The Bubble Pops

Lede – An NBA strike turned into a historic, multi-sport protest last Wednesday.

Context – The strike cum protest was in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, WI, the latest in a string of police shootings of unarmed African Americans.

  • Bucks statement:  “Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball.”

Who Cares? – Sports and Politics have historically been siloed from one another in the United States. In the past, exceptions to this rule were individual athletes like Tommie Smith, John Carlos, or Colin Kaepernick. 

  • A multi-team, multi-sport protest of this kind is utterly unprecedented and cannot help but draw attention back to the issue of racial injustice.

Rundown – Last Wednesday, in the Disney World “Bubble”, the Bucks decided not to take the floor against the Magic for Game 5. All three NBA games ended up postponed along with most American sports:

  • 5 of the six Major League Soccer (MLS) games were postponed
  • All 6 WNBA teams on the calendar Wednesday, joined the protest
  • The Brewers, Mariners, and Dodgers postponed their games, breaking a historic barrier to political activism in the MLB
  • Naomi Osaka withdrew from the Western & Southern Open, triggering the suspension of all its Thursday tennis matches

Aftermath – While today’s games have been postponed, the players and management have agreed to resume the postseason games in the Orlando Bubble. Most players have wrestled with what to do since George Floyd’s killing and the historic popping of the bubble last night means that we should expect more headlines at the intersection of sports and politics. Think Nike & Kaepernick or the Washington Redskins & their investors. 

The Goods – Police union contracts render many elected officials almost powerless. They can do little about the brutality except call for calm or shrink budgets. Additionally law enforcement PACs are quiet but influential donors to campaigns on both sides of the aisle, and have consistently pushed back on the types of contract changes being sought by protesters. 

  • Officers and their unions have spent $47.3 million at the federal level in recent cycles.
  • Police aligned groups donate most heavily to cash-starved down-ballot campaigns. They’ve pumped $87 million into sub-federal politics since 2000.
  • Local and Municipal governments are the ones who negotiate with police unions and determine how accountable any given officer will be.

The campaign finance connection is always smart to consider when looking at movement on a political issue and it’s no different here.

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