning leagues had no fans and social distancing among the bench players was enforced.
Watching top-level footballers play with almost complete silence rather than the passionate roar of the crowd is an odd adjustment for many, but it’s still soccer.
“It’s strange and unfamiliar, it makes your heart bleed,” Borussia Dortmund’s sporting director Micheal Zorc said after the first game of the Bundesliga kicked off.
The Black Lives Matter movements’ solidarity proves to not only be within the United States as its global implications are seen with the restart of these various soccer leagues. Black Lives Matter support dominates the Premier League start, as all 20 teams wear “Black Lives Matter” on the backs of their shirts, replacing their names, for the first 12 matches. Even more powerful of an image, at the start of each match, following the first whistle, all players on the field simultaneously take a knee to send a clear message that the league stands as one in the fight against racism and inequality. This powerful sentiment doesn’t stop within England. Support for BLM is also seen within Germany’s Bundesliga.
The National Basketball Association is set to return on July 30. All games will be played at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando, Florida.
Similar to soccer, fans will not be allowed to attend any of the games and social distancing rules will be strict. A 113-page health-and-safety document details everything from proper ways to disinfect the basketballs used in individual workouts to the protocol set once teams arrive in Orlando.
Many players in the NBA have been vocal about the importance of racial equality and social justice being a central part of the NBA and WNBA’s return. The National Basketball Players Association is planning to paint “Black Lives Matter” on the court inside both sidelines of all three Orlando arenas. President of the NBA Player’s Union, Chris Paul, told ESPN that the league and union were collaborating to allow players to replace the names with personalized messages linked to social justice on the backs of their jersey’s.
With the new protocol concerning the coronavirus being implemented with the return of sports, it is proven that they are not looking the same way they did before the pandemic. Yes, they’re back but adjustments have been made to harmonize with the state of the world.
Similarly, the sports world’s involvement and connection to social change are just as significant. As a viewer and supporter of these powerful sports teams and leagues, I have their attention and respect. Not only for me but for millions of other individuals like me, these athletes are role models. The usage of this power that athletes and sports organizations have on society is meaningful and necessary.
Especially in these times of confusion and adversity. Now we are understanding that sports are more than just entertainment. Sports leagues, teams, and athletes have platforms with the power to invoke positive change and discussion. All things considered, I believe this is why something as simple as the replacement of an athlete’s name to the phrase “Black Lives Matter” onto their jerseys, speaks volumes. And can later pave the way for deeper underlying issues, for example, the lack of black coaching or directors in many sports leagues.
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Golf Channel. 2020. After Moment Of Silence, PGA Tour Knows It Can't Stay Silent On Race. Available at: https://www.golfchannel.com/news/after-moment-silence-pga-tour-knows-it-cant-stay-silent-race
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ESPN.com. 2020. Sources: NBA Plans 'Black Lives Matter' On Courts. [online] Available at: https://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/29384944/nba-plans-paint-black-lives-matter-courts-orland
Wbur.org. 2020. Athletes Take A Leading Role In Black Lives Matter Protests. Available at: https://www.wbur.org/onlyagame/2020/06/05/black-lives-matter-protests-ken-shropshire
Liew, J., 2020. Black Lives Matter Has Exposed Sport's Underlying Failure To Deal With Racism | Jonathan Liew. the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2020/jun/13/black-lives-matter-sports-underlying-failure-racism