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For Sterling Brown and the Bucks, this strike is personal.

Amidst the first round of the NBA playoffs, the Milwaukee Bucks sent shockwaves throughout the sports world when the entire team failed to appear on the court for warmups before Game 5 of their series against the Orlando Magic.

The Bucks were deeply troubled by the images and events happening back in the southern Wisconsin city of Kenosha. Kenosha only being within an hour away from the Bucks’ home stadium, this injustice hit close to home for them. They watched with anticipation as the city became another epicenter of riots, looting, and destruction following the shooting of Jacob Blake. He was shot seven times by a white police officer in front of his three young sons after helping to break up a fight between two women. While the circumstances surrounding Blake’s confrontation still seem conflicted, for the Bucks the unnecessary violent action from the police was not an unfamiliar circumstance they have had to tackle. For Bucks’ small forward Sterling Brown, the night of January 26, 2018, is eerily unforgettable.

According to Brown in an essay he wrote for The Players’ Tribune, he too had been a victim of police brutality. While en route to his home, he wrote about a regrettable pit stop a local Walgreens. Knowing that it was going to be a quick trip, he decided parking across two handicapped spots in front of the store would go unnoticed and spent around a total of three minutes in Walgreens.

Upon returning to his vehicle, however, Brown was approached by an officer and he asked him for his driver’s license. “As I tried to open the door he shoved me back and I moved his hand off me. At that point, I knew things might escalate and it wouldn’t just be a simple ticket.” Brown wrote. He recalled the officer trying to establish dominance through his word choice and after the two exchanged a few words, the officer called for backup.

After the arrival of backup, Brown said one officer asked him to take his hands out of his pocket after he had them placed there for 20 minutes. He wrote, “Somehow the officers must have felt “threatened” because next thing I knew they started punching, kneeing, and trying to get me to the ground.” Brown said that one officer had a knee on his neck, another stood on his ankle, and another tased Brown, then proceeded to draw his gun, aiming at the basketball player.

Brown said that he thought about fighting back but then decided it would be unnecessary to do so. He recalled hearing some of the police officers joke about his team and how the incident would “blow up” due to Brown’s status, how they would be viewed as racists. Eventually, Brown was taken into custody then released the next morning. His mind miraculously focused on playing to win his game that evening.

According to Brown, most people assumed the incident was caused by him being aggressive with the police. However, these assumptions were proven wrong following the release of the body cam footage from the officers. “Without the video no one would have believed me. Without the video of George Floyd, the only ones who have to deal with the possibility of being stopped and harassed daily would be demanding justice in the streets.” Brown wrote.

After the incident was made known to the public, the City of Milwaukee wanted to give Brown $400,000 in what he says “to be quiet after cops kneeled on my neck, stood on my ankles and tased me in a parking lot.” He rejected the offer and chose not to stay silent.

For Brown, he established his “The Brown Brothers S.A.L.U.T.E” Foundation and the Bucks rolled out diversity initiatives. Following the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and the long history of police brutality cases against African American men and women, both NBA and WNBA players have decided to no longer stay silent about such issues. Players from both leagues have worn “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts to express their frustrations and advocate for justice through their social media platforms and during their media opportunities. 

Activism has not only been conducted by NBA and WNBA players. Some may recall the date of August 26, 2016. During a preseason NFL game against the Green Bay Packers, the then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick quietly sat on his team’s bench during the playing of the national anthem. This act began Kaepernick’s ongoing peaceful protest of the injustices that people of color face in the United States.

Following Floyd’s death and the revival of the Black Lives Matter movement, professional athletes either beginning or resuming their seasons wore “Black Lives Matter” and “I Can’t Breathe” shirts showing their solidarity and support. Many athletes chose to kneel during the playing of the national anthem, the same gesture Kaepernick switched to after it was suggested by a Veteran.

Sterling Brown of the Milwaukee Bucks sees what has taken place as a starting point. He wrote in his essay, “The current movement has confirmed for me how important it is that we stand for something. If we in the Black community want change, we have to go make it.” He believes the issue is bigger than everyone individually, but that no longer should the fight for Black lives and freedom be up for debate. “We’re fighting so we don’t have to move with fear in a country we built. It’s crazy, but we’re fighting for what we already own. Our LIVES! Our FREEDOM!”

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