To hear Russell Wilson tell it, the NFL got lucky this week. Had there been regular-season games, players would have gone on strike to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
“Yeah, for sure,” said the Seahawks quarterback , answering a question on ESPN 710 radio Friday. “Just witnessing what happened to Jacob and all the things that have added up to this, it’s devastating, truly devastating. And it’s not like this hasn’t been going on for years. That’s the scary part and sad part.
“The difference now is we get to see it every day because of social media and phones.”
Wilson’s candor was a window into the thinking of at least some players in football as to whether they will withhold services, following the lead of players in the NBA, WNBA, MLS, MLB and, belatedly, the NHL.
The independent but near-simultaneous protests Wednesday forced the leagues to postpone games after the outrage that followed when a citizen video circulated showing an officer in Kenosha, WI., putting seven bullets into the back of Blake, a Black man who was unarmed. He remains alive but paralyzed.
By good fortune of their calendar, NFL teams are in training camps, although nine teams declined to practice Thursday. The Seahawks were already scheduled off Thursday following a mock game Wednesday at the Clink. They practiced normally Friday. Wilson said a Seahawks response is being studied.
“We’re definitely discussing what do we do next, how do we make a change,” he said. “How do we cause movement and how do we make a difference? We’re in the midst of all that right now. We don’t have weeks, months and years to change it.”
The NFL opens its regular season Sept. 10, and Seahawks open in Atlanta Sept. 13. League-wide reporting suggests most players are in similar positions regarding potential team actions. After the wildcat strike begun by the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA bubble in Orlando, the NBA and other sports will have returned to action by the weekend.
That doesn’t mean anything has changed on the streets of America.
“I think what’s really disappointing is just knowing that we, as athletes, try to (make) a difference,” Wilson said. “Sometimes people don’t want to listen and don’t want to recognize that that could have been us, and that could be us.”
The NBA and its players union in a joint statement Friday announced a return to work Saturday after an agreement to create a “social justice coalition” that includes players, coaches and owners. Among the goals are increased voting access, promoting civic engagement and advocating for meaningful police and criminal justice reform.
To Seahawks FS Quandre Diggs, such a collaboration in the NFL is unlikely.
“I think the NBA is more of a partnership with (commissioner) Adam Silver and those guys,” he said on a Zoom confeence with local reporters. “We’re not partners with Commissioner Goodell or anybody in those front offices. They look at us as it’s a working relationship. That’s what it is. I don’t know how much it’s going to change, but we’re going to continue to push.
“I just want the owners to get on board with us and understand our message. I’m tired of them, and I’m tired of teams putting out PR statements. Let’s put some action into the words. Let’s get it out in these neighborhoods. Let’s try to get these cops and people better training.”
The other NBA advantage is that the 13 teams remaining in the playoffs are together in the bubble, talking and planning. Same is true for the 12 WNBA teams. NFL camps are in 32 places over four time zones, cramming months of work into a shortened preseason.
The NBA also made itself of a target of President Trump.
“The NBA has become a political organization, and that’s not a good thing,” he said in remarks Thursday as the four-day Republican National Convention ended. The claim was ironic, because choosing the taxpayer-funded White House and its staff and facilities made the event into a political organization, likely a violation of ethics laws.
If the NFL players do emulate the other leagues and strike the opening weekend to effect change, it will be another milestone in the growth of athletes’ power in the sports industry.
The Blake shooting following the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis helps make the argument that player protest isn’t sufficient. The billionaire owners must join in to bring public, sponsor and political pressure to bear on electeds for urgent reform.
There is a kind of sports precedent: In 2014, after Clippers owner Donald Sterling made overtly racist remarks, players demanded his removal before they would play. The NBA quickly responded by forcing Sterling out. The club was eventually sold to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for $2 billion.
The effect of job action helps answer the question by many white people of what a strike accomplishes. ESPN columnist Howard Bryant explained it this way Friday:
Underneath it all — the passive-aggressive questions about what walking out will prove, how people will never, ever watch the NBA again — is threat, questions less in search of illumination but designed to diminish the players, to question their authenticity and disavow them of any thought of self-determination. There is no citizenship beneath their tank tops, and even less humanity. You’re here to entertain us. No, you’re literally here to entertain us. That’s your job.
Sometimes there are moments in human history more important than games, and the only way to get white people to pay attention to this momnt is to deny them their most valued sports entertainment.
That is the weapon NFL players have, and NFL owners fear. The spontaneous strikes by other leagues were just the preseason.