Note from Jack: The following is the latest in a series of open letters to the owners of Chicago’s major sports teams, asking them to release stronger, more tangible statements opposing police violence, specifically against Black lives.
We started June 8, with a letter to the McCaskey family, published jointly on Windy City Gridiron, Chicago Audible and Da Bears Blog, along with a letter to Jerry Reinsdorf and White Sox management published at both South Side Sox and South Side Hit Pen.
On June 9, Bleed Cubbie Blue joined us with an open letter to the Ricketts family.
Today, Locked on Bulls and other members of the Bulls community are publishing an open letter to Jerry, Michael and Nancy Reinsdorf. You can read it on Medium, and below.
— Jack Silverstein, June 11, 2020
11 June 2020
To Jerry Reinsdorf, Michael and Nancy Reinsdorf, and the Chicago Bulls organization,
As lifelong Bulls fans, past and present Bulls media and members of the Bulls community, we read the statement your franchise issued May 31 regarding the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, and we appreciate the organization’s condemnation of racism in any form.
Now it is time for you to say more.
Michael and Nancy wrote in their statement that following George Floyd’s murder, “We should use our energy and efforts to come together to build a better Chicago that stands for equality and justice for all.” They sent their condolences to the families who have been caused unthinkable grief, and pledged the organization’s commitment to work together to stand for real change. This is a wonderful start.
It has also been wonderful to hear the players add their voices to the conversation, from Thaddeus Young, Zach LaVine, Wendell Carter Jr. and more expressing their true feelings on such a sensitive subject and pledging their efforts to help Chicago and the Black community.
We invite the franchise to lead and speak up with the same tangible strength as its players.
The images and stories of police violence in Chicago this past week — against protesters, press and passerby — are horrific, yet not surprising. As Mayor Lightfoot noted, Chicago has a deep history of police violence, specifically against Black people. In the past week, we’ve seen an officer running over a 16-year-old girl in Roseland, officers shoving and clubbing protesters, and officers pepper spraying reporters.
Then there were the officers who dragged a woman from her car Sunday afternoon in a mall parking lot, where she was shopping with friends, and beat her, kneeling on her neck.
Since protests in Chicago over Floyd’s killing began Friday, May 29, 344 complaints have been made against the Chicago Police Department, according to the head of the city’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability, for excessive force, denial of counsel, improper search and seizure and verbal abuse.
Incredibly, one of those complaints is from Ghian Foreman, president of the Chicago Police Board, the independent civilian-led board that decides disciplinary cases involving police. Foreman’s complaint alleges that officers struck his legs with batons at least five times while he marched on 47th Street to protest police brutality. Police misconduct lawsuits cost Chicago taxpayers tens of millions of dollars annually, including an astounding $113 million in 2018 alone.
And this of course is just Chicago. The images around the country are equally heinous, with far too many to list, including the two college students in Atlanta, from Chicago, who were on a date when police smashed their car windows, dragged them out of the car, tased them and beat with clubs.
In other words, the anger and sadness that Michael and Nancy Reinsdorf referenced, which our entire city is feeling, cannot be addressed through a short public statement and a pledge to “redouble our efforts” and “rise above our differences.” It is the result of systemic racism, white supremacy, abuse of power and a lack of accountability for police violence.
Yet while these are massive problems, they are created by tangible actions — ones that the Chicago Bulls franchise, a pillar of our city, with influence and means, can address by using, as the Reinsdorfs said, “our energy and efforts” to affect real change.
In their statement the Reinsdorfs said, “all too often, after these tragedies we talk but the conversations don’t result in any meaningful changes.” We urge them to consider that their statement didn’t start the conversation on the correct foot. How can you omit the phrase “police brutality” or even the word “police” in a conversation about exactly that issue and the racial injustice and tragedy tied to it?
Further, how can you omit the crucial cause of the conversation while shifting the focus to “lawless actions” of some looters and rioters who aren’t even connected to those out in the streets of our city peacefully protesting for those meaningful changes? We cannot treat the symptoms if we do not identify the disease.
The violence we are seeing in American cities during demonstrations for justice in the murder of George Floyd, and the murder of Breonna Taylor, stem in part from three areas:
- The legacy of the justice system not holding police officers accountable when they kill citizens, specifically Black people.
- The delayed action by law enforcement to arrest the officer who murdered George Floyd, and the three officers who served as his accomplices. The three officers who shot and killed Breonna Taylor in March remain free.
- The violent police action against both citizens and press exercising their First Amendment rights.
A sports franchise’s public statement must offer solutions just as tangible as the root causes of the problems the franchise is addressing. It must convey the same urgency inherent in this threat. It must show players — 74% of whom are Black — that its speaker stands with them and understands their pain.
A group of NFL players released a video last Thursday saying as much, asking the NFL to make a new statement condemning systematic oppression of Black people, admitting wrongdoing in silencing player protests and stating that Black lives matter.
Commissioner Roger Goodell released a video response Friday, stating those items and adding a key point: “Without Black players, there would be no National Football League.”
The same can undoubtedly be said about the NBA, whose players are speaking up on their various platforms and making their voices heard in attendance at protests across the country.
As such, we ask that the Reinsdorf family delivers on camera this week a new public statement on behalf of the Chicago Bulls, one that states:
- A DEMAND for an immediate halt to police violence against organizers, activists, demonstrators and protesters in the city of Chicago. This means encouraging public officials to not enlist the National Guard, directing police officers to protect organizers and peaceful protesters and to protect First Amendment rights of free assembly, free speech and a free press.
- A DENUNCIATION of militarization of local police forces, and of the calls to send U.S. troops into American cities.
- A COMMITMENT to, in the future, publicly call for the immediate arrest of officers who kill citizens, and for a legal process in their cases bereft of barriers to accountability.
There are differences of opinion, even among the undersigned, on what exactly should be done to stop police violence, and what role an NBA team can and should do to address this threat. Already we are seeing a variety of more nuanced discussions to take place in Chicago and across the country about police violence. Everything from a sports team’s law enforcement appreciation events to bi-partisan legislation around qualified immunity reform to defunding of police are becoming common discussion in households across America.
But we do not view the above three bullet points as particularly radical nor as anything requiring deeper nuance or context. Police should be held accountable when they kill citizens, and Americans should be allowed to exercise their First Amendment rights. Period.
While the Bulls making the above statements will not alone solve systemic racism, white supremacy or police violence, they would, coming from a sports franchise, represent true leadership around these critical issues.
In short, they would begin to fulfill Michael and Nancy Reinsdorf’s words: “There is a crisis in our country, and we need to redouble our efforts and work harder than ever. We have to rise above our differences and come together to affect real change for the future; otherwise we’re going to see the past repeat itself again.”
Sports have always helped heal a wounded society, but some wounds are too great to even enjoy sports. When we demand justice in these cases of police brutality, we do so not just as Americans and Chicagoans, but as Bulls fans. Bulls fandom is part of our identity. The franchise supports Bulls fans when we have cancer, when we are youth athletes, when we are homeless and need coats, when we return home from active duty. This is merely another aspect of that support.
The impact the Bulls organization can have in this time of American crisis, along with other sports teams in Chicago, is powerful enough to be the first steps toward justice.
Please speak clearly today.
Sincerely, urgently, and in solidarity,
Locked On Bulls and our friends in the Bulls community
- Matt Peck, Locked On Bulls / Bulls Outsiders
- Jordan Maly, Locked On Bulls / 670 The Score
- John Sabine, Bulls Outsiders
- Jack Silverstein, Bulls historian / Windy City Gridiron
- Brett Ballantini, South Side Sox / South Side Hit Pen
- Cody Delmendo, Sky Is Falling Podcast
- Julie DiCaro, Deadspin
- Matt Gentile, Rebuild-A-Bull
- Zach Gilford, Chicago actor / Bulls fan
- Sean Highkin, NBA reporter / former Bulls beat writer
- Mark Karantzoulis, Bulls HQ
- Tommy Long, Sky Is Falling Podcast
- Stephen Noh, NBA writer
- Ramina Odisho, Bulls fan
- Ricky O’Donnell, SB Nation
- Jason Patt, BlogABull
- Fred Pfeiffer, Bulls HQ / Chicago Bullseye
- Drew Schad, Chicago actor / Bulls fan
- Sean Sears, Locked On Cubs / Bulls fan
- Brad Squires, Bulls fan
- Salim Suterwalla, Bulls Gold
- Allana Tachauer, NBA writer / Bulls Outsiders Guest Host
- Pej Vahdat, Actor / Bulls fan
- Lester Wiltfong Jr., Windy City Gridiron
- Jimmy Zincke, UK Chicago Bulls