(l to r) Bethany Donaphin , Head of League Operations, WNBA and Oris Stuart Chief People and Inclusion Officer, NBA
It takes courage to consistently stand up for the values you believe in, and yet it comes so naturally to the players of the WNBA, who have fought for the issues that matter most to them as long as the league has been in existence. The 2020 WNBA season was no exception, as players took to the court but made the season much bigger than basketball.
Following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, players were outraged. Hurting. Disappointed in a system that continually fails Black and Brown individuals and communities in this country. As they looked at the face of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman who was murdered in her own home at the hands of those who are meant to serve and protect, WNBA players could see themselves. In a league that is 80% women of color, these tragedies hit too close to home. It was time for action.
As we prepared for our 2020 season, where the entire league would be in one location in Florida due to the pandemic, a critical part of our planning became how to collectively use our platform to advocate for social justice. Together with the WNBPA, we dedicated the season to the Say Her Name campaign and Black Lives Matter movement; launched The WNBA Justice Movement to amplify the voices and leadership of WNBA players in the social justice space; and formed a Social Justice Council with an intentional plan to educate, amplify and mobilize for action to build bridges to communities and create sustainable change. We did these things together, because amid social unrest unlike anything we have ever experienced, we knew that the only way to be a force for positive change was to do so with common goals and with mutual respect, understanding and support.
Yet, as we said, the impact WNBA players have made this year did not transpire out of thin air. It was simply a through-line of the values WNBA players have held for years. This year, however, stood out as possibly one of the most consequential seasons in league history because of the relentless advocacy from players across the league.
Layshia Clarendon of the New York Liberty’s advocacy for Black non-binary and trans people. Natasha Cloud of the Washington Mystics forgoing the season in pursuit of social justice. Nneka Ogwumike of the Los Angeles Sparks’ inspired leadership as President of the WNBPA Executive Committee. Elizabeth Williams of the Atlanta Dream demonstrating the power of civic engagement. These are just a few of the ways WNBA players have fought for justice. They haven’t always received recognition for doing the hard and necessary work, but they have done the work all the same. That is why it shouldn’t come as a surprise that WNBA players have risen to the forefront of the conversation in a year more difficult than any in recent memory. To fight for social justice in a season played in a single site away from their homes amid a global pandemic only makes their efforts more impressive.
WNBA players know that systemic racism and racial inequalities cannot be fixed after one season of advocacy, which is why their sustained efforts and refusal to back down from the fight is what will truly lead to significant change. And we could not be prouder of WNBA athletes – for leading with their values, for advocating for social justice, and for being tenacious in the face of extreme racism and trauma.
Simply put, WNBA players always have, and always will, stand up for what they believe is right. Regardless of circumstance or adversity, the power of WNBA athletes is immeasurable.