On one of the most consequential nights in recent sports history — when a player-led boycott forced the N.B.A. to postpone playoff games — the Republican National Convention offered pro-Trump testimonials from a retired Notre Dame coach and a former N.F.L. player facing insider-trading charges.
“It is a pleasure, a blessing, and an honor for me to explain why I believe that President Trump is a consistent winner,” said Lou Holtz, 83, who coached college and pro teams during a successful four-decade career.
“I am here as a servant to god, a servant to the people of our nation, and a servant to our president,” said the former Minnesota Vikings safety Jack Brewer, 41.
Mr. Trump has plenty of support among athletes, especially white ones, across a range of sports. And he has hobnobbed with many Black sports figures, most from previous generations, like Mike Tyson, Herschel Walker and Jim Brown. Some, like Mr. Walker, have appeared at the Republican National Convention, and delivered a message that the party wants to project — that the president is not racist.
But members of the current generation of Black athletes in the N.B.A. and in other sports leagues have not personalized their protest in the same way — their movement is a broader call for social justice — and they certainly do not view themselves as Mr. Trump’s “servant.”
And the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black father who was partially paralyzed after a white officer fired seven shots into his back on Sunday in Kenosha, Wis., has revived the sense of urgency stirred by the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by the police.
Many see the Trump era less as an exceptional moment in American history than as the resurgence of chronic patterns of oppression, discrimination and racial violence.
But the president’s gleeful culture-war attack on the former N.F.L. quarterback Colin Kaepernick — who took a knee during the national anthem four years ago Wednesday to protest racism and police shootings — and his response to the current uprising over systemic racism seems to have steeled the determination of Black athletes across many sports.
By late Wednesday, the N.B.A. stoppage had spread to the W.N.B.A., Major League Soccer and Major League Baseball. Games between the Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers, the Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres, and the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants were called off just before they were scheduled to start.
“For me, I think no matter what, I wasn’t going to play tonight,” said Mookie Betts, the star Dodgers outfielder, who is Black.
The N.B.A. players are withholding their labor, it is not clear for how long, to promote an as-yet undefined campaign for systemic change that includes, but also transcends, ousting the current president.
“BOYCOTTED, NOT *POSTPONED,” the Lakers star LeBron James, who supports Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic nominee, wrote on his Instagram feed late Wednesday.
Even before the Milwaukee Bucks players announced their boycott of Wednesday’s playoff game, Black athletes and their coaches had been offering yearning expressions of anguish as resonant as anything uttered at either political convention.
“It’s amazing why we keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back,” said Doc Rivers, a former point guard, now coach of the Los Angeles Clippers, his eyes welling with tears as he spoke to reporters earlier this week. “It’s really so sad. Like, I should just be a coach. I’m so often reminded of my color. It’s just really sad. We got to do better. But we got to demand better.”
“Proud to know you @DocRivers,” Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, who appeared alongside his family during the Democratic convention last week, wrote in a tweet on Wednesday. “Sometimes we don’t know what to say every time this hurt happens. We Need Change!”
Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s lawyer — whose eight-year tenure as New York City mayor included numerous episodes of police-instigated violence — ripped into Mr. Rivers during an appearance on Fox News Radio on Wednesday. “What Doc is doing is seriously misleading the African-American community,” he said. “It’s a con job the Democrats have played on them for 60 years.”
Still, the boycott and the protests come at the worst possible time for Republicans, who have hoped to soften Mr. Trump’s negative image with Black voters, and to portray him in a kinder-gentler light with voters of all races.
One of the first speakers at the convention on Monday was Mr. Walker, a former superstar running back who played for a Trump-owned pro football team in the 1980s. “It hurts my soul to hear the terrible names that people call Donald,” he said. “The worst one is ‘racist.’”
But Mr. Walker’s comments were largely ignored on the electronic sports pages, and on social media. Most of the attention was focused on those still in the arena — younger players Instead, they were afire with outrage over Mr. Blake’s shooting, with announcers, players, coaches and owners — making passionate, and at times despondent, pleas for change.
“If not now, when?” the five-time all-star N.B.A. forward Chris Webber said on Wednesday. “We understand it’s not going to end. But that does not mean, young men, that you do not do anything. Don’t listen to these people telling you ‘Don’t do anything, because it’s not going to end right away.’ You are starting something for the next generation and the next generation to take over.”