On Wednesday players, coaches and team personnel from the Minnesota Lynx, Los Angeles Sparks, Washington Mystics and Atlanta Dream locked arms and knelt together at center court in Bradenton, Fla., sitting out the trio of games scheduled in the league that night.
On Thursday the WNBA players once again united together, locking arms at IMG Academy and wearing shirts that read “Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor” while once again sitting out a trio of games in the league for a second straight night.
Over the course of the two-day span, a common message has been made clear by every player, coach and league executive: They are demanding change while protesting police brutality and racial injustice in this country.
And if that doesn’t begin now, basketball and sports in general will wait until change starts to occur.
“Black people fear about living in this country day to day. We’ve had it with that,” Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve said Wednesday. “Using our voices as athletes, we’re going to get hit in the pocketbook. That sucks. You can’t have change with people like us sitting there and accepting it. It takes courage and it takes sacrifice. Many before us have done it. I am proud of this generation of women in the WNBA who don’t fear people who want to take this away from us and say ‘you spoke up too much, we’re going to take your league away from you.’ We’re unafraid of that.
“Maybe we shouldn’t have basketball. They fear for their lives, not playing the game of basketball. They fear for their family members’ lives. Where does basketball fit into that? That’s where this generation is.”
In a roundtable discussion live on ESPN on Thursday, WNBA Players’ Association president and Los Angeles forward Nneka Ogwumike made a statement on behalf of the players, saying their goal is to not go on a strike or a boycott, but rather to focus on reflection and action.
Ogwumike went on to add that although no WNBA games would be played Wednesday or Thursday, the league, its players and its coaches are still focused on resuming play this season and could return to action as soon as Friday.
“We came here for a reason, and that was to amplify our voices,” Ogwumike said on ESPN. “The only way that happens is if we’re out here (on the court). We’re going to keep doing it off the court and on the court. … We feel as a group we want to play.”
That announcement and statement made Thursday by a group of players and a league, which had already dedicated the 2020 season towards social injustice, was a strong and powerful one coming off the heels of Wednesday’s decision to temporarily stop play to focus on how they were going to unite during this time.
“The most important thing in all of this is we understand that we cannot stop. As exhausting as it is, every day you feel defeated,” Reeve said. “It’s draining. It’s about life or death. The battle for equality as women, as black women, as exhausting as it is, we can never stop. We have to think of the next thing, we can’t stop. The fight is worth fighting. … We need a change.
“There are 140 players and everyone has different thoughts and opinions, but they are united. The pain is too much to bear in how heavy this is. … Ultimately, there are things to consider, but the overriding decision was one of what is more important than living.”
The WNBA may be returning to play as soon as this weekend after sitting out the last few days to once again try and spark conversations surrounding racial injustice. But that doesn’t mean the pain, frustration, emotion and fear that players, coaches and team personnel are feeling goes away.
Every member of the WNBA has made it increasingly clear over the last few days that they are demanding that change finally takes place. And if it doesn’t, there will be no more basketball.
“That’s what they are feeling, the depth of pain and hurt. … The only concern (the players) have is for their family members,” Reeve said Wednesday. “I have a young son and I don’t have to have those same conversations, and that makes me ill. Conversations I’m having with Oliver Harris Knox Reeve — and for Odyssey Sims’ son Jaiden — I want them to grow up in a different world and I want him to be a part of change. … It has to change. This is what we’re working for.
“If we get together as athletes and we decide in college sports and in pro sports that we’re not playing, we’re not here for just entertainment. Black people are not here just for your entertainment. When we decide, and I think we’re here, we’ve had enough. … It’s heavy, it’s really heavy. I don’t know how we could have played a game (on Wednesday). This is hard being here, whether we’re in the bubble or our respective markets. This is a pivotal time in our nation’s history. It has to stop.”