• Welcome to Wednesday’s Daily Dish.  In the absence of NBA games to analyze, I’ve been invited to share my thoughts on a tumultuous day for the league, the United States, and arguably the world.  

    Taking A Stand

    When word spread about the Milwaukee Bucks considering a refusal to play Game 5 against the Magic, I understood that they had social justice in mind.  It didn’t immediately dawn on me that the city of Kenosha, the site where Jacob Blake was shot seven times by police on Sunday, is situated roughly 40 miles from Milwaukee.  Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, is now paralyzed from the waist down among other medical issues.  The incident took place while his three sons sat in the adjacent family SUV.  

    The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others have reverberated throughout the country and sparked debates about systemic racism in America as well as police misconduct.  Bucks players felt that they had no choice but to act.  Their statement emphasized that at the present moment “our focus cannot be on basketball.” The statement referenced incidents such as the Blake shooting and Tuesday’s incident in which a teenage white supremacist killed two peaceful protesters in Kenosha. The Bucks called on citizens to vote and for the Wisconsin State Legislature to address the situation.  As commentator and former player Chris Webber put it: “If not now, when?”  

    It’s worth noting that the Bucks have a recent history of unjust encounters with the police.  In January of 2018, current Bucks player Sterling Brown was hit with a stun gun, handcuffed, and arrested for nothing more than a parking violation.  In October of 2015, former member of the Bucks John Henson accused a jewelry store of racial profiling when he was barred from entering.  Henson would later be questioned by police, who dismissed the encounter as a misunderstanding over his vehicle’s license plates.

    Soon, it was announced that all three of Wednesday’s NBA games would likely be postponed, while six Major League Baseball teams also decided not to play.  LeBron James’ viral tweet expressing his frustration with ongoing police brutality had nearly a million likes by the end of the day.  The Lakers and Clippers voted not to continue the season as part of an informal poll, although the other remaining playoff teams disagreed.  Because most players are upset with what is happening in society rather than striking against the league, debates about nomenclature began.  This sort of action is generally considered a strike, but others deemed it a protest or a boycott.  In any case, one could sense history being made.  These events recalled January 16, 1959 when the Lakers’ Elgin Baylor sat out a game in Charleston, West Virginia after a local hotel refused him service due to his race.  As he explained to a teammate: “I’m a human being.  I’m not an animal put in a cage and let out for the show.’’

     

    Asking For Help

    When Paul George disclosed that he was feeling “anxiety and a little bit of depression” from being stuck in the NBA bubble, my first reaction was one of empathy.  Fans can easily feel disillusioned by the fact that sports stars make more money in a season than most of them will in a lifetime, but this revelation made George seem all the more human in my eyes.  No one is necessarily exempt from feeling the swings of emotion, and certainly not during a tumultuous year like 2020.  

    While sports psychologists have been an accepted part of elite athletics for quite a while, the emphasis often appears to be on a player’s performance as an outcome rather than on his or her long-term mental health.  Clippers head coach Doc Rivers pointed out that players are pulled in so many directions these days, especially if they are involved in social media channels.  He also expressed distress at the ongoing hostility that Black Americans are forced to negotiate.  It can be difficult to stay relaxed in a novel situation like the one unfolding every day in Orlando for the NBA players who remain there.

    Feelings of isolation have been felt worldwide during the pandemic, and I am not surprised that even members of the cultural stratosphere are not exempt from feeling human.  George ended up shaking off some poor shooting performances to come up big in Game 5 on Tuesday.  Even if he hadn’t seen improvements in his game, it’s excellent to see George taking charge of his own mental health.  Maintaining one’s emotional wellness takes more than quick fixes or a single therapy session, but acknowledging one’s feelings can be such a big step toward a better future.

     

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