Opinion: Sports world came together in united front as we held our breath for Derek Chauvin verdict

Mike Freeman, USA TODAY
·4 min read

What we're used to, what's happened so many times in the past, across days, years and centuries, is the cop who killed an unarmed Black man walked free.

The examples are numerous; a tortuous, horrific Groundhog Day of state-sanctioned violence against Black bodies, followed by juries letting the perpetrators walk. Names like King and Till and Trayvon.

"Your ancestors will turn over in their grave, and I'm sure every last Anglo-Saxon one of you has the courage to free these men," said the lawyer for the defendants who killed Till, a direct appeal to the jury's white nationalism.

But the verdict in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin was different. For once, there was justice, and it came in part thanks to a sports universe that united to fight for it.

Chauvin was found guilty on all murder and manslaughter charges, and most of America, and the sports world, breathed a sigh of relief.

The right thing happened after he was convicted of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Finally. It's so rare that the right thing happens it's something you'll remember seeing for probably the rest of your life.

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard during the NBA playoffs.
Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard during the NBA playoffs.

The protests that occurred after Floyd's murder, occurring in 50 states and 60 countries, helped galvanize the nation. It was the millions of protestors who drew attention to Floyd's death, and wouldn't let it pass quietly the way so many other murders did.

Celtics guard Jaylen Brown took part in the protests in Atlanta. LeBron James was, of course, a key figure. NFL players protested. There were a number of players who used the power of their social media to bring attention to the case. Even Michael Jordan, who is almost pathologically apolitical, joined the string of powerful voices.

On and on it went. There were no more powerful acts of protest and power than the players in the WNBA. In many ways, they led the sports world in helping to energize the Black Lives Matter movement.

As Slam wrote in August 2020: "Karima Christmas-Kelly of the Minnesota Lynx attended a vigil in Minneapolis where Floyd was murdered. Renee Montgomery passed out bottled water to protesters in Atlanta. Seattle Storm teammates Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart both addressed the crowd at a local protest. Several players from the Fever marched for equality in Indiana. Aces star Liz Cambage led passionate chants for justice on the streets of Melbourne, Australia. Members of the Wizards and Mystics peacefully protested together in DC."

It was also the efforts of Colin Kaepernick that helped lead to this moment. The WNBA was fighting to bring attention to this issue before Kaepernick, but his protests during the playing of the anthem were among the most galvanizing moments in the history of sports protests. He sacrificed his career to focus people's attention on cases like Floyd's.

This is what sports did. It wasn't always perfect. But it was present and powerful.

Even down to the end, before the verdict was announced, sports helped drive the conversation on systemic racism, and helped people of color deal with the pain of watching a man being suffocated for nine minutes.

The Minnesota Twins released a remarkable statement that was one of the most potent any sports team, in any league, has released over the past year. It was signed by the Pohlad family, the owners of the team.

"The events of this past year have shown just how toxic and prevalent systemic and individual racism are to our community. We understand more deeply than ever the need to listen, learn and empathize in order to find ways to move forward together to build a more just community for all. The eyes of the world have been on the Derek Chauvin trial and now on the tragic death of Daunte Wright.

"We are horrified and ashamed that this keeps happening to Black people in our community and many other cities across our country. As we await a verdict, we hope and pray our criminal justice system provides the justice George Floyd and his family deserve, though nothing can restore Mr. Floyd's life or ease the pain of his murder. We also know that whatever the jury decides, there will still be much work to do...

"We are humbled by the scope of what needs to be accomplished and remain steadfast in our commitment to support the work of ending racial injustice in our community.

"In the days and weeks ahead, please listen and treat each other with compassion and respect as we work through this together. Take care of yourselves and one another."

The fight will continue. It will likely continue for decades, if not longer, and the sports world, like it was now, will be there, fighting.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Derek Chauvin verdict: Sports world united seeking justice for Floyd