The day the sports world stopped

Courtesy of Twitter/WNBA

First in a series

It’s been nearly 90 days since George Floyd’s death, which sparked an unprecedented racial awakening in this country as the half-year global pandemic still rages all around us. Day and night, demands to finally address racial inequalities and social justice issues took over U.S. cities and towns for several weeks. What was then out front and under the spotlight seems now to have returned to the shadows. 

The MSR sat in on numerous virtual discussions during the summer of 2020 where the panelists talked race unfiltered, uninhibited and reflective, looking at current events as well as toward the future. This multi-part series will examine some of the topics discussed on these Zoom sessions.

This week: The day Black players shook the world.

Stop calling it a boycott; it’s not, because it wasn’t planned. Stop calling it a strike, because it wasn’t. It was August 26, 2020, the day Black players flexed their power, left their scheduled games without playing, and took a collective deep breath that spread throughout the sports world. 

The PWM (primarily White-controlled media) wants to fully credit the NBA for last week’s action. The NBAers reportedly got very disagreeable before settling on deciding not to play, while the WNBAers—all 144 players, mostly Black women—unanimously locked arms on the court in a historic first. They used their two-day walk-off for reflection, recharging and reaffirming their season-long dedication to change.

It wasn’t “a mere footnote of the NBA’s protest,” wrote Power Plays’ Lindsay Gibbs. “It ignores the groundbreaking activism that the Black women in the WNBA have been organizing for years.”

The WNBA still doesn’t get full credit for its pacesetting social activism among pro sports, first encouraged during Laurel Richie’s presidency (2011-15) as the league’s first Black chief executive. The Minnesota Lynx donned T-shirts in 2016 and talked about police brutality, systemic racism and senseless violence, followed by several other clubs. 

Now four years later, during the league’s season-long dedication to Black Lives Matter and the #SayHerName campaigns to raise awareness about police brutality and other injustices, the Washington Mystics last week made T-shirts that spelled Jacob Blake’s name on the front, with seven red dots on the back to represent the seven times he was shot by police days earlier in Wisconsin. 

The Blake shooting weighed emotionally on the W and N players, both playing and living in their respective summer wubble and bubble because of a deadly pandemic. What better place to get America’s attention than sports, this country’s reality distraction routine.  

“People watch sports. It brings more eyes and attention when athletes are doing it,” said Lynx forward and co-captain Napheesa Collier. “We came here to play basketball, but the last couple of days our minds have been on bigger issues, obviously a lot more important.”

“We are two African American women, and things like this are happening too close to home,” Lynx co-captain Sylvia Fowles reaffirmed.         

But America’s racial pandemic within a global deadly coronavirus attack didn’t start this year. As Lynx Coach Cheryl Reeve told reporters last week, “This is a centuries-long problem in our history.”

When the MSR asked her to reflect on the latest act of indignity practiced on human beings that do not look like her, Reeve emotionally referred to her young son and Minnesota guard Odyssey Sims’ recently newborn son: “I want them to grow up in a different world. It takes a lot to have so much hate in your heart. This is a learned behavior.”

It was historic last week—not what the NBA did, but what the WNBA did to pause their season in the wake of Blake’s shooting. Their act of solidarity, unlike the NBAers’, could have had more ramifications in terms of sponsorships and television contracts or the league’s financial bottom line. Nonetheless, they and others had enough.

“When we stand strong in numbers, our voice is echoed more loudly. To be in that group, with a group of women that we love and share the game with, I think it was a very powerful moment,” said Fowles.

“You just try to stick together, believe in what we believe in, and make sure we don’t let each other down.”