Phillies, Flyers join historic sports strikes calling attention to racial injustice

Philadelphia Phillies’ Andrew McCutchen, left, Rhys Hoskins (17), Roman Quinn, third from left, and Didi Gregorius, right, celebrate after a baseball game against the Washington Nationals, Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020, in Washington. The Phillies won 3-2. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Philadelphia Phillies’ Andrew McCutchen, left, Rhys Hoskins (17), Roman Quinn, third from left, and Didi Gregorius, right, celebrate after a baseball game against the Washington Nationals, Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020, in Washington. The Phillies won 3-2. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

In a historic moment of solidarity across professional sports in America, a slate of basketball, hockey and baseball games were postponed Thursday in response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

A scheduled Philadelphia Flyers playoff game and a regular-season Phillies outing have both been called off.

To Adio Royster, who blogs about the 76ers for Liberty Ballers, the decisions by the Flyers and the Phillies are a “pretty huge deal” because NHL and MLB teams don’t usually wade into national discussions around social justice.

“There’s a general consensus that enough is enough,” said Royster, who is Black. “I think we’ve hit a breaking point.”

Player-led wildcat strikes began with the Milwaukee Bucks, who decided Wednesday to opt-out of a playoff basketball game against the Orlando Magic.

That decision sent ripple effects across sports. The National Basketball Association canceled the rest of its scheduled games and players opted not to play some Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer contests.

On Thursday, Philadelphia Phillies players voted to follow suit, canceling their evening matchup with the Washington Nationals. Other MLB teams have done the same, but the league has yet to make a statement.

The National Hockey League, though, did cancel its scheduled Thursday contests.

NHL teams had played all three scheduled playoff games the previous night, including a Flyers-Islanders matchup. (Philly won, and the Round 2 series is currently tied 1-1.)

Members of the league’s recently formed Hockey Diversity Alliance criticized the NHL for silence and inaction, pressuring Thursday’s decision.

Moves by the NHL and individual MLB teams, revealed late Thursday afternoon, came hours after NBA players voted to resume the playoffs as soon as Friday. Two of the league’s biggest stars — Lebron James and Kawhi Leonard — had reportedly been pushing to end the season altogether.

Jacob Blake, who was allegedly shot seven times at close range by a Kenosha police officer on Sunday, is in stable condition but could be permanently paralyzed from the waist down.

His shooting came nearly three months after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which sparked nationwide protests and renewed conversations about racism and policing in America.

Locally, fans reacted Thursday to the sports cancellations.

“I’m thrilled that they did it and I’m thrilled the decisions that the other teams made last night aren’t gonna be a one-night deal,” said diehard Phillies fan Adam Woods.

Woods, who moved to Philadelphia from Tennessee two decades ago, said more postponed games makes it harder for people to ignore what happened to Blake on Sunday and the issue of police brutality writ large.

“I don’t think someone who has backwards views about race is gonna see an ice hockey game get canceled and say, ‘Well gosh, I’d better come to a better opinion about police brutality,’” said Woods, who is white.

“What I think will happen is that the governmental nuts and bolts are gonna say, ‘Wow. The big-picture social contract that we have is gonna fall apart if we don’t sit down and have a hard look at the ways we’re still a racist country.”

Royster, the Sixers blogger, added that he wished it didn’t take big-name sports figures to get people paying attention to larger social problems.

“It’s a shame that it takes people with that kind of weight to kind of start these conversations,” he said, “but I would rather have them start these conversations than no conversations happen at all.”

The Philadelphia Eagles, for their part, held practice Thursday. Afterward, according to reporters, quarterback Carson Wentz used his media time to focus on racial injustice.

During a virtual news conference held Thursday afternoon, Phillies manager Joe Girardi told reporters that his team reached the decision to forego Thursday’s game against the Nationals following a players-only discussion that lasted for roughly 35 minutes.

He said he told Rhys Hoskins, the team’s unofficial captain, that he would support whatever decision players reached.

“We’re in this together — this fight for equality and social justice,” said Girardi. “I don’t think we’re doing a good enough job giving love and hope.”

The Phillies played Wednesday night, after which Girardi said he didn’t know if his players had considered striking, but said he’d advise them to “go with their heart.”

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