The Potential Sports Reaction to the Verdict on Derek Chauvin’s Trial

Today, the prosecution and defense attorney gave their closing arguments in the murder trial against Derek Chauvin. Since March 29, court proceedings have been taking place for this case in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where Derek Chauvin took the life of George Floyd 10 months ago. However, even prior to that date, the city has been preparing for the worst of reactions from the city’s residents. Minneapolis and Hennepin County have spent at least $1 million on putting up fences and other barricades across the city.

There seems to be every indication that if there is an unsatisfactory verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial, reactions won’t be strictly felt in Minnesota; it will be felt all across the country, including the major sports leagues in the United States.

Since the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2012, we have seen dozens of protests conducted by players in their respective sports. In 2012, we watched the Miami Heat wear hoodies in solidarity for Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager who was killed by the now-notorious neighborhood watch coordinator, George Zimmerman, in Sanford, Florida. Players including Lebron James and Dwayne Wade were very vocal of their frustrations about racial injustices in the United States.

We watched multiple St. Louis Rams players jog onto the field in 2014 with their hands up, mimicking the “don’t shoot” gesture Michael Brown; the unarmed black man who was shot and killed by St. Louis police the previous day.

Players across the NBA wore “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts in pregame warmups in 2014; a phrase which was the last one uttered by Eric Garner before being choked to death by police in Staten Island, New York City. NBA stars in Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, and Carlos Boozer were vocal to the media as well, regarding it as yet another racial injustice by the hands of police officers.

In the summer of 2016, following the police shootings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling in their respective cities in consecutive days, WNBA players were fined for wearing “Black Lives Matter” T-shirts during pre-game warm ups. Fortunately, the fines were later rescinded, after plenty of public uproar.

These were all some of the many instances within the past decade of players protesting issues just like what happened to George Floyd in May of 2020. While no sports were actively being played in that late May , early June period due to the Coronavirus pandemic, one could only imagine that the social unrest during that period of time would have easily spilled over to the sports world.

But the most recent instance of these protests across sports took place this past August after the police shooting of Jacob Blake; a black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Ripple effects were directly felt as both the NBA and WNBA sat out their Wednesday games in protest. The player protests reached a point where the rest of the NBA Playoffs were in jeopardy, before players finally agreed to return to play. Meanwhile, the WNBA returned to action with the Washington Mystics hitting the court with shirts that had painted bullet holes in their backs, serving as a statement of solidarity for how many times Jacob Blake was shot.

The MLB also had seven different games cancelled for their August 28 schedule, with moments of silence being held in the beginning of the games the following day. Players also wore Black Lives Matter shirts in solidarity, including the Mets and Marlins game holding a 42 second moment of silence in honor of Jackie Robinson.

With all of these powerful statements made by players in the NBA, WNBA, NFL, and MLB since the inception of the Black Lives Matter movement, a reasonable assumption can be made that the nation’s major sports will not sit still if Derek Chauvin simply receives a manslaughter charge, or worse, is acquitted of his charges; as we’ve seen in similar cases countless times before.

Potential protests would particularly be felt in the city of Minneapolis. We just watched last week how the Timberwolves and Twins postponed games due to large-scale protests surrounding the police shooting of Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center. Fortunately for both teams, they primarily have away games this week. The Timberwolves will be on a west coast road trip starting with games in Sacramento on Tuesday and Wednesday, while the Twins will be in Oakland facing the Athletics on Tuesday and Wednesday, then return to Minneapolis for a weekend series hosting Pittsburgh.

However, depending on the world’s potential reaction, we could still see those games face challenges in commencing. The city of Sacramento is no stranger to Black Lives Matter protests. Many remember the police shooting of unarmed black man, Stephon Clark, in 2018. This not only led to protests that shut down the city’s Interstate 5, but also had protesters gather at Golden 1 Center to lock arms and bar Kings fans from entering the arena. With a potential verdict on the Chauvin trial coming on Wednesday, the Wolves vs Kings game could very well be in jeopardy.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Twins’ home games against Pittsburgh could also face issues. Depending on the city’s reaction, we could see a similar situation to what happened 6 years ago with the Baltimore Orioles. As the city of Baltimore was practically up in flames in response to the police shooting of unarmed black man, Freddie Gray, fans were locked out of the arena so that the Orioles could play the Chicago White Sox in a deafeningly quiet arena. A similar situation could very likely take place again if the verdict in Minneapolis is unsatisfactory to the community.

While the nation, and particularly Black America, hold hope for justice to be brought against Derek Chauvin for his crimes, we also have to come to grips with how uncommon convictions come in response to police shootings. Time and time again, we have watched officers return to society unscathed after a court proceeding, while the black lives lost at their very hands will never get that same privilege. As a result, the consistent recourse has always been protest. For the sports world, that could come in the form of players taking a stand, or city protests stopping games from taking place all together.

With closing arguments finished, the jury will now deliberate, with a verdict expected around Wednesday. For the city of Minneapolis, and the rest of the nation, we now await patiently hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.