The shooting of Jacob Blake by police on August 23rd sparked a resurgence in protests across the country, including the sports world. Strikes taking place across the NBA and MLB dominated headlines. I found myself thinking, “What about the WNBA?” The WNBA also postponed games Wednesday and Thursday in protest and have continuously paved the way for other leagues in the fight for social justice, yet they’re often left out of the conversation. We must talk about the WNBA when we talk about sports and social justice.
The WNBA is in it for long haul
In July 2016, players of the Minnesota Lynx wore unsanctioned warm-up shirts that read, “Change starts with us – Justice & Accountability” on the front.
The back read, “Philando Castile – Alton Sterling – Black Lives Matter”. Alton Sterling was fatally shot by police on July 5, 2016 and Philando Castile was fatally shot by police on July 6, 2016.
Players of the New York Liberty, Indiana Fever and Phoenix Mercury joined the fight and wore unsanctioned all-black warm-ups. These teams were fined $5,000 and $500 a player. While the fines were eventually rescinded, the players refused to let up and continued to fight. Players boycotted post-game interviews, refusing to talk about anything other than Black Lives Matter. These demonstrations preceded the first time Colin Kaepernick kneeled during the national anthem.
Before the nationally televised first game of the 2017 finals, players on the Minnesota Lynx linked arms during the national anthem, while the Los Angeles Sparks remained in the locker room. This demonstration followed violence during the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, VA. Again, the WNBA seemed to be absent from headlines, while mainstream media heavily covered the NFL protests.
The fight for racial justice and beyond
The WNBA’s fight is not just limited to racial injustice. In 2018, the league announced its Take A Seat, Take A Stand program. The program allows fans to donate $5 of every ticket purchased to 1 of 6 organizations to empower women and girls. One of the organizations fans can choose to donate their $5 to is Planned Parenthood. This announcement was shortly before Trump’s push to defund healthcare providers like Planned Parenthood if abortions are provided. Lisa Borders, former president of the WNBA, quickly made a statement in support of Planned Parenthood.
Breanna Stewart, forward for the Seattle Storm, wrote a heart-wrenching piece on The Players’ Tribune about her experience with childhood sexual abuse. The title of the piece is “Me Too” and was published in October 2017, when the allegations against Harvey Weinstein were exposed.
One of the WNBA’s greatest players, Maya Moore, took this season off to focus on criminal justice reform. In July of this year, Jonathan Irons, a man wrongfully convicted for burglary and assault, walked free with her help.
Continuing the fight
The women of the WNBA haven’t once taken their feet off the gas. They continue to fight hard against systemic racism, women’s rights, and more, and they continue to do so fearlessly.
Before Wednesday’s scheduled game, the Washington Mystics showed up on the court with an incredible powerful message. The players wore shirts, each with a letter on the front to spell out Blake’s name. On the back of the shirts were 7 painted bullet holes, representing the unnecessary violence Blake was a victim of at the hands of the police. The WNBA cancelled Wednesday’s and Thursday’s game, following suit of the NBA. However, the NBA has the WNBA to thank for paving the way for social activism.
Give credit where credit is due
Malcolm X said, “The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.” It was true then, and it’s true now. Breonna Taylor, who was shot and killed while asleep in her home, has yet to receive justice. The WNBA is comprised mostly of Black women, and the league has been neglected and disrespected for far too long.
Women in sports aren’t taken as seriously as men are – that isn’t news. We’ve written about how the NBA and WNBA lead the way in fighting for social justice, and we need to continue to give women credit where credit is due. The women of the WNBA earn pennies compared to what the players in the NBA make. Consequently, they have more at stake when they get fined or take time off to fight for justice. They don’t have millions of dollars to draw from as the majority of NBA players do. Maya Moore, who took the season off and is one of the WNBA’s greatest players of all time, earned about $120,000 per year. LeBron James earns about $467,000 per game. Moore’s yearly salary was only slightly above what James earns in 12 minutes. Just…think about that for a second.
When we praise athletes for using their platforms to speak about social injustice, which we should, we absolutely must talk about the women of the WNBA. They have been fighting this fight for a long time and risking so much in the hopes for real change.
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