Why Today’s Social Justice Activism Doesn’t Work in Sports

Updated: Sep 21, 2020

When the NBA announced they would start the playoffs again July 31st, few were sure what to expect. No one could imagine the near sweep of the Houston Rockets by the LA Lakers. More farfetched than that was the Denver Nuggets 4-3 victory over the LA Clippers. To top this off, many could not have foreseen the amount of BLM support that would be shown by the NBA and by the players of the league.

This development has, however, caused mixed feelings. It’s not hard to understand the players desire (or pressure) to become more involved with the police brutality fight. NBA players in particular have been criticized in the past for not using their platform for social issues. The social justice trend from athletes re-emerged after we saw NFL ex-QB Colin Kaepernick take a knee during the national anthem for the first time in 2016. This sparked a national conversation around policing practices, but not much has fundamentality changed besides the introduction of body cameras on police. So this year, following the death of George Floyd, the National Basketball Players Association and the NBA agreed upon a list of soical justice messages to place on the backs of jerseys and warm-ups. This list includes: Black Lives Matter, Say Their Names, I Can’t Breathe, Enough, Power to the People, Justice Now, Say Her Name, Liberation, See Us, Hear Us, Respect Us, Love Us, Listen to Us, Stand Up, Anti-Racist, I Am A Man, Speak Up and How Many More.

Sports Players Being Used as Voices for Movements

Some point out that figures like the great Muhammad Ali used their platform to fight injustices. Although this is true, the fight that gained him most of his admiration was the fight against the Vietnam War. He didn’t just speak against the war, he actually went to jail and sacrificed precious years in his prime. I doubt any of these NBA players are willing to sacrifice their check for the cause. Another important point to consider is that the Vietnam war was something a lot of Americans from a variety of different backgrounds had disdain for. It wasn’t something that was affecting a small portion of the population. Not to say size determines importance, but size does affect the amount of people who show concern for the issue. The more people affected by the issue, the more people who care about that issue.

Although I’m not opposed to people speaking out, regardless of profession, the main issue with using athletes to promote social reforms really comes down to their audience. I wouldn’t expect a NASCAR driver to talk about fufu with his fans. There’s a good chance the typical NASCAR fan is unaware of African cuisine nor would have the interest in it. It’s not their lane. According to, 46% of the NBA’s fan base are white, 27% are Black and 23% are Hispanic. Although racial groups don’t determine one’s interests, we must acknowledge that 69% of the NBA’s audience are not black. That means they are less likely to be affected by the police brutality issue (as painted). Plus, your everyday NBA fan is typically not involved in city council activities or public policy. So, shoving Black Lives Matter messaging in the face of people who are trying to escape the hardships of life by watching a game of entertainment doesn’t seem like a winning formula. The recent ratings reports seem to be supporting this theory. Washington Times writer Matthew Paras wrote, “While the NBA has struggled to rediscover its ratings mojo in a post-pandemic television landscape (down by 4% from same-time last year numbers), NHL fans seem more than happy to follow the sport into the uncharted territory of playoff hockey in August. NBC Sports touted that its hockey ratings were up 39% for the NHL’s qualification round compared to its regular-season average.” Both the NBA and the NHL are experiencing pandemic related issues, so what’s the difference here? Well for one, the NHL has not allowed BLM messaging to takeover the games or it’s sports program.

To add more perspective, the U.S. Census department estimates that there are roughly 44 million black people in the U.S. According to, between 2013 and 2019, roughly 1,900 black people have died at the hands of police. Putting these numbers together, we can average about 317 deaths a year of black people from police violence. For those who fear police brutality and dying at the hands of police, keep in mind that according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, black people roughly average 16,644 deaths a year from diabetes. So, if you believe as a black person that it’s outlandish to think you could die from diabetes, then based on the numbers, it would be even more outlandish to think you could die from the hands of police. Statistically speaking, police brutality is not an issue that affects a lot people, including our black people. It is true that it’s an issue that needs to be resolved, but it’s an issue that has been blown way out of proportion.

Writers from like Jason Whitlock and Bobby Burack have also shown disdain for BLM’s takeover of the NBA:

“BLM is immune to market forces. The billionaire backers of BLM can offset the financial losses of the institutions hurt by the movement. The NBA is not much different from the Washington Post, the legacy media platform funded by the richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos. The Post does not need to adhere to long-established industry best practices. The Post is a spoke in the wheel of a much larger machine.” - Jason Whitlock

“Months of hard-hitting social topics exposed several sports media shows and personalities. Media members put social justice above all else. Except when it came to China and anti-Semitism.” - Bobby Burack

BLM messaging on streets, billboards, mobile apps, social media and now sports jerseys altogether seem off-putting. It has created fatigue instead of inspiration. With the amount of money BLM has collected, why aren’t they using that money to create studies and employ people to write good policies? Whether the NBA is officially affliated with them or not, if the NBA really wanted to do something, they could have moved resources and attention to tangible action items instead of symbolism. All of this could be said for the Major League Soccer league as well. Symbolism did not give this country civil rights in the 1960’s, and it won’t deliver what BLM is asking for now. It’s one thing to show up to a city council meeting to dicuss how they are running their police departments. It’s a whole other thing to flood the social consciousness with messaging that is met with hostility if you disagree with the message’s founder. If your cause is sound, it should be able to stand criticism.

What do you think? Do you agree with the NBA’s move to showcase BLM’s messaging? Do you think it‘s a waste of time? Or is it a necessary step for a larger plan? Let us know in the comments below.