LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA - AUGUST 26: A basketball sits next to an NBA Playoffs logo in Game Five of the Eastern Conference First Round scheduled between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Orlando Magic during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on August 26, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

As America reels from neverending racial tensions and violence, we have to learn a valuable lesson. Live sports aren’t a right.

I am a lifelong sports fan, and enough is enough.

It isn’t bad enough that most of us can’t live our lives how we’d like as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on. New York and the rest of the tri-state area may be in decent shape, but the virus is still very real. Americans nationwide are all on edge.

Even worse is that over 50 years after the Civil Rights Act was signed into law, some have yet to get the memo. The summer of 2020 has been defined by racial tension, punctuated by George Floyd’s murder by police in Minneapolis. Calls for police reform have since gone from loud to deafening.

And it was easy for everyone to learn a lesson from Floyd, at least at first. Black Lives Matter wasn’t just a political movement, but a reality. With no sports to entertain us at the time, we were actually forced to question our own viewpoints on the matter.

Well, we clearly didn’t question enough. Just this week, Jacob Blake of Kenosha, Wisconsin became the latest Black man to suffer at the hands of police. While walking back to his car, police shot him in the back seven times. Blake was reportedly breaking up a fight before police arrived. Days later, as protests in Kenosha raged, a teenager from Illinois shot and killed two peaceful protestors while injuring another.

Cue MLB, the NBA, and even the NHL postponing games, and fans are now forced to confront a new harsh truth.

Live sports are a privilege and unless we support what the players stand for, then what are we even doing?

Acknowledging privilege

First things first, I know this sounds strange coming from someone like myself. I am a white man married to a white woman. Every school I attended was majority white by a wide margin. I own my own home and grew up in a fairly well-off family.

But as the cherry on top, I wasn’t holed up in my New York City apartment as the aftermath of George Floyd’s death unfolded. Two days after the tragedy, my wife and I went out to the Hamptons to spend a week with my family. Our friends in the city protested while we sat poolside.

And yet, none of it felt right to be doing. My heart broke not just for my city, but for all those who had suffered for countless years up until May 25, 2020. Any other day, I probably would have said, “So sad,” and then either written my columns for the week or watched whatever game was on that night. Perhaps even both.

Except I didn’t really have that option. Sports hadn’t yet come back. Only various European soccer leagues had announced official return dates at that point. Protesting was not an option due to my wife’s pregnancy and the risk of exposure to coronavirus.

Thus, I had two choices. I could keep enjoying the vacation in blissful ignorance, or actually try and better understand what was unfolding.

I chose the latter.

Sports as a privilege

Some readers might not like the next thing I’m about to say, but it is the absolute honest truth. Being able to enjoy sports in any capacity, be it live and in person or on television or just reading about them, is an enormous privilege.

We aren’t just fans, but consumers taking in a product. Our collective fandom feeds the money machine that makes the MLB, NBA, NFL, and even the Professional Bowlers Association go. Without us, sports are without a lifeline.

Which is why the players are 100% in the right when it comes to postponing games out of protest. Now that life as we know it is making a slow return, we’re getting too comfortable. Protests may have subsided in the weeks following George Floyd’s death, but the issue still exists. America has a racism problem and not nearly enough is being done to address it.

This is the exact reason why athletes, led by the NBA, basically went on a temporary strike. The Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers even suggested canceling the rest of the season. Concerns appear to have fallen on deaf ears. What better way to voice them again by taking away one of our few distractions in live sports?

Hope for the future?

What I mean, when we get everything down to brass tacks, is it’s time to hold ourselves accountable. We may not pay the players directly, but we spend money on tickets, merchandise and the like so that their respective teams can pay them.

And mind you, none of this is to say we’re criminally far behind. It wasn’t long ago that Donald Sterling’s racist comments cost him ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers. Nearly two decades prior, Marge Schott was forced to sell the Cincinnati Reds after her long history of racist and anti-Semitic comments got her banned from day-to-day operations.

But today, as racial tensions rise and national leadership only fans the flames, what can we as fans do? The first step is educating. We all know about LeBron James the player, but how many of us are aware of his More Than A Vote initiative to recruit young Black people as poll workers? Stephen Curry is a stone-cold killer on the court, yet is incredibly sincere when it comes to politics.

The point is until we understand who these players are, where they come from, and what they stand for away from the sport, we should think twice before blindly criticizing their choice to not play. Otherwise, we are little more than entitled people in seats shouting, “Play for us!” regardless of how much our heroes are hurting.

In case anyone was late to the party, this stops now.

Final thoughts

The long and short of it all is simple. Live sports are a privilege we have taken for granted for far too long, and the players have had enough. Why should they go out and play their games when a fair amount of fans probably don’t accept, let alone respect, why they’re upset about Jacob Blake’s shooting? About George Floyd’s murder? About how the officers who shot Breonna Taylor while she lay asleep in her bed have yet to be held accountable at all?

More importantly, though NBA games will soon resume, the players aren’t asking for much. At all. All they really want is for fans, executives, and even some of their fellow players to acknowledge that there is a problem. Racism is alive and well in the United States and it’s time we started talking about it. They do not want us to change everything overnight, nor blindly agree with them. They just want some mutual respect and support as this battle continues today, tomorrow, years into the future.

As fans, we owe them that much. We either support them on and off the court, or we don’t. Period. That may sound extreme to some, but it’s the reality of everything. The players have said enough is enough. They are the ones that make the games and leagues go even if they aren’t signing the paychecks.

Times are changing, ladies and gentlemen, and it doesn’t matter if some feathers get ruffled along the way. We as fans owe it to ourselves and our favorite athletes to support them not just in sport, but in life.

Sports are a privilege, plain and simple. It’s time we started treating them as such.

Oh, and in case it wasn’t obvious, Black Lives Matter.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.