One day after NBA players refused to take the floor for three playoff games Wednesday night – a protest initiated by the Milwaukee Bucks after police shot a Black man, Jacob Blake, in Kenosha, Wis., earlier this week – the ripples of the gesture spread Thursday over Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, and three of Philadelphia’s major sports franchises.
The NHL pushed back its Thursday night playoff games, including Game 3 of the Flyers’ Eastern Conference semifinal series against the New York Islanders, after the Hockey Diversity Alliance, a committee of seven current and former players, formally requested that the league postpone the games. And the Phillies voted against playing their game Thursday night in Washington against the Nationals, the defending World Series champions.
Three MLB games had been postponed Wednesday night – the Milwaukee Brewers’ contest against the Cincinnati Reds, among them. Phillies manager Joe Girardi had several players approach him around 2 p.m. Thursday to raise the possibility of not playing later in the night.
“I’m in support of our players,” Girardi said. “We’re in this together, this fight for equality and social justice. In this world, I’ve always believed you need two things: love and hope. I don’t believe we’re doing a good job in our country of giving that to everyone. That’s what the Philadelphia Phillies are standing up for.”
Following a team meeting called by coach Doug Pederson and consultation with the team’s leadership, the Eagles went ahead with their regularly scheduled practice Thursday morning. But other NFL teams declined to practice, and the protests and postponements continued what had already been, because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial and cultural uprising after the deaths of Breonna Taylor in March and George Floyd in May, a tumultuous year in professional sports.
Athletes, coaches, and executives have sequestered themselves for weeks inside the NBA bubble in Orlando and in the NHL’s hub cities of Toronto and Edmonton, and the unpredictability caused by both the pandemic and the social upheaval has empowered players and often made each league’s daily schedule of games little more than a tentative suggestion.
Those NBA players who remained in the Orlando bubble voted Thursday morning to resume the postseason, and an NBA spokesperson said that the league hoped to play games again either Friday or Saturday.
The NHL, which played its entire Wednesday slate of three games, presumably would pick up with its playoff tournament this weekend, as well.
Former Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds, a member of the Hockey Diversity Alliance, criticized the league for going ahead with its schedule Wednesday.
“There should have been an ’ask’ amongst the players,” Simmonds, who is Black, said during an interview Thursday with TSN 1050 Radio. “Since the George Floyd incident, we’ve had a lot of people come out and speak, whether it be players, management, team owners saying everyone’s willing to listen and learn. And I think by the actions [Wednesday] night, I don’t think any of that was shown.”
Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said that, in the aftermath of a first-round victory over the Montreal Canadiens, he has been so immersed in preparing his team for its series against the Islanders that he was too unfamiliar with the Blake incident to discuss it.
“I have really no idea what’s going on in the outside world,” he said Thursday. “We’re in this bubble right now. I am invested 24-7 on our team, working 20 hours a day, going over video, preparing our group. I don’t do Twitter. I haven’t read a sports article in I don’t know how long. I haven’t read any type of article in I don’t know how long. I’m a hockey nerd, and that’s what I’m doing right now.
“We’re all for equality and for social justice,” Vigneault continued. “But right now, what we’re trying to do is play a game, and players, management, and coaches are really focused on that. This is the most important time of the year for us. This is playoff hockey.”
For Anson Carter – who analyzes the NHL for NBC Sports, the league’s flagship network in the United States, and was one of the few Black players in the league during his 10 years as a player – the more important matter was not the league’s and players’ decisions Wednesday night but their actions after Wednesday night.
“I understand the Bucks; I understand the Brewers, because that’s close proximity to where Kenosha is,” Carter said during an appearance on NBC. “So I understand the relationship they have with those communities. But when it comes to NHL players, I’m OK with them not protesting. I’m OK with them continuing to play.
“The league has [gone] about their business and identified and acknowledged what has happened, also. But my focus right now, really, is, what are we doing about it? Yes, we could protest. We could sit out. But what change are we actually trying to do? If you go protest and go about your business and nothing really changes, then what’s the sense of protesting? The focus should be now on, what are we doing to change?”