2020 American athlete strikes

On August 26, 2020, some professional athletes in the United States began to go on strike for their respective sports contests in response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.[1] After the video of Blake's shooting in which he was seriously injured went viral,[2][3] protests and riots broke out in the city of Kenosha and elsewhere.[4][5] As a result of the shooting of Blake and the protests which followed, on August 26, professional athletes refused to play in their scheduled sports events, beginning with the Milwaukee Bucks of the National Basketball Association (NBA).[6]

2020 American athlete strikes
DateAugust 26, 2020 (2020-08-26)
LocationCanada and United States
ThemeShooting of Jacob Blake
ParticipantsNational Basketball Association
Women's National Basketball Association
Major League Baseball
Major League Soccer
Women's Tennis Association
National Hockey League
National Football League

Some athletes in the NBA, Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA), Major League Baseball (MLB), and Major League Soccer (MLS) decided not to play their games on August 26.[7] Also on that day, the Women's Tennis Association Cincinnati Masters organizers postponed the tournament for one day to August 27, 2020.[7] The strikes extended into August 27 and 28 when players from the National Hockey League (NHL) walked out of their playoff games.[8] In response to the athlete strikes, nine National Football League (NFL) teams canceled their scheduled practices on August 27, 2020.[9] The athlete strikes occurred as part of the broader racial unrest in the United States in 2020 and 2021.[10]


On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American man, was murdered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, by a white police officer who was arresting Floyd for allegedly using a counterfeit bill.[11] Floyd's murder sparked national and international protests against police brutality, lack of police accountability, and racism.[12] As a result of Floyd's murder, NBA players began wearing T-shirts with the words I Can't Breathe while warming up before their NBA games.[13]

The precedent for the NBA allowing the players to protest wearing the I Can't Breathe T-shirt was set in 2014 after the police killing of Eric Garner.[14]

Professional athletic strikes

In response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, professional athletes in the United States walked out of and refused to play in their scheduled sporting events.[1]

The broader protests were organized under the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, which advocates non-violent civil disobedience to protest against police brutality and racially motivated violence against black people.[15][16][17] The Black Lives Matter logo was displayed on the National Basketball Association (NBA) courts during the 2020 playoffs.[18] When the NBA restarted the 2019–20 season in July 2020, NBA players knelt during the national anthem, with each player wearing a "Black Lives Matter" shirt.[19]

National Basketball Association

During the 2020 NBA playoffs, players on the Milwaukee Bucks walked out of their August 26 first-round playoff game against the Orlando Magic in protest of the shooting of Jacob Blake. The team decided not to come out of their locker room for the game. It was initially reported the Bucks would forfeit the contest; however, the Magic did not accept the Bucks' forfeiture.[6] The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association announced that in light of the Bucks' decision to refuse to play, all NBA games for the day were postponed.[20] The Toronto Raptors had also discussed a walkout of their second-round playoff series with the Boston Celtics in frustration with a lack of social or legislative change after the murder of George Floyd and as a result of Blake's shooting.[21] In a meeting involving the players that took place later that night, the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers voted to cancel the rest of the tournament in an informal vote. The other NBA teams voted to continue playing.[22][23]

Sean Roberts, a Republican member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, threatened to pull tax breaks for the Oklahoma City Thunder if they knelt.[24][25] All of the players and coaches from both the Thunder and the opposing Utah Jazz knelt anyway.[26]

The NBA also postponed their scheduled playoff games for August 28.[27] The playoffs resumed on August 29.[28]

National Football League

In response to the shooting of Jacob Blake, the Detroit Lions canceled their scheduled practice on August 25.[29] On August 27, nine NFL teams canceled their scheduled practices.[9] Nineteen other NFL teams did continue their scheduled practices. Several teams that did not cancel practice issued statements about unity. The Jacksonville Jaguars decided to cancel their scheduled afternoon activities.[30]

Major League Baseball

In Major League Baseball on August 26, a game between the Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds was stopped by striking players.[31] Later that day, the Seattle MarinersSan Diego Padres and the Los Angeles DodgersSan Francisco Giants games were postponed.[32][33]

On August 27, seven MLB games were postponed as a result of player strikes. At the New York Mets' Citi Field, a Black Lives Matter shirt was placed on home plate.[34][35]

On a day that was celebrated as Jackie Robinson Day across MLB,[36] the August 28 game between the Houston Astros and Oakland Athletics was postponed, with both teams walking off the field in protest.[37]

National Hockey League

The National Hockey League (NHL) players postponed their scheduled games for August 27 and 28. These games were part of the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs.[8]

Major League Soccer

On August 26, Major League Soccer players staged a walkout of several games to highlight racial injustice.[38] In all, the league canceled five of the six scheduled games for August 26.[39]

United Soccer League

Memphis 901 FC declined to travel to North Carolina for a scheduled USL Championship game against North Carolina FC on August 29, and the players instead participated in protests in Memphis.[40]

Forward Madison FC, which played its 2020 home games in Milwaukee, postponed a USL League One game scheduled for August 30 against North Texas SC.[41]

National Independent Soccer Association

On August 27, the New York Cosmos and Detroit City FC announced that their scheduled game for August 29 would be postponed as both teams took part in protests.[42] The following day, New Amsterdam FC and California United Strikers FC both announced they would not travel for their scheduled August 30 matches against Chattanooga FC and Los Angeles Force respectively.[43][44]

Women's National Basketball Association

All six games scheduled for August 26 and 27 were postponed.[45][46]

Women's Tennis Association

On August 26, Naomi Osaka of the Women's Tennis Association announced she would not play in the Cincinnati Masters semifinals as part of the protest following the shooting of Jacob Blake.[47] The Western & Southern Open organizers decided to reschedule matches scheduled for August 27 to the following day.[7] In response, Osaka agreed to play her semifinal match, which she won 6–0, 7–6 (5).[48]

College athlete strikes

Following the lead of professional athletes, several college football programs including Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Kentucky, South Florida, Boston College, Western Kentucky, Appalachian State, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Baylor either canceled practice or staged a walkout on August 27 and 28.[49]

Reactions to walkouts

In a August 27 interview with CNN, Marc Short, Chief of Staff to Vice President Mike Pence, said, "If they want to protest, I don't think we care" when commenting on the NBA walkout in support of social justice reforms after the police shooting of Jacob Blake.[50]

On August 27, retired Chicago Bears linebacker and Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher made a post to Instagram criticizing NBA players for staging walkouts of playoff games over the police shooting of Jacob Blake and stating "Patriot Lives Matter", attracting significant criticism.[51][52] In response to Urlacher's post, the Chicago Bears stated, "the social media posts in no way reflect the values or opinions of the Chicago Bears organization."[53]

Variations and disagreements over terminology

There has been disagreement over whether to refer to the player action as a strike or a boycott. When a New York Times headline referred to it as a "boycott", Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York responded on Twitter that "strike" was the proper term.[54] LeBron James used the term "boycott" in response to the National Basketball Players Association calling it a "postponement".[55]

Multiple terms are in use (emphasis added):

  • NPR had an article Week In Sports: Players Strike In Solidarity With Protests For Racial Justice.[56]
  • Vanity Fair had After Sweeping Player Strikes, Professional-Sports Owners Are Asked to Confront the Next Steps.[57]
  • NBC News had NBA to restart playoffs Saturday, ending player walkout after Jacob Blake shooting.[58]
  • The Anchorage Daily News headlined an Associated Press article Second day of NBA playoff games halted after player walkout in protest of social injustice.[59]
  • Sporting News had Adam Silver responds to player boycott: 'I wholeheartedly support NBA and WNBA players.[60]
  • Mother Jones had NBA Players Are Staging a Wildcat Strike.[61]

See also


  1. Scott, Nate (August 27, 2020). "A night of protest: Where NBA, WNBA, MLS, and MLB stand after players boycott games". USA Today Sports. For The Win. Retrieved August 28, 2020.
  2. Williams, Derica (August 24, 2020). "'I didn't see a knife:' Man who recorded viral video of shooting of Jacob Blake 'hopes he gets justice'". Fox 6 Milwaukee. Retrieved August 28, 2020.
  3. Raice, Shayndi (August 27, 2020). "Jacob Blake Shooting: What Happened in Kenosha, Wisconsin?". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved August 28, 2020.
  4. JOHNSON, MIKE. "WATCH NOW: Crowd turned violent overnight". Kenosha News. Archived from the original on August 25, 2020. Retrieved August 25, 2020.
  5. Jones, Sophie Carson and Meg. "Kenosha businesses damaged and vehicles burned after police officer shoots Jacob Blake in the back". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Archived from the original on August 27, 2020. Retrieved August 25, 2020.
  6. Bontemps, Tim; Andrews, Malika (August 26, 2020). "Bucks boycotting Game 5 vs. Magic, source says". ESPN.
  7. Gregory, Sean (August 27, 2020). "Why Jacob Blake's Shooting Sparked an Unprecedented Sports Boycott". Time. Time U.S.A. LLC. Retrieved August 28, 2020.
  8. Gretz, Adam (August 27, 2020). "NHL players speak on decision to postpone playoff games". NBC Sports. Retrieved August 28, 2020.
  9. "Some NFL teams cancel practices in response to Jacob Blake shooting". ESPN.com. ESPN. August 27, 2020. Retrieved August 28, 2020.
  10. Taylor, Keeanga-Yamahtta. "The Players' Revolt Against Racism, Inequality, and Police Terror". The New Yorker. Retrieved September 24, 2020.
  11. "George Floyd: What happened in the final moments of his life". BBC News. May 30, 2020. Archived from the original on June 5, 2020. Retrieved June 1, 2020.
  12. "George Floyd death: Violence erupts on sixth day of protests". BBC News. June 1, 2020. Archived from the original on June 6, 2020. Retrieved June 13, 2020.
  13. Zillgitt, Jeff (July 30, 2020). "Full list of the messages NBA players will wear on their jerseys as season restarts". USA Today. Retrieved November 15, 2021.
  14. Adande, J.A. (December 10, 2014). "Purpose of "I Can't Breathe" T-shirts". ESPN. Retrieved August 28, 2020.
  15. Friedersdorf, Conor (August 31, 2017). "How to Distinguish Between Antifa, White Supremacists, and Black Lives Matter". The Atlantic.
  16. "Black Lives Matter". Newsweek. Retrieved August 22, 2020.
  17. Banks, Chloe (November 2, 2018). "Disciplining Black activism: post-racial rhetoric, public memory and decorum in news media framing of the Black Lives Matter movement". Continuum. 32 (6): 709–720. doi:10.1080/10304312.2018.1525920. ISSN 1030-4312. S2CID 150199510.
  18. Wharton, David (July 29, 2020). "Sports fans more likely to support Black Lives Matter, survey finds". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 28, 2020.
  19. Martin, Jill; Asmelash, Leah; Close, David (August 27, 2020). "Athletes across US sports take a stand, as games are called off in solidarity with Bucks' boycott". Cable News Network. CNN. Retrieved August 28, 2020.
  20. release, Official. "NBA postpones playoff games". NBA.com. Retrieved August 26, 2020.
  21. Grange, Michael (August 25, 2020). "Emotional, frustrated Raptors have discussed boycott in wake of Jacob Blake shooting". Sportsnet. Retrieved August 26, 2020.
  22. Helin, Kurt (August 26, 2020). "Lakers, Clippers vote to cancel rest of playoffs; other teams votes to continue". NBC Sports. Retrieved August 28, 2020.
  23. Davis, Scott. "The NBA playoffs are on the brink after an 'ugly' meeting where the Lakers and Clippers left early after voting to end the season". Insider. Retrieved August 27, 2020.
  24. "State Rep. Sean Roberts threatens tax penalties if Oklahoma City Thunder kneel during national anthem". Tulsa World. August 1, 2020. Archived from the original on August 3, 2020. Retrieved August 2, 2020.
  25. Deaton, David (August 1, 2020). "Rep. Sean Roberts Questions Tax Credit for OKC Thunder if Players Choose to Kneel, Disrespect Flag". Oklahoma Welcome. Archived from the original on September 24, 2020. Retrieved August 2, 2020.
  26. Owens, Jason (August 1, 2020). "Thunder players all kneel during anthem after threat from Oklahoma lawmaker". Yahoo Sports. Archived from the original on September 24, 2020. Retrieved August 2, 2020.
  27. Hayes, Dade (August 27, 2020). "NBA Cancels Thursday Games, But Deal In Works To Resume Playoffs this Weekend – Update". Deadline. Retrieved August 28, 2020.
  28. Bontemps, Tim (August 28, 2020). "NBA, NBPA announce playoffs to resume Saturday, new initiatives". ESPN.com. ESPN. Retrieved August 28, 2020.
  29. Birkett, Dave (August 25, 2020). "Detroit Lions cancel practice, demand change after Jacob Blake shooting: 'We won't be silent'". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved August 31, 2020.
  30. Waszak Jr., Dennis (August 27, 2020). "9 NFL teams cancel practice in response to Jacob Blake shooting". CTV News. Associated Press. Retrieved August 28, 2020.
  31. Williams, Rob (August 26, 2020). "Brewers and Reds become first MLB teams to boycott game for Jacob Blake". Daily Hive.
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  33. "What we know and don't know about the boycotts that stopped sports". ESPN. August 27, 2020. Retrieved August 28, 2020.
  34. "Twins boycott Thursday's game against Tigers". Toledo Blade. Reuters. August 27, 2020.
  35. "Seven MLB Games Postponed on Thursday". The New York Times. August 27, 2020. Retrieved August 28, 2020.
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  38. "Five MLS games called off as players protest". TSN.ca. August 26, 2020.
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  40. "901 FC team marches for equality in Downtown Memphis". WMCActionNews5.com. WMC. August 29, 2020.
  41. "USL, Forward Madison Postpone Match, Call for Action on Racial Injustice". USLLeague1.com. August 27, 2020. Retrieved August 30, 2020.
  42. O'Connor, Larry. "Detroit City FC joins protest, won't play Saturday vs. New York Cosmos". The Detroit News. Retrieved August 29, 2020.
  43. "Chattanooga FC's Saturday home match postponed after opponent declines to play". Chattanooga Times Free Press. August 29, 2020. Retrieved August 29, 2020.
  44. "Statement on Sundays game against @LosAngelesForce #United". Twitter. California United Strikers FC. Retrieved August 29, 2020.
  45. Voepel, Mechelle (August 26, 2020). "All three WNBA games Wednesday postponed as part of protest of Jacob Blake shooting". ESPN.
  46. Voepel, Mechelle (August 27, 2020). "WNBA postpones three more games Thursday". ESPN. Retrieved August 27, 2020.
  47. Selbe, Nick (August 26, 2020). "Naomi Osaka to Sit Out Western & Southern Open Semifinals in Protest". Sports Illustrated.
  48. Bodo, Peter (August 28, 2020). "Naomi Osaka into Western & Southern final after calling for racial justice". ESPN.
  49. Cobb, David (August 28, 2020). "Oklahoma, Texas among college football teams to cancel practice amid Jacob Blake shooting protests". CBS Sports. Retrieved September 1, 2020.
  50. Rohrbach, Ben (August 27, 2020). "The unofficial White House stance on the NBA's call for social justice reform: 'I don't think we care'". Yahoo Sports. Retrieved August 28, 2020.
  51. Finley, Patrick (August 27, 2020). "Brian Urlacher on Instagram: Brett Favre braver than NBA players". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved August 27, 2020.
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  53. Florio, Mike. "Bears: Brian Urlacher's social media posts don't reflect our values or opinions". Pro Football Talk. NBC Sports. Retrieved August 27, 2020.
  54. Strauss, Ben (August 29, 2020). "'Strike'? 'Boycott'? When athletes stopped playing, the arguments over wording began". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 28, 2020.
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  56. Goldman, Tom (August 29, 2020). "Week In Sports: Players Strike In Solidarity With Protests For Racial Justice". National Public Radio. Retrieved August 29, 2020.
  57. Adler, Dan (August 27, 2020). "After Sweeping Player Strikes, Professional-Sports Owners Are Asked to Confront the Next Steps". Vanity Fair. Vanity Fair. Retrieved August 29, 2020.
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