Should Colleges and Universities join the Protests Sports Have Started?

Yesterday the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team decided to not play its playoff game in protest over the police shooting of Jacob Blake and the continuing pattern of racialized police violence. This protest quickly grew. First all of the NBA was cancelled yesterday. Then all WNBA games were cancelled, several baseball games, a major tennis tournament was shut down for a day, MLS soccer events were cancelled, and some NFL teams voted to cancel practice in solidarity. All of this took place after historic numbers of people marched for police accountability, an end to the racialized aggression perpetrated by the police, and undoing the era of mass incarceration which so disproportionately targets young black men.

Plainly, this is an historic moment and an important cause. The moment is ripe for action. But if this current wave of protests is restricted to sports, its impact will be limited. I ask us to consider whether we should support universities lending their voice to this moment by shutting down campus for a day. What are the important obstacles to doing so? What are the most important considerations against doing so? And who, if anyone, has the power to make such decisions? If we are persuaded such a move justified, how might we most effectively advocate for it? If we are persuaded such a move unwise or impossible, is there something colleges and universities might do short of shutting down campus to show support for this movement in a timely way?

4 Replies to “Should Colleges and Universities join the Protests Sports Have Started?

  1. I would have thought that the shutting down of sports is a recognition of the ultimate triviality of entertainment like this in the face of such injustice. “We’re just playing a stupid game,” say the players, “but many people do take it very seriously, and perhaps this will focus their attention on things that really matter on this day.” This seems a plausible strategy. But it also suggests a serious disanalogy with the case of universities, as they are not trivial forms of entertainment, but instead (allegedly) one of the most important sources of education and critical thinking that can (hopefully) contribute to generating citizens who will be better equipped to fight the injustices that occur. So that would suggest that they not only stay open, but perhaps meet on Saturday as well.

  2. That is one rationale for striking from playing a sport. But it doesn’t seem to me the only one or the most important one. I think the players are saying, in effect, we want to use our voice, social position, and influence to peacefully draw attention to serious injustice by disrupting daily life by temporarily striking from our role in society. One test of which is in fact animating the players is to wonder if they would welcome strikes being joined by Starbucks and Syracuse University. My guess is they would. I hope someone asks them this very question. If they would, then the rationale you offered on their behalf does not capture much that is motivating them.

  3. I should add, the reason I think this has started in the NBA is that, quite frankly, 1) the NBA players are 70 percent young black men—exactly the group that is so wildly disproportionately targeted by police and prosecutors—and 2) this group of majority young black men are the most visible, powerful, and influential group of predominantly black people in the country. I think they are feeling that power and a sense that no other group is as well positioned to speak up effectively and be heard than them. I don’t think the message is basketball is ultimately not important in these times. While true, I don’t think that is why they are doing what they are doing. Lots of stuff is not important in these times and those other groups are not going on strike. Further, during such times, I think cancelling classes and having a variety of teach in events on campus would be an excellent use of people’s time. Academia moves slowly and what students need to be thinking about now might not be baked into enough syllabi just yet. Further, I think the communicative act of solidarity and recognition of the importance of this moment would be well expressed by higher ed finding ways to powerfully signal support for this issue.

  4. Last thing: Some, but not all, of the statements from the sports figures who decided to participate in the strike totally fit with the rationale you offered on their behalf–a rationale that targets especially distracting, ultimately less important activities such as sports, rather than higher ed. One reason I don’t think such statements, which are not uncommon, provide the best interpretation of their actions, is that the NBA had already been purposely, and in my view effectively, been turned into a teaching moment for what is going wrong with policing in America. It was by design not a distraction from such issues, but rather put such issues in our face and educated us about them to a much, much greater extent than events such as the RNC.

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