September 2020


In this lesson, students will:

  • Explore the perspectives, motivations, and goals of athletes protesting the shooting of Jacob Blake.
  • Analyze polling data and consider shifts in public opinion over time.
  • Examine primary sources from individual athletes, teams, and sports leagues.
  • Assess historical continuities and changes in protests by athletes against injustice.
  • Consider the achievements and limitations of collective action by athletes.


Note on Remote Teaching

This lesson can be completed in a remote learning environment. We recommend doing a class video session to introduce the activity and discuss reactions to the introductory video. Students can read the news article and examine the polling data and statements on their own. Alternatively, you may wish to have students complete this work in pairs or small groups by using group chat sessions or virtual hangouts. A class video session to share student findings, discuss the NBA statement, and conduct the concluding discussion is recommended.

Note to Teachers

Remind students that conversations about events surrounding the shooting of Jacob Blake will likely raise issues related to racism and power, which can be emotional. As you discuss these issues with your class, remind students that it is important to be respectful of the experiences of others, to think before they speak, and to be prepared to support their statements with facts.

We encourage teachers to consider carefully the dynamics of their classrooms as they prepare to use these materials. For example, students with different racial identities may experience this lesson differently. Students with different political views may offer contrasting perspectives. Discussions can take unexpected turns. Students may unwittingly offend each other. The process of exploring the unequal power dynamics of anti-Black racism can lead students to lash out in anger or to suffer in silence. Teachers need to be aware of these possibilities and act to make their classrooms a safe place for all students. While we cannot offer a formula for dealing with all situations, being prepared for many possible outcomes will go a long way to helping students consider these critical issues.

You should also read and view all sources before sharing them with students to be sure that they are appropriate for your classroom.

Finally, it is important to remind students that this lesson will not cover all aspects of the protests against systemic racism. Today’s work will help them understand the events within a certain framework. Additional questions and ideas will arise that students can explore in future lessons or through individual research.

In the Classroom

1. Activate Prior Knowledge

Ask students what they know about the NBA and WNBA decision to participate in a walkout and stop playing basketball at the end of August. What were the immediate events that led to the walkout? Who is Jacob Blake and what happened to him? What other events earlier in the year may have contributed to the walkout? Can students connect other events in U.S. history to the decision of athletes to protest? Where have students heard about the walkout and these events? Tell students that they are going to examine primary sources about the walkout and consider its significance in its larger historical context.

Play the short Choices video of athletes’ responses. As students watch, have them write down key phrases or ideas. Invite students to respond briefly to the video.

2. Consider the Historical Context of Athlete Protests

Break the class into pairs or small groups of three or four. Distribute the excerpts from the Los Angeles Times article: “Athletes Find the Power of their Collective Voice in Jacob Blake Protests.” Have the students read the article silently to themselves. Tell students to place a star next to key phrases and ideas and to underline words and names that they don’t know or have questions about. (Note: If you are conducting this lesson in a remote learning environment, you may wish to ask students to write down key phrases/ideas and words/names they don’t know.) Answer any questions about vocabulary or people. Tell students to work with their partner or small group to answer the questions about the article.

Bring the class back together and ask students to share some of their answers. What historical examples of athletes protesting does the article describe? According to the article, how has public opinion about athletes protesting changed? The author of the article writes, “This time feels different.” What do students believe he means? Ask students what kind of information or evidence they might need to evaluate the author’s belief. Tell students that they are going to examine other sources that explore this issue and others surrounding the walkout.

3. Analyze Sources

Distribute “Public Opinion Polls,” “Athlete, Team, and League Statements,” and “Graphic Organizer: Analyzing Statements” to all students. Have students follow the directions of the handouts, answer the questions about the “Public Opinion Polls,” and complete the graphic organizer.

Bring the class back together, and ask students to share their reactions. What stood out to students in the sources? What information about athletes’ protests do these “Public Opinion Polls” provide? Did students notice any similarities or differences across the various athlete, team, and league statements? Do these two sets of sources add to students’ understanding of the Los Angeles Times article? In what way?

Have a student or series of students read aloud the joint NBA/NBPA statement. Ask students to share their responses to Part II of the graphic organizer. What commitments or promises did NBA executives and team owners make in response to the NBA players’ walkout?

4. Conclusion

Begin the concluding discussion by asking students to share their thoughts on the following question: 

  • Based on everything you have read today, what do you think the NBA and WNBA player walkout/protest accomplished?

Continue the concluding discussion by posing any or all of the following questions to the class. Encourage students to connect what they have read about and discussed to what they know about the broader protest movement in the United States for police/criminal justice reform and an end to systemic racism.

  • What role can (or should) professional athletes play in social justice/activist movements?
  • Do you think the walkout/protest accomplished what athletes sought to achieve? Why or why not?
  • Do you think the athletes’ walkout/protest benefited the broader movement in the United States for police/criminal justice reform and an end to systemic racism? Why or why not?
  • Do you think NBA, WNBA, and other professional athletes should have continued their walkout/protest? If so, what do you think that would have accomplished? If not, why?
  • What limitations or difficulties did NBA players and other professional athletes face in trying to accomplish their demands for police/criminal justice reform and an end to systemic racism?
  • What do you think was the most important part of the athletes’ protest: refusing to play, using their platform as professional athletes to advocate for social justice and an end to systemic racism, or gaining commitments from professional sports owners/leagues to invest in social justice movements and voter registration/voting rights campaigns? Why?
  • As a protest tactic, what are the advantages and disadvantages of collectively going on strike, walking off the job, or refusing to work?
  • Do you think we will see more athlete walkouts in the future? Why or why not?
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