A group of women and men, members of the Washington Mystics, stand on a basketball court wearing white t-shirts that spell out the name Jacob Blake
Members of the WNBA’s Washington Mystics protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man shot in the back seven times by an officer in Kenosha, WI. (photo from CNN)

Sport sociologists like Harry Edwards have long fought against the notion that sports and politics can be kept separate, battling back against assaults by people like Fox News’ Laura Ingraham, who in February 2018 told NBA star LeBron James to “shut up and dribble.” In the midst of the NBA and WNBA finals, and at a time of intense political polarization, basketball fans ought to be aware of the stakes that exist for Black athletes and listen to their voices. How else can you as a fan ethically focus on the games if many of your favorite players say that they themselves cannot? In this brief essay, we offer some considerations for basketball fans today, building upon the work of many sports sociologists who have come before us.

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A group of football players, predominately composed of Black men, march on the Clemson University campus. One holds a sign that reads "matter is the minimum." Two other men hold signs that read "I can't breathe."
Members of the Clemson University football team lead a “March for Change” protest in June 2020. (photo by John Bazemore, AP)

A TIME magazine article recently discussed college athletes realizing their power to create meaningful change. While college athletes as a collective have great power, it is Black athletes in particular who are leading this charge by placing emphasis on their racial identity. Recent atrocities, such as the unjust shooting of Jacob Blake, as well as the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, have placed increased attention on racism. Injustice has caused college athletes to speak out, when in the past, they have remained mostly silent.

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A woman is pictured with the U.S. Capitol Building in the background.
Patsy Mink, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Hawaii, was a co-author of Title IX, passed in 1972. In May 2020, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos issued new regulations governing how schools handle sexual assault under Title IX. (Photo from the Women’s Sports Foundation)

Stories of sexual abuse and assault continually emerge from the world of college athletics. Heinous acts committed by people in positions of authority, such as Larry Nasser, Jerry Sandusky, and Richard Strauss, have come to light in recent years. In the news, we see countless examples of sexual assault by individual athletes at schools across the country. The consequences for offenders vary greatly because of cover-ups, lax investigations, and special treatment for athletes. Part of the problem is that the people who have a responsibility to report allegations of sexual assault, such as coaches, often fail to do so. Unfortunately, a forthcoming policy change is likely to make the situation worse.

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An empty basketball arena with the court lit up
The COVID-19 pandemic brought most sports in North America and around the world to an abrupt halt in March 2020. (Photo via Boston Globe)

In March 2020, COVID-19 abruptly halted sport as we know it across almost all ages, levels, and communities in North America and much of the world. In a matter of days we went from sport to no sport—from sport everywhere to nowhere. So what does this mean for sports fans and for society in general? What are the implications of a society without sport?

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A male soccer player in a blue jersey kneels in a soccer stadium.
Mason Holgate of Everton kneels before a Premier League match against Liverpool on June 21, 2020. (Photo by Everton FC/Everton FC via Getty Images)

On a sunny Sunday afternoon in June 2020, Black Lives Matter protesters in Bristol, England pulled down a statue of Edward Colston from its pedestal, dragged it through the city’s streets and dumped it into the harbour. Colston, who some revered for his philanthropic donations to schools and hospitals, was a 17th century slave trader. He made his fortune through his involvement in the Royal African Company, a mercantile corporation that oversaw the forced removal, transportation and annihilation of hundreds of thousands of Black Africans. The dismantling of his statue – which had stood for 125 years – was an iconic event in the demonstrations across the United Kingdom, adding new momentum to campaigns to remove or replace public monuments, and to rename buildings that have racist, colonial connections.

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A baseball game takes place at night in an empty stadium
Thanks to successful efforts at mitigating the spread of COVID-19, Taiwan’s professional baseball league began its season on April 11 (photo by Gene Wang/Getty Images)

Since COVID-19 has shut down sporting events in North America and many parts of the world, sports fans are desperately trying to find anything to watch. In North America, the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League had to suspend their seasons indefinitely, NCAA March Madness was cancelled, and Major League Baseball, which was set to start the season at the end of March, has not yet decided on a potential date to open the 2020 season despite creative contingent plans being floated around by league officials. With no baseball games on the schedule in North America, baseball enthusiasts can turn to Taiwan, where its professional baseball league started the season on April 11. To abide by social distancing policies of Taiwan, no fans are allowed in stadiums, but robot spectators fill the bleachers in lieu of actual people.

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A white women with long hair, wearing glasses and a coat stands in a field with bushes and trees in the background.
During the current suspension of sport due to COVID-19, we should consider the importance of “doing nothing” for a healthy, happy life (photo of artist Jenny Odell, author of “How to Do Nothing,” by Ryan Meyer)

The COVID-19 pandemic has systemically disrupted sport organizations and spectator sporting events around the world. Major and minor sporting events have been cancelled, youth sports have been put on hold, and professional leagues have followed the National Basketball Association (NBA) in suspending their current seasons. “Social distancing” largely underpins these unprecedented adjustments, as sport organizations heed the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus. The disruptions will undoubtedly result in a financial hit for leagues, teams and players, and exacerbate the precarious economic situations of low-wage stadium and arena workers. For women’s sports, the pandemic has meant the sudden interruption of recent progress made in the push for greater financial equity and media coverage. Amidst fears of a pending economic recession, American consumers now must adapt to living without much of their common sporting entertainment for at least the near future.

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Celtic FC players in green and white striped jerseys raise their arms in celebration on a soccer field
Celtic FC players celebrate their 2-1 victory over Inter Milan in the 1967 European Cup (AP/Press Association Images via Celtic Quick News)

While St. Patrick’s Day gives people of Irish descent around the world an opportunity to celebrate their heritage, soccer serves a key role with regard to Irish ethnicity in Scotland—and on a much more frequent basis than once a year. To help understand this we need to go back to May 25, 1967, when Celtic Football Club of Scotland defeated Inter Milan, 2-1, to become the first club from outside of Spain, Portugal, or Italy to win the European Cup (now the UEFA Champions League). Recognised as the most prestigious soccer trophy in Europe, only 22 clubs have managed to win it since its initiation in 1956.

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Photo by Chris Phutully.

The X League is an arena women’s tackle football league where women pay to play full contact, scantily clad, televised, football. Arena football has slightly different rules than traditional football with no field goals or extra-point kicks. Several arena football leagues exist, but the X League has one unique quality. In the X League, players wear bikini-like “performance apparel” and modified equipment, such as hockey helmets, less leg padding, and modified shoulder pads that do not cover their chests

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US President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a cricket stadium, in Ahmedabad, India, in front of a large crowd of people.
U.S. President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrive for a “Namaste Trump,” event in Ahmedabad, India. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

After emphasizing that “America loves India” during the “Namaste Trump” event, President Donald Trump opened his address with several references to India’s most popular sport, cricket. A crowd of more than 100,000 responded with cheers.

“Five months ago, the United States welcomed your great prime minister at a giant football stadium in Texas,” Trump noted on Feb. 24. “And today India welcomes us at the world’s largest cricket stadium in Ahmedabad.” Next, Trump mentioned Indian cricket stars Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli, although he mispronounced the names and was called out by social media users, including the sport’s governing body, the International Cricket Council.

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