The reverberations throughout sports came swiftly after a jury in Minnesota convicted Derek Chauvin on Tuesday of murdering George Floyd, as athletes, teams and leagues weighed in on the verdict in a case that had reignited fierce debate about racism and policing in the United States.
“ACCOUNTABILITY,” the N.B.A.’s top star, LeBron James, said in a one-word post on Twitter after Chauvin was convicted of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
After Floyd’s murder last May, as well as the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other Black victims of violence, athletes across sports spent much of last year engaged in numerous activist efforts around issues of racial justice and voting rights.
Some hit the streets to join the protests that sprung up around the country following Floyd’s murder, even as games had been halted because of the coronavirus pandemic. Others kept their attention on Chauvin’s case and others as competitions resumed, with statements, public displays and other forms of protest. Soon, leagues themselves began to express corporate solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and broad themes of fighting racism and systemic inequities.
“George Floyd’s murder was a flash point for how we look at race and justice in our country and we are pleased that justice appears to have been served,” Adam Silver, the commissioner of the N.B.A., and Michele Roberts, the executive director of the players’ union, said in a joint statement on Tuesday.
“While this verdict represents a step toward justice, we are reminded that justice is too often not the outcome for people of color,” said Cathy Engelbert, the commissioner of the W.N.B.A.
The W.N.B.A. dedicated its 2020 season to social justice. In the summer, after the N.B.A. restarted its season near Orlando, Fla., Milwaukee Bucks players organized a walkout to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., which ballooned into stoppages involving hundreds of athletes across baseball, soccer, hockey and tennis.
“I was going to make a celebratory tweet but then I was hit with sadness because we are celebrating something that is clear as day,” the tennis star Naomi Osaka said of the Chauvin verdict. Osaka prompted a tournament to halt play when she planned to drop out in solidarity with the Bucks and other athletes who did not play after Blake was shot. “The fact that so many injustices occurred to make us hold our breath toward this outcome is really telling.”
At least one effort to respond to the verdict, that of the N.F.L.’s Las Vegas Raiders, fell flat and was met with derision. They posted an image to Twitter with the words, “I CAN BREATHE” and Tuesday’s date, an apparent reference to some of Floyd’s last words, which included “I can’t breathe.”
Late Tuesday, Mark Davis, the owner of the Raiders, told The Athletic he was responsible for the post and said that the words were in reference to Floyd’s brother, Philonese Floyd, who said at a news conference after the verdict that, “Today, we are able to breathe again.”
Davis also said he wasn’t aware that supporters of the New York Police Department had worn “I can breathe,” T-shirts after the death of Eric Garner in 2014.
Davis told The Athletic, “If I offended the family, then I’m deeply, deeply disappointed.”
Several clubs based in Minnesota expressed sympathy for Floyd’s family.
“Throughout our history, racial and social inequalities have been ingrained in our society. We are hopeful that today’s decision will serve as a step forward, but it does not ease the physical and emotional pain that continues in an environment where systemic racism exists,” The N.B.A.’s Minnesota Timberwolves and the W.N.B.A.’s Minnesota Lynx said in a joint release.
Karl-Anthony Towns, the Timberwolves star who also joined protests after Floyd’s murder, said in a Twitter post, “Justice and Accountability! Things I never thought I would see. There’s much more work to do, but this is an amazing start working toward the reform this country NEEDS!”