A new generation of outspoken Black athletes

Washington Mystics guard Natasha Cloud wearing her anti-gun violence t-shirt during her pre-game warm-up. It reads “Together We Have To Do Better D.C.”
Photo by Mitchell Palmer McDonald

According to FBI crime statistics, Blacks in the U.S. account for 81 percent of shooting victims, and 31 percent of gun violence occurs in the 50 U.S. cities with the highest murder rates. Rarely a week goes by that numerous shootings haven’t occurred somewhere in urban America.

Earlier this summer, several persons were wounded in shootings in and around Washington, D.C., including an 11-year-old girl who died as a result of a shooting incident at a fast-food restaurant. This prompted Natasha Cloud and her Washington Mystics teammates to hold a media blackout, speaking only on gun violence issues and taking no post-game basketball questions. 

The 6’-0” guard from Broomall, Pa., a second-round pick in 2015, has been quite disturbed by the level of gun violence, especially in Southeast Washington where the Mystics’ new arena is located. Cloud has “adopted” a local elementary school located in the area.

After a June visit to the school, Cloud learned that the day before someone had shot a bullet through the front window, the third time that had happened that month. Each time the building was full of students.

After the latest incident, Cloud called out both the mayor and the ward councilmember on social media, asking them to meet with her and start seriously working on this problem. “Our kids can’t even feel safe to go to school right now,” Cloud said.  

A back-and-forth between the Mystics guard, Mayor Muriel White and Councilmember Travon White, Sr. then ensued.

“I don’t just tweet. I act,” the councilmember said in a printed statement to a local paper, citing his nearly 20 years’ work in crime prevention.

Mayor White responded, “She [Cloud] has a good heart, but we need people involved, not just on social media. I have been on the front line doing the work.”

“You continue to dismiss me,” Cloud tweeted back, noting that the two as yet haven’t met with her.

Although the media blackout lasted only one day, Cloud remained resolved to help create change, speaking out against gun violence at every opportunity. She recently talked to just one reporter after the July 24 Washington-Minnesota contest.

“We need to do better” in protecting our children, Cloud told the MSR. “This is a country-wide issue and not just a D.C. issue.”

Ironically, among my summer reads, I just finished Howard Bryant’s excellent 2018 book The Heritage: Black Athletes, a Divided America and the Politics of Patriotism. Bryant, an ESPN columnist and NPR correspondent, detailed in timeline fashion how Black athletes dealt with (or did not deal with) social issues in this country while playing their respective sport.

He called it “a heritage built by the influence of the superstardom and radical politics” of Paul Robeson, Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali among others that began with the integration of pro sport in the late 1940s through the 1960s. This heritage was then virtually abandoned by the likes of Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and O.J. Simpson in favor of being more accepting to White audiences.

Then came 9/11 and the subsequent patriotic tsunami that engulfed the nation for over a decade.  Following this came the “politically engaged post-Ferguson Black athlete,” Bryant wrote about LeBron James, Colin Kaepernick, Camelo Anthony, and WNBA players such as Cloud, who have seemingly resumed the outspoken tradition established by their forefathers and foremothers.

“It starts with our community,” Cloud said. “We need to have stronger laws” regarding gun violence “and give our kids different options and opportunities in their surroundings so that they can see themselves in a different light.”