Activism in the WNBA

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As the fate of the WNBA season started off uncertain and experienced a late start, beginning July 24, life in the “wubble” put social justice on the forefront of life as an athlete. Prior to the start of the season, the WNBA and the WNBPA launched “The Justice Movement,” a council for social justice, which is expansive in creating conversations regarding race, as well as other societal issues such as LGBTQ+ advocacy. “The Justice Movement,” is led by players within the league, including former UConn standout Breanna Stewart.  

With the 2020 season being dedicated to social justice, the league has embraced the Black Lives Matter movement and the Say Her Name campaign. Each of the 12 teams contain the name of Breonna Taylor on their jerseys, as well as shirts that contain the slogan, “Arrest the Cops Who Killed Breonna Taylor.” 

For many, this may seem like a harmless act, yet Kelly Loeffler, a Georgia senator and owner of the Atlanta Dream, begged to differ as she objected to the league’s embracing of the Black Lives Matter movement in a letter to the commissioner. Her letter argued that it is a political movement that the league should not be embracing. Such actions evoked a response from the athletes on the team, including the idea that they reject the letter in its fullness, and they then encouraged people to go out and vote in the upcoming election, although not mentioning Loeffler’s name. The players refused to back down from supporting a movement that they believe to be addressing a major problem that the country is facing. 

Most recently, prior to postponing games for the day, the Washington Mystics wore shirts containing a letter in Jacob Blake’s name, accompanied by seven holes drawn on the back of their shirts outlined in red, symbolizing blood, as they represented the injustice that Blake went through in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The scheduled teams took a knee as they paid their respects. Following this gesture, the players went on to have a candlelight vigil the same night. 

While such acts of activism are now accepted in the league, they were not always respected. In 2016, teams were fined $5,000 and each player was fined $500 for speaking out against police brutality by wearing shirts that contained Alton Sterling and Philando Castile’s names accompanied by Black Lives Matter and other social justice slogans.  

Punishing acts, such as fining the players, did not lessen their voices, but caused players to want to speak out more. Players, then and now, took to their social media platforms to express their stance on social injustices as they fight for what is right. These strong-minded women are making the statement that they will not be silenced and are propelling the movement using their platform to the best of their ability. 

In a league where approximately 70% of players are Black, as reported by ESPN, no single player stands alone in this fight because they are fighting together. Black Lives Matter is a fight that affects these players in different ways. The fight for Taylor extends beyond race, combatting sexism as well, which is also the purpose of “The Justice Movement.”  

Racial injustice is an ongoing problem in society, which deserves attention, and the WNBA and WNBPA vow to take on this fight, as well as address additional battles of inclusion.  

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