According the ESPN and countless media outlets, the WNBA followed the NBA in not playing last week after the Milwaukee Bucks chose to not participate in Game 5 of the NBA playoffs. The decision was a response to the shooting of 29-year-old Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
That’s true, technically. But make no mistake: The WNBA players were among the first athletes to outwardly recognize the social injustice that continues to exist in this country.
In fact, one might say that the movement can be traced back to this state on July 9, 2016. On that day, the Minnesota Lynx displayed a unified stance by wearing custom shirts that read “Change Starts with Us: Justice & Accountability.”
But the front of the shirt was just the tip of the iceberg. Minnesota native Philando Castile and Louisiana native Alton Sterling, at the time the most recently slain at the hands of police, were honored on the back of the shirts along with the Dallas Police Force crest honoring five officers who were killed in a shooting.
There was one aspect of the protest existing in 2016 that doesn’t seem to pose a problem today. The shirts violated WNBA protocol in relation to proper warm-up attire, and the players were fined by the team.
The players didn’t flinch. It motivated them and they kept it moving. Protests spread throughout the league, the social justice platform was in full use, and the fines were rescinded after 10 days.
After the NBA, MLB and other sports decided to protest in the aftermath of the shooting, the impact of the WNBA—as the leaders of such social justice expression—seems to be minimized and pushed into the background.
Today everyone is playing again. This time there were no fines. In fact, there has been unlimited support and media coverage. What a difference four years can make.
Never forget that the origins of this social justice movement can be traced to the players in the WNBA. They are the ones who have and will continue to sacrifice like no other professional league has.
The senseless deaths of Black people and continued confrontations with social injustice were too much for WNBA players to ignore. Their efforts were and continue to be too much for me to ignore.
Dr. Mitchell Palmer McDonald welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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