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Sports World Takes A Stand Against Wisconsin Police Shooting Of Jacob Blake

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The sports world is taking a stand against the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin. First it was the Milwaukee Bucks boycotting their playoff game. Then the NBA postponed Game 5 of three different playoff series. Other teams and leagues have quickly followed. We're going to talk about all this with Jesse Washington of ESPN's The Undefeated. He is on the line with us. Hi, Jesse.

JESSE WASHINGTON: Good morning.

MARTIN: So this all happened fast, didn't it? Can you just walk us through yesterday? It was just a few hours.

WASHINGTON: Yes. As we were all preparing to settle in for another evening of NBA playoff basketball, the word started coming out of the locker room that the Milwaukee Bucks were not going to play. And at first, it was easy to be somewhat cynical that it would happen or how much it would mean. But it quickly snowballed and avalanched into one of the most profound displays of racial sports protests that we've seen in many years.

MARTIN: Can you tick them off? I mean, we had the WNBA, Major League Soccer, right?

WASHINGTON: Right. Well, first, the whole slate of NBA playoff games did not happen. And there's a lot at stake in these playoffs for these athletes - legacies, championships. There are several series - the Rockets and Oklahoma Thunder series is tied 2-2. And so for them not to play is really remarkable when you think about the competitiveness of these athletes and how important it is to win a championship for these people. That is what their whole existence is about. So off the bat, it showed that there is something bigger than sports, bigger than basketball, bigger than entertainment at stake here. Humanity is what's at stake.

And then it spread to baseball, which is not traditionally seen as a sport that is political or even interested in racial justice protests. Then there was the tennis player, Naomi Osaka, who refused to play in the semifinals of the Western & Southern Open. And this is a very powerful statement in a sport like tennis, which, as she noted, is predominantly white. And she said, before anything else, I am a Black woman. And I think that that really attests the humanity of these athletes that we look to for entertainment or as robots or inanimate sporting objects, but, really, they're not. They're people.

MARTIN: Right. There was also some reaction in broadcast, right? The "Inside The NBA" host, Kenny Smith, actually walked off set to show solidarity with the players. We've got a clip of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "INSIDE THE NBA")

KENNY SMITH: As a Black man, as a former player, I think it's best for me to support the players and just not be here tonight.

MARTIN: I mean, it is so interesting when I think about, you know, "The Last Dance" and Michael Jordan, right? Jesse, when Michael Jordan - talking about how he's been loath to wade into politics. It just wasn't what people did back then. What is happening now that is so different?

WASHINGTON: I think the players have woken up to their leverage and their power in this situation, and they are defying their owners. And to say their owners even puts in context the relationship has been subservient over all these years of organized sports. And now the players are finally realizing that we have the power to not do as we're ordered to do. We have the power to make change, to create change, to demand change and to really stand up for our humanity, to seek equity and justice. And it's a very powerful moment in American sports history.

MARTIN: Jesse Washington is a senior writer for ESPN's The Undefeated. Jesse, thank you for sharing your thoughts and your perspective this morning.

WASHINGTON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ELAQUENT'S "ALONE IN THE DARK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.