Atlanta sports teams boycott games, join nationwide protest

Timothy Belin, Campus Carrier sports editor

On Aug. 26, Atlanta United was scheduled to play Inter Miami C.F. in Major League Soccer, while the Atlanta Dream was set to face-off with the Washington Mystics in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). Neither matchup took place, however, as both games were postponed as part of a nationwide boycott protesting systemic racism in the United States.

This boycott was just the latest in a long line of gestures from the sports community in support of social justice and the Black Lives Matter movement. In the wake of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd’s deaths, many leagues, teams and players around the world have taken to raising awareness of racial inequality, most notably by displaying messaging on their jerseys or taking a knee before events.

Berry Director of Athletics Angel Mason said she understood the reason for these demonstrations and shared her views on them.

“We really struggle to be able to have conversation around difference,” Mason said. “It’s been rough. I’m tired of seeing harm come to people, I’m tired of the reaction to negativity being more negativity, and it’s making it very hard to attempt to even function in a semi-normal fashion on top of everything else that’s taking place. So I think for me, and I think for a lot of people, it just feels like there’s this weight on your chest right now, trying to function through everything, but I do also believe that some people are extremely tired and they feel like the only way that their voice can be heard is through this type of protest, and some that are not peaceful but there are many that are, and so we’re just trying to juggle through that.”

Last week’s boycott was initiated by the National Basketball Association (NBA)’s Milwaukee Bucks, after a police officer fired multiple shots in the back of an unarmed Black man, Jacob Blake, in the Bucks’ home state of Wisconsin. While both teams involved in the game went through their warm-ups, only the Orlando Magic resurfaced from their locker room for the 4 p.m. tip-off. An hour later, it was confirmed that the game, as well as the two other NBA games scheduled for that day, had been postponed.

The WNBA followed suit by postponing three games of their own, including that of the Atlanta Dream. The players still emerged onto the court, however, and Dream center Elizabeth Williams read a statement on behalf of the WNBA’s player’s association live on ESPN.

“While we hurt for Jacob and his community, we also have an opportunity to keep the focus on the issues and demand change,” Williams said. “These moments are why it’s important for our fans to stay focused, hear our voices, know our hearts and connect the dots from what we say to what we do.”

Williams’ statement also spoke of the importance of voting in the upcoming elections and participating in the 2020 census.

Though no other leagues suspended all its games, many more individual matchups were postponed, including Atlanta United’s game against Inter Miami. Though the game originally appeared set to go on, as both teams released starting line-ups and went through their warm-ups, it was called off shortly before kick-off. Players nevertheless returned to the pitch, many of them wearing Black Lives Matter t-shirts, to stand in solidarity with their peers. Half-an-hour later, Atlanta United released a statement of support across all its social media, as well as on the team’s official website.

“We stand in solidarity with the Black community, with our players, our city and our fans in the fight against injustice,” the statement said. “We must use our voices to be the change.”

The following day, the club released an additional statement from midfielder Jeff Larentowicz after he spoke to the press.

“It was a human decision, a decision that we felt we needed to make,” Larentowicz said. “It was bigger than the two clubs down in Fort Lauderdale, bigger than one or two decision makers. It was an acknowledgement of human emotions. Before we are athletes, we’re humans who needed to acknowledge each other and support each other.”

Mason said she was not surprised players were able to come together in this manner, because she sees those values in the world of sport every day.

“In sport we are able to move past very real social issues in a different way because there’s an intrinsic trust between one another, because you kind of go to battle every day with each other, so you begin to see folks in a different light,” Mason said.

Though there was initially talk, most notably in the NBA, of suspending the rest of the season, agreement was reached on Aug. 28 to resume play. In a statement jointly released across their social media accounts, the NBA and its player association, the NBPA, announced the news, alongside the commitments the league had made to its players. These included the creation of a social justice coalition, the assurance of ads promoting civic engagement to be run during the remaining playoff games and the promise to convert the league’s arenas into polling places for the upcoming general election.

The Atlanta Dream returned to the court on Aug. 28, falling 79-88 to the Minnesota Lynx, while Atlanta United resumed their season on Aug. 29 with a 3-1 defeat at the hands of rivals Orlando City.

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