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Why The Strike Matters

We begin by continuing to reflect on the NBA strike that began last Wednesday and ended with games resuming over the weekend. The strike is a hard thing to judge for several reasons. First, athletes don’t have the power to fix systemic racism — nor is it their responsibility to do so — so the protest itself can’t accomplish its end goal, even if it has achieved concrete gains like forcing the Wisconsin Legislature back into session or turning arenas into polling centers. Second, we tend to underrate the value of symbolism as a force for cultural change. While the few polls that have been done since the strike show general support for it and for athletes’ ability to protest, it’s hard to quantify exactly how seeing NBA icons like LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo stand up for racial justice will affect the young fans watching at home. But sports is one of the few spheres of American life where Black people truly have leverage to force those with power and influence to act. We’re firmly in an era of athlete activism, and whether the strike itself yields tangible benefits, it cemented that fact.

Next, we look at college football, as games have already started and what’s left of the Power Five will kick off next week. The season will be a patchwork and might roll from September to March, if the Big Ten begins playing around Thanksgiving and the Pac-12 starts sometime after Christmas. That means this might be the one year we don’t really have a college football champion — or at the very least, this is the one year that going back to the old voting system of eyeballing the teams that dominate their regional areas makes sense. The dogged insistence on normalcy by schools, teams, fans and media stakeholders will all likely conspire to crown a champion in a more conventional fashion. But we really do need to embrace the weirdness and remember that the virus doesn’t care how much we want to go back to normal. College stadiums have huge potential to be super-spreader events, even at a quarter or half-full. We’ll never get college football back as a way of life if we aren’t willing to let go of a little bit of normalcy this year.

Finally, in the Rabbit Hole, Neil answers Sara’s call to look at great players who ended up on weird teams after the baseball trade deadline. From Rickey Henderson ending up on the Anaheim Angels to Ken Griffey Jr. briefly finding himself in a White Sox uniform to Tim Raines playing one week with the Orioles, Neil covers a wild collection of familiar faces showing up in strange places.

What we’re looking at this week:

Sarah Shachat is Hot Takedown’s producer.

Sara Ziegler is the former sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.

Neil Paine was the acting sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.

Geoff Foster is the former sports editor of FiveThirtyEight.