The WNBA never really got full credit for its lead role among pro sports teams for shining light on social justice issues and racial inequities. This weekend the W becomes the first domestic league dedicating its entire season to Black Lives Matter as well as honoring Blacks who have died at the hands of police.
BLM will be prominently displayed on warm-up shirts and on game courts. The players for opening weekend also will wear on the backs of their uniforms the name of Breonna Taylor, who was killed in her home by police in March.
The Minnesota Lynx, among other teams in 2016, wore protest T-shirts against police brutality on Blacks before Colin Kaepernick famously took his knee in protesting the same.
“Black lives need a little more attention these days,” said Lynx Center Sylvia Fowles.
“We are a league that’s 80 percent women of color,” said Lakeville native Rachel Banham, a five-year veteran guard playing her first season in a Lynx uniform. “We are trying to keep the conversation going as best we can.”
Seimone Augustus added, “Being able to use this platform for social justice, Breonna Taylor, all of these other victims of police brutality, we’re able to figure out a way to support them as well as create the change that we feel is necessary with our league and with society.”
All 12 WNBA teams this season are playing in Bradenton, Florida, the first time the regular season started this late in the summer. “It’s the strangest thing,” Minnesota Coach-GM Cheryl Reeve admitted. “You walk in and there are two courts and a curtain is the only thing between you. I don’t like it.
“Playing games without fans will be different,” she said of no home court advantage for her club and the other teams.
Minnesota opens its 2020 season Sunday, July 26 against Connecticut (11 am Central time), vying to become only the third W team to post consecutive double-digit playoff appearances. Their streak now stands at nine straight (2011-2019).
Fowles, the lone holdover from the Lynx’s championship runs, and second-year Napheesa Collier are expected to lead one of the franchise’s youngest squads in years. Lexie Brown and Karina Christmas-Kelly return for their second year on the team, but Odyssey Sims is expected not to play this season after having a baby.
New additions include 2020 draft picks Mikiah Herbert Harrigan and Crystal Dangerfield, along with off-season trade acquisitions Shenise Johnson and Banham, the third Minnesotan acquired to play for the hometown team in franchise history (with Tamara Moore and Lindsay Whalen).
“As much as I didn’t play in Connecticut [for four seasons], I got a lot of experience and I learned a ton,” the 5’-9” guard told me last week. “I will get minutes [here]. This is my true opportunity.”
The 2020 first-time 22-game regular season features new faces in new places, but also longtime faces in new surroundings. Such as Augustus, who after 14 seasons left MN as a free agent and signed with LA this winter.
“A lot of people are still overcoming that I play for the Sparks,” the former Lynx franchise player said during a virtual appearance with reporters. She later told the MSR, “I don’t see myself as other people see me. I’m trying to get better just like everyone else. It is much appreciated [for the accolades], but at the same time I’m here for a purpose… Don’t put too much respect on it.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.