NBA Jersey Protests: Social Messages are Controversial, Truthful and Necessary

Basketball fanatic or not, it is easy to see the changes that have taken place during the 2020 NBA season. Across the board, literally, everything seems to have transformed to reflect both the global pandemic, and the racial pandemic that has threatened the lives of black and brown people. From the missing physical sea of screaming fans, to the required face masks, to the removed last names from a majority of the players’ jerseys that now bear simple yet powerful messages—there is much to talk about.

“‘How Many More,’ ‘Say Their Names,’ and ‘Power to the People,’ are just some of the phrases people can see on the backs of players who have been more than vocal about police brutality, racism, and social injustices. This form of protest and solidarity is a sight to behold, especially given the backlash that Colin Kapernick received after his controversial 2016 kneel during the national anthem at an NFL game. Even more shocking and bold is the large ‘BLACK LIVES MATTER’ printed on the court. It serves as the perfect slap in the face to any racists who may be tuning in, as the message gets more visibility on camera than some of the players’ faces.

The Black Lives Matter movement was birthed in July 2013, as a hashtag, after the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who murdered an innocent black teen, Trayvon Martin, in 2012. It was founded by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, and became nationally recognized after the senseless and unjust murders of Eric Garner and Michael Brown at the hands of police. Recent tragedies like the killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd have catapulted the advocacy movement into the stratosphere, in hopes that police reform will be made. Today, celebrities, renowned artists, political figures, and everyday people regularly use it on social media.

Though NBA commissioner, Adam Silver, gave the green light for all of these changes prior to the league resuming, and obviously supports the messages and what they stand for, there are always naysayers and individuals who would rather sports figures show up and play than get involved with social and political issues.

“THE NBA IS A JOKE!” says one YouTube user, in capitalized letters.

“This is censorship!” another user declares. “I’m done with the NFL, and it looks like the NBA is next.”

Even Charles Barkley has commented his respectful dissent with these social messages being displayed, but how can the players, some of whom have been victims of racial profiling and social injustices, turn a blind eye to such an ongoing and oppressing issue? Quite simply, they cannot.

Over 280 players decided to use their jerseys as platforms to speak out; however, there were a handful that continued to wear their surnames proudly. One of those 17 players was Los Angeles Lakers’ superstar, LeBron James. In a virtual interview, he said, “I don’t need to have something on the back of my jersey for people to understand my mission or know what I’m about and what I’m here to do.” In many other ways, LeBron has done a lot to promote and support the Black Lives Matter movement and black lives in general, and for the voiceless, that is more than enough.

One may ask, how long will the social messages be worn? But a better question that we ALL must ask ourselves, is how long will social injustices go on?

Olivia Shaw-Reel