Sports sociologist on Bucks protest: Team’s decision could create real change

MADISON, Wis. – A sports sociologist from UW-Madison says the Milwaukee Bucks decision to boycott Game 5 of their playoff series against the Orlando Magic could be the push necessary to bring lawmakers to special session.

Professor Jane Piliavin, who has taught sports sociology for decades, says athletes are often able to push for change in a way others can’t.

“They do have a visibility that very few other people have,” she said. “It’s often athletes who stand up and protest before other people do.”

Piliavin pointed to the role rugby played in ending apartheid in South Africa, as well as the NCAA’s commitment to not holding championships in South Carolina until the state removed the confederate flag from government buildings.

A recent example of athlete empowerment, she says, is when Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the National Anthem to protest police brutality.

“A few other athletes joined him, professional athletes,” she said. “Then lots of high school athletes and college athletes, all of them protesting essentially the treatment of African-Americans.”

The Bucks made it clear, they want Wisconsin lawmakers to follow the Governor’s request to meet in a special session, where they could pass police reform laws. However no lawmakers, including Speaker Robin Vos, responded for comment Thursday afternoon. Piliavin says she’s hopeful they could end up meeting.

“When athletes and athletic organizations take a stand on political issues, they often get their way,” she said. “When change is in the process, if they stand up and say ‘This is the way things ought to be going’, I see that as what they can do now.”

On Thursday, the players in the NBA bubble in Orlando voted to continue playing, with games resuming Friday.

“This is pro social behavior,” the sociologist said.  “They’re not doing it for themselves.”