The Minnesota Lynx is by a large margin the best professional team in town. It’s not just the league-high four titles won, the most of any Twin Cities team—only the Gophers women’s college hockey team have won more in this century (7). It’s also about the team’s leadership in athletic advocacy since 2016, about four years before the racial reckoning of 2020.
“They had a press conference” on the recent shootings of Blacks by police, recalled ESPN’s LaChina Robinson. “But the response to that I think was the most eye-opening aspect of it” when several city police officers scheduled to work the game walked off the job.
“The Lynx step forward as advocates for justice on behalf of this community,” noted local activist Nekema Levy Armstrong. “They wanted to shine a spotlight on the fact that they are players on the court, but when they are off court, they are still Black women. [They] highlighted the issues that we experienced here as Black folks in Minneapolis.”
“It was a player-driven action,” stressed ESPN Writer Katie Barnes. “It wasn’t just the Minnesota Lynx—it was also the New York Liberty. There were photos of teams standing with one another. And that kind of demonstration was something that had never been seen before in professional sports. That set the stage for 2020.”
Layshia Clarendon, now a second-year guard with the Lynx, vividly remembers, “I was actually playing for the [Atlanta] Dream at the time. It was [the team] president who came to us and said, ‘I don’t think you should do this.’ This was supposed to be all 12 teams doing a protest, but in 2016 it ended up being fractured.”
Clarendon, Levy Armstrong, Barnes and ESPN Commentator Angela Rye were part of Robinson’s ESPN’s Around the Rim podcast along with co-host Terrika Foster-Brasby that was broadcast live from the Minneapolis Convention Center during the Women’s Final Four weekend events.
“I think the W does have a critical lens on what it looks like to walk through the world as a Black woman, Black people being shot and murdered in the streets,” said the Lynx guard.
The WNBA’s social justice campaign of 2020 was essentially a continuation of what was started several years earlier. “These women are going into a bubble to play basketball but [also] to amplify what was happening in our world around police violence,” said Robinson. This included all 12 teams taking “a day of reflection” by not playing any scheduled games after Jacob Blake’s shooting in August 2020, shutting down the league for one day. “So, risking it all is an understatement.”
Said Rye, “It’s also important as we talk about the power of Black women to understand the strength and the power that we [have]. The activism in the WNBA is not new.”
After the 90-minute podcast, Levy Armstrong, Clarendon and Robinson shared their final thoughts with the MSR.
“I think the final thought about all of this is that we got to keep going,” said Levy Armstrong. “We got to stand in solidarity and we can’t give up.”
Said Clarendon, “I’m excited to learn more about the history of activism in Minneapolis.”
“I’m just grateful to have a platform where we can bring together so many brilliant minds to talk about some real challenging topics,” concluded Robinson. “These are not easy conversations to have.”