On March 13, 2020, three plain-clothed Louisville Metro Police Department Officers — Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison and Myles Cosgrove — forced entry into the apartment of Breonna Taylor, a 26 year-old Black woman, executing a search warrant. The officers shot their firearms 32 times with six of them killing Taylor.

Taylor’s murder reached the mainstage of the public eye when protests erupted after the horrific death of George Floyd. She became a rallying cry for the suffering of the Black community, specifically Black women, in protests against generational systemic oppression. 

Around the country, the sports community has become a leader in the fight against racial injustice to an extent it never has before. When the NBA travelled down to their Disney World bubble in early July, many players diverted their press conferences and used their platform to discuss these issues, echoing names like Breonna Taylor. So too did WNBA players at their bubble in Bradenton, Fla., some 120 miles away.

In Ann Arbor, several University of Michigan athletes have used their own platform to speak up. In August, football senior defensive back Hunter Reynolds joined forces with Eastern Michigan linebacker Tariq Speights to organize a Black Lives Matter rally with hundreds of attendees.

“Well I think we’re in a unique position where we have a lot of people looking at us for what we do for athletics and what not,” Audrey LeClair, a sophomore on the softball team who participated in the protest, said. “And we represent this school and therefore we have a platform that we can use and it’s really important. And just it’s important to use it because we have a certain voice that a lot of regular students don’t have. … As you saw, we’re all more than an athlete.” 

The same chants passionately screamed at many protests against social injustice could be heard at this one — one of them calling for the memory of Taylor:

“Say her name!”

“Breonna Taylor!

As more time passed, many continued to place pressure on Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron to arrest the officers who killed Taylor. 

On Sept. 23, a grand jury indicted Hankinson on wanton endangerment charges for the 10 shots fired inside Taylor’s residence. Cosgrove and Mattingly were not criminally charged and the death of Taylor was not placed on any of the officers. 

Another uproar of emotion flooded the streets in Louisville, Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and hundreds of other cities. The same chants and signs proclaimed anger toward the failure of the justice system. 

And, once again, athletes were at the center of the movement.

Former Fab Five star Jalen Rose used his position as a commentator on ESPN’s NBA Finals broadcast to display his frustration with the decision made.

When Kyle Rittenhouse, in Milwaukee as a 17-year-old, kills two people, yet three cops aren’t directly charged with killing Breonna Taylor … it shows you how they feel about Black lives in America, Rose later said. 

It became too overwhelming for him to solely focus on basketball during such a momentous and emotional time in the United States. Other NBA players shared in that struggle, as the league stopped play for two days as a result of the Milwaukee Bucks boycott, later joined by all the other playoff teams. 

“So, we are starting a game … It’s 400 years of slavery to 0, Rose said during the pregame show. “We know we’re not (going to) win, but you still gotta continue to move the ball forward and put people behind you in a position to be successful, and that’s what we’re here to do today. … Thats what the NBA players are doing today, and that’s why I applaud them because while they’re out, they’re performing with heavy hearts trying to win a championship. I understand that this is really painful, to show up to work and still try to entertain.”

Michigan defensive graduate assistant and and former player Mike McCray also displayed his outrage by tweeting his displeasure, as well as consistently sharing information about Taylor’s murder.

Ambry Thomas, another former Michigan player, also joined the flurry of furious athletes. 

To honor Taylor’s memory, we must listen to Thomas, McCray, Rose and so many more: The lack of justice in the case of Breonna Taylor once again proves the troubling reality of the presence of racism in America. There are so many names — whether they are publicly known or not — that exemplify the horrors of police brutality against Black people. Wickedly, many of them result in the same unfulfillment as Taylor. 

It is important to remember these people so that they are never forgotten. The deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Jacob Blake must spark change, as their examples have provided an awakening for many Americans. 

Athletes have played an integral role in the awareness of these victims, as they have that ability to reach a large portion of people. Their voice carries weight and will continue, especially as a momentous and critical election nears. Whether their viewpoints and opinions are in agreement with the people listening, the subject matter is non-negotiable. The case of Breonna Taylor demonstrates that racism is real — and it is not a political topic that can be argued over. 

As Rose said, the game is “400 years of slavery to 0” and there is a lot more work to do to achieve true equality. 

Trachtenberg can be reached at btrach@umich.edu and on Twitter @brandon_trach1

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