Amidst the social unrest caused by another unarmed Black man getting shot seven times by law enforcement, the WNBA players decided not to play any games Wednesday evening. This should not come as a surprise to anyone that has been paying attention, but I think a lot of people are not realizing the importance of the WNBA on this front. While this type of activism may be a new venture for some sports leagues, the W has been walking the walk for a long time, with a lot more at stake.
Let’s look at the track record of these women for a second. In 2016, the WNBA players pretty much wrote the book on league wide protests. In response to Alton Sterling and Philando Castile being murdered and five Dallas police officers being killed at a protest against those acts of violence, women across the league wore black shirts bearing messages of condemnation against all of those incidents. The criticism that followed was disappointing, but far from surprising. Off-duty Minneapolis police officers walked off their security posts at a Lynx game because of their disapproval. It’s funny that they conveniently missed the objection to the murders of the police as well, yet I digress. In the following days, players on every team engaged in some form of protest.
I keep specifying the players took action, because the WNBA hasn’t always been the socially engaged, tolerant entity we know today. Teams and players were fined for doing the exact thing that they are applauded for today. It wasn’t until there was massive backlash, the then commissioner, Lisa Borders, rescinded the fines. Since then, the WNBA has definitely progressed in this realm. They are fully immersed in these issues and walk in unison with their players, as the league learned from their players and completely embraced them. The most effective thing the WNBA does, is to not just allow its’ players to use their voices, but now throwing their full support behind them. They don’t just get out of the way and let the players do them, they walk hand in hand with them on their quest for equality.
Perhaps the most important part of the league’s advocacy is the part that doesn’t get mentioned enough, but should lead the conversation. The ladies in the WNBA have been on the right side of this fight for years, we all know this. But the thing that needs to be highlighted is they have been waging this war on inequality, from an extremely disadvantaged position. In a time where the WNBA has to scratch and claw for support (this is ridiculous in itself), they continue to speak their truth and aren’t afraid to ruffle some feathers. Honestly speaking, if you’re bothered by the things these ladies are vocal about, then you are part of the problem. But the courage of these women needs to be celebrated.
Many of the league’s marquee players sat out this season without the security of knowing their financial burdens would be eased. They are the first to decry any injustice without a second thought. Women like Maya Moore take “More than an Athlete” to the next level. And keep in mind that Maya did it when it was considered radical and revolutionary. She fully leaned into her purpose, before it was cool. Now it’s expected. Just remember it was a WNBA player that took activism from an extracurricular activity to a vital part of the job description.
It would be prudent for their brothers-in-arms, to reach out to them for guidance on how to navigate this process. They’re a bit new to this, but the W is tried and true. The ladies of the WNBA are selfless, fearless and unrelenting, in their activism. Other leagues should take a page out of their book. They have the most to lose, but aren’t afraid to put everything on the line.
As we move forward in this next phase in the fight against injustice, the W will be leading the charge as they always have. All respect and kudos to them, as the continue to blaze the trail for others to hopefully follow.