I’ve been thinking a lot lately about leadership. Through these insane times in which we’re living, we’ve seen examples of the good and the bad. Of the compassionate standing up for what is right as well as the petulant children kicking and screaming when they don’t get their way.
The former could be a handful of athletes from any sport. It could be the Hockey Diversity Alliance. But across the board?
Basketball through and through
The NBA and WNBA players, coaches, and administrations have taken a measured, pragmatic approach to their seasons. They have dedicated their seasons to social justice and have taken the spread of the pandemic extremely seriously. A sport that leads with compassion? Wild concept.
In a time when MLB players were saying “Tell us where and when!”, yet haggled over money, coalitions of basketball elite were sitting down with their league offices. Their focus? A safe space to play the game and to let their voices be heard.
And this isn’t new. Remember the phrase “shut up and dribble“? They’ve been up against sociopolitical issues before and have never shied away from standing for what they believe in.
And now? We’re staring straight into the face of two separate pandemics. One is COVID-19, and the other is racism.
So what have they done?
We’ve talked at length at The Turf about bubbles and how they’re working. Basketball led the way with the idea. The players coming to the table as equals with the leagues. While dedicating their seasons to social justice, Black Lives Matter was painted on every court.
In the NBA, players solidified a list of terms and phrases they could put on the back of their jerseys. “Black Lives Matter”, “Equality”, and “Love Us” to name a few. And if you’re a white player, I think it says a lot more about you if you put Black Lives Matter on your back than Education Reform, regardless of how legitimate that phrase is.
LeBron James, among many others, has spoken in press conferences about racial injustice, demanding the officers who murdered Breonna Taylor to be arrested and convicted. Before the bubble, Jaylen Brown drove from Boston to his hometown Atlanta to march with peaceful protesters demanding justice.
WNBA’s Atlanta Dream owner, and disgraceful US Senator, Kelly Loeffler spoke out against the movement. She was met with a flurry of protest from the league and her team’s own players. The league basically told her to shut up and buzz off, while the Dream players have not so subtly asked for someone to buy her out.
It’s not just about the game
Do the players want to be on the court? Yeah, absolutely. It’s their job. Money hits their bank accounts when they hit the court. But it’s not just about the game for them.
Taking the court, and having the ability to play, floods you with pro-equality messaging. Whether it be on the courts or their jerseys. Press conferences have a dual purpose and allow players to stand together behind the same message.
They have proven their leadership by showing that going into a bubble works. They needed to go away from their families, live in hotels for an extended period of time, and test regularly. No positive tests have happened within the bubbles, and seasons are underway. The WNBA at the start of theirs, and the NBA powering into one of the more exciting playoffs in recent memory. Well, at least for me.
From the beginning, they’ve done it right. Clear messaging, responsible guidelines and competitive play have led the way.
These are the people I want as role models for the youth of America today. Sure, the NHL has done an admirable job as well, and that can’t be discounted. But the rest of the sports in this country? They could learn a thing or two.
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