• Iyanu Arukwe

#BLM is no longer trending – but the conversation must continue



In the UK we’ve just finished celebrating Black History Month. It’s a time where we remember people and events in the history of the African diaspora. As a whole, it’s a time to amplify black voices and celebrate them. And this year’s celebration of BHM is arguably more significant than previous years.


2020 has been an unprecedented year for many reasons. Aside from the global pandemic which has forced everyone to adjust to a “new normal” this year is also noteworthy for the many protests and marches that took place in June in response to police brutality and racial discrimination in the US.


Eyes are on the brands and sport organisations that posted black squares during #blackouttuesday to see if they are actually going to make the changes they publicly stated they would make.


For many sport organisations, this is the first time they have had to respond to anything like this and on a global scale.


A good case study of a sports organisation that has done this well is the NBA. For other organisations that may need help on how to handle such situations going forward, there are a few things we can learn from how the NBA has responded this year:


When conversations first began around racial injustice after the death of George Floyd, many brands and organisations were quick to put out statements. The NBA did not put out a general statement which may have seemed strange to a lot of people, especially since around 81% of players in the NBA are black, the highest percentage of any major professional sports league in the United States.


Instead the NBA used its #NBATogether campaign, which it had started around 8 weeks prior to discuss the recent events. This introduced the first of many discussions which would be known as #NBAVoices.


Throughout the week it was good to see the NBA continue to use its digital platforms to address the current racial issues in the US and was very clear on the specific things it was addressing.


Supporting the cause

The NBA was not only very clear on where it stood but also had been working behind the scenes to agree on what action it could tangibly implement.


Two months later it shared this statement committing $300m to creating greater economic opportunity and empowerment in the black community.


Educating the fans

After the initial #NBAVoices conversation in June, the NBA used its platforms to have more conversations and continue to share quotes from players, coaches and other people in the organisation on racial injustice. It used different methods of communication to get the message across, from graphics to videos and livestreams.


It was also intentional about using players from different eras in the game, meaning fans from every age group would be able to connect with the message that the NBA was trying to communicate.


The following week was Juneteenth, a holiday that celebrates the emancipation of black slaves in the United States. The NBA used this as an opportunity to educate their fans on what the day was and how to celebrate it.


Amplifying players voices

Players have also taken to their own social channels to talk about racial injustice, showing themselves taking part in marches and protests before the NBA season resumed.


Even during the season restart and Playoffs at Disney World the players were very intentional about using the influence they had as athletes, and as teams, to educate themselves and their fans to make a change.


76ers player Mattisse Thybull made vlogs during his time in the Florida resort including a few episodes where he’d filmed conversations with his teammates about the ways they could use their influence to make impactful change whilst being away playing in the Playoffs.


There were many moments during the players’ time at Disney World when decisions were player-led, like when the Milwaukee Bucks boycotted their scheduled game due to the shooting of Jacob Blake in the team’s hometown Wisconsin.


The NBA also gave the players a voice on its own platforms with many joining in discussions as part of the #NBAVoices campaign. The NBA also shared/reposted content from players and franchises around social justice.


This was significant as it showed that the NBA was working with the players to allow their voices to be heard. It was a sign of approval and allyship with the players on the issue at hand.


Normalising the conversation

The real positive about what the NBA has done is that it has not stopped. #BLM is no longer trending, so many have stopped talking about it, but the NBA has carried on the conversation. It’s key to note that talking about racial issues is not foreign to the NBA – even before this year it has been very vocal when it comes to other days that people may shy away from like MLK Day or Black History Month.


It has been intentional about not making this a conversation that only happens when it is popular. The #NBAVoices campaign is still going on to this day.



Special shout-out to the WNBA for paving the way

It’s key to note that the WNBA has been at the forefront when it comes to social justice issues. The WNBA has also engaged with marches, protests and been very vocal about social change in America and in the Sport industry as a whole.


It has been at the forefront of the racial injustice movement for many years. From as far back as July 2016 after the shooting of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille, the Minnesota Lynx team wore black t-shirts with “Change Starts With Us: Justice & Accountability” written at the back.


And this season was no different – at the beginning of the season the WNBA and the Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA) launched a new platform - “The Justice Movement” - and a WNBA/WNBPA Social Justice Council.


Throughout the season many players have been wearing custom t-shirts from “say her name” to different names of black female victims of police brutality and racial violence. Many have joined marches and have continued to use their voices and platforms to speak on racial injustice in the US.


Key Takeaways:


Address the issue

If you are going to address an issue, be very specific about what it is you are addressing. Vague statements show either lack of knowledge on the situation at hand or performative allyship. In a situation where senior members may not be the best people to address the situation, organisations should have internal resources they can call on to advice. If there aren’t any, this is a sign that things need to change internally first.


Set tangible actions to follow

As a brand or organisation, you have customers/fans from different demographics and they want to know that the brand/organisation they invest time and money in cares about them as individuals. People also place high expectations on brands/organisations – they don’t only want you to talk about it, they want you to be about it too and put your money where your mouth is. As the saying goes – actions speak louder than words.


Educate

Sometimes an organisation may not know what to say or be the best spokesperson for a cause and the fear of coming off an unauthentic may stop you from addressing an issue at all. The most invaluable thing you could do is to educate your fans and also educate yourself as an organisation. Point them to resources that can help them understand the situation better. This is another tangible small step that shows that you are not only aware about the issue, but that you want to empower others to be able to take action.


Amplify the voice of others

Allowing the athletes to express themselves as they saw fit and amplifying their voices further emphasised the point that this was an issue the NBA actually cared about. As a brand/organisation you will have members of your team that have personal experiences that will relate to certain social issues – instead of trying to sum up what you think the issue is from an individual perspective, give your members the platform to show other perspectives. Authenticity in storytelling will always trump second-hand sentiments.


Do the internal work

If this is an issue your organisation cares about it will not be a one-time thing. It will be intertwined in the very fabric of your organisation. It will not feel forced or “gimmicky” and people won’t be confused as to why it’s an issue you are addressing because it will be very clear that this is an issue that you as an organisation care about. This work starts internally and begins with looking at your values as an organisation. In the long term this authentic approach will be appreciated by your staff, fans or customers.

Black history month may now have finished but let’s hope we call all continue to celebrate diversity in society.


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