Professional basketball leagues using platforms to promote social justice

Protests erupted this summer after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and the NBA and WNBA are using their platforms for activism.

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The Los Angeles Lakers, including LeBron James and Anthony Davis, wear Black Lives Matter shirts while kneeling during the national anthem prior to a game against the Los Angeles Clippers and head coach Doc Rivers, right, at The Arena at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, on Friday, July 30, 2020.

Chloe Peterson, Sports Reporter


Social justice activism in professional sports has come a long way since Colin Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem in 2016.

After nationwide protests erupted this summer after the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, many professional athletes have joined in the fight for social justice and the Black Lives Matter movement.

While the NBA season was still paused in June, many athletes participated in the protests. Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks led a protest in downtown Milwaukee, and Jalen Brown of the Boston Celtics drove 15 hours from Boston to his home state of Georgia to lead a protest in Atlanta.

Now, during the restarted seasons, both players and the leagues as a whole are still fighting for social justice.

The NBA has painted ‘Black Lives Matter’ on all of its courts in the NBA bubble in Orlando, Florida. The league is also allowing athletes to wear a social justice message on their jerseys this season during games. The NBA approved a list of 22 words or phrases that players could choose from. The most popular was “equality” with 76 players choosing it for their jerseys. The second most popular was “Black Lives Matter” with 44 players.

Technically, the NBA has a long-standing rule that players must stand for the national anthem. However, NBA commissioner Adam Silver stated that he won’t enforce the rule in the restart. In the first game of the restarted season, the Utah Jazz and the New Orleans Pelicans players and coaches knelt together for the national anthem. The Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers followed suit later that night.

The WNBA has a long history of social justice.

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This season, the WNBA has dedicated their restart to social justice reform, including creating its own Social Justice Council. The Council is going to focus not only on the race divisions in the United States, but also other social issues including voting rights, LGBTQ+ advocacy, and gun control.

Along with the NBA, the WNBA is allowing players to have social justice messages on the backs of their jerseys in place of their names.

Multiple stars of the game are also taking matters into their own hands and opting out of the season to focus on social issues.

Minnesota Lynx star Maya Moore is sitting out her second straight season this year in order to continue to focus on criminal justice reform. Moore sat out the 2019 season to support Jonathan Irons, a man that she believes was wrongfully convicted after he was given a 50-year sentence for burglary and assault in 1998.

Atlanta Dream guard Renee Montgomery is also sitting out of the 2020 season to focus on social causes. Following the killing of George Floyd, Montgomery has been active in the community, advocating issues including police brutality and voting rights.

Montgomery was inspired by Maya Moore in her decision to sit out the season and stated on Twitter that “There’s work to be done off the court and in the community.”

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