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'Change Has Come': Professional Sports Take Protests To A New Level

LAUREN GILGER: Protests in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, by police took a violent turn on Tuesday night when a 17-year-old boy traveled from Illinois to Wisconsin. He had an assault rifle that he used to shoot and kill two people, wounding another. He was able to walk through police lines with his weapon and return home to Illinois, where he was later arrested. Last night, organizers postponed planned marches in Phoenix when leaders from Black Lives Matter Metro Phoenix and Poder in Action reported online threats.

JAMAAR WILLIAMS: There were groups named, and it to be specific enough, obviously, to get our attention.

GILGER: That's Jamaar Williams, an organizer, an activist with Black Lives Matter Metro Phoenix.

WILLIAMS: We didn't want to put people's lives in danger, obviously, We try to have as safe of an environment as we can when we do an action.

GILGER: The shooting of Jacob Blake also led to an historic moment in sports. Fans immersed in the NBA playoffs found last night's games unexpectedly postponed. When members of the Milwaukee Bucks refused to take the court in their first-round playoff game against the Orlando Magic, instead sitting in unity with the support of management and wearing Black Lives Matter shirts. Before the evening was over, the WNBA had made a similar announcement, postponing games as well. Some Major League Baseball teams followed the Bucks in protest. Three games were postponed when players refused to take the field in protest. With us to talk about the latest events in this is Greg Moore, columnist for the Arizona Republic. Good morning, Greg.

GREG MOORE: Hey, good morning.

GILGER: Thanks so much for joining us. I wanted to start just with your reaction to this. Did this surprise you at all? We've been seeing some activism, especially from the NBA and the WNBA throughout this regarding Black Lives Matter. Was this a further step you expected them to take?

MOORE: No. This was a shock, right? I mean, we've seen activism in sports. We've seen activism change the world that started in sports. But nobody could have seen this coming. I mean, come on. Are you kidding me? No way.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Greg, we don't know what's going to happen yet, although we're hearing reports from ESPN this morning that the playoffs in the NBA will probably resume sometime this weekend. Without speaking for all the players — which you cannot do — let's think about this a bit. Put this in perspective for us. When it comes down to the players coming together, they're all in Orlando. So they're right there. They're able to meet. What's the level of trust there? We hear a lot about Commissioner Adam Silver and how the players respect him. Does that come into play here in terms of what the message may be coming out when and if they return to play? Will they be able to make messages even more even more strongly than having a Black Lives Matter, something on the court, for example?

MOORE: Change is coming. I mean, you got to believe that, right? I mean, if you just stop and look at the amount of time, energy, money that we as a society invest into sports. We love sports. We can't do without sports. Come on. What are we gonna do with ourselves? Talk to each other? Read a book? We gotta have our sports. So what I expect — and I think you're right about the level of trust between players and Adam Silver — I always think back to something I read, and I think it was Sports Illustrated and it's been five, six years now. This was when the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers had said some racist things. And Adam Silver got him out of there right away. Just boom, he was out. I remember reading something that said basically that Adam Silver had all of these diverse experiences throughout his life. And one of the first phone calls he made was to a guy who had lived with his family during, like grade school or middle school or something like that. And the guy ended up going over and becoming like a chief in some West African nation. And I wish I had the details of that story. It's just something that exists in my mental backpack, but it speaks to the value of diversity and diverse perspectives and listening to people and working with people. Plus, we've already seen the NBA pledge something like $300 million in conjunction with the Players Association to move forward on issues of racial progress. I really believe that change has come. And I couldn't have seen this coming. I couldn't have called it. But I don't know that we could have seen anything more powerful either.

GILGER: So Greg, you're saying essentially that, you know, we've seen this in history before, that sports start movements like this. What change do you expect to come? What further action might they take?

MOORE: So there's lots of different ways it could go, right? I mean, if you just look at the jerseys that the players were wearing, you had messages like "peace" and "justice" and "love us" and "How many more?" So there's lots of different ways that you could you could say this is going to be progress for us. I don't know what's going on up in the legislature in Wisconsin right now, but what if they called a special session? What if they drafted some new laws right away that got overwhelming support? That said, "Yo, this is how we're going to move forward between police and African-American communities. This is something we're going to do that's tangible." There's lots of different ways it could go. But I do expect something to happen. And it seems just from the perspective of an outsider, that it would make a lot of sense to start in Milwaukee. It started with the Bucks. Kenosha's what, 40 miles south of Milwaukee? We've seen racial protests for the last, what, six years in Milwaukee, starting with the death of Dontre Hamilton. You know, it just seems like it would make a lot of sense, given that the Bucks were the team to start the protest, that everything could start in the state of Wisconsin. But I would love to see things get better nationally. This has been a tough, tough, traumatic summer.

GOLDSTEIN: And Greg, sort of short on this one, piggybacking on what Lauren said about sports sort of leading the charge sometimes. Considering the NBA is so dominantly African-American, does the NBA look like the leader on this one rather than the NFL, where guys may only play two or three years because of injuries or MLB, which is certainly much less occupied by African-American players?

MOORE: The MLB is screwing up. I mean, the Diamondbacks played. You would've thought those they've lost what, seven in a row? You would've thought they just would've wanted a day off. The MLB looks terrible in all this, right? But the NBA, because they're on the court. The NBA, because they're out there playing, they have an opportunity to be a leader. But I do expect that the NFL has a real opportunity. I mean, we've heard from Roger Goodell quite a few times. He said, "Yo, we made a mistake. We were wrong about Colin Kaepernick. We're trying to make that right. We're trying to do better." And I think that at the end of all this, it's not going to be about like, who's jostling for first place like "Yo, yo, I did it the best," But MLB looks bad, man.

GILGER: All right. That is Greg Moore, a columnist with The Arizona Republic, joining us to talk more about this. Greg, thank you so much for coming on The Show this morning.

MOORE: Hey, thanks, Lauren. I appreciate it.

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.