Players with Seattle Storm and New York Liberty walked off the court and into their locker rooms on July 25 as the U.S. national anthem played prior to the opening game of the WNBA season.
The women all donned black long sleeve shirts with the “Black Lives Matter” slogan. The ESPN commentators said the walk out was a protest against “social injustices.”
Earlier this month, the WNBA announced that its 2020 season would be dedicated to “social justice.” The league also formed a Social Justice Council which it said would be “be a driving force of necessary and continuing conversations about race, voting rights, LGBTQ+ advocacy, and gun control amongst other important societal issues.”
The WNBA’s foray into politics and social issues has been the subject of controversy because its advocacy is at odds with the opinions of a large swath of its audience. For example, Black Lives Matter, an organization co-founded by a self-proclaimed Marxist, seeks to “disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure” and “dismantle cisgender privilege.”
The league’s alignment with Black Lives Matter resulted in a public tiff with Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), who warned that the sport shouldn’t get involved in politics.
“The truth is, we need less—not more politics in sports. In a time when polarizing politics is as divisive as ever, sports has the power to be a unifying antidote,” Loeffler wrote in a letter to the WNBA. “And now more than ever, we should be united in our goal to remove politics from sports.”
The league responded by saying it would continue to “vigorously advocate for social justice.”
The political protests in professional sports began in the NFL with a handful of players kneeling during the national anthem. The form of the protest triggered a backlash among fans, who saw the refusal to stand as disrespectful to the nation as a whole as well as the men and women who died in service to the nation.
President Donald Trump has vehemently criticized the players who disrespect the anthem.
Before the season opening game, Liberty guard Layshia Clarendon and Storm forward Breanna Stewart dedicated the season to Breonna Taylor, a black woman killed by police in a shootout which also injured a police officer. The police were executing a court-issued warrant in a drug case and were fired upon by Taylor’s boyfriend. Taylor was shot eight times after the officers returned fire. According to a lawsuit by her family, police did not find drugs at the scene.
“Breonna Taylor was dedicated and committed to uplifting everyone around her,” Clarendon said. “We’re also dedicating this season to Say Her Name campaign, a campaign committed to saying the names and fighting for justice for Black women, Black women who are so often forgotten in this fight for justice, who do not have people marching in the streets for them.”
The teams held a moment of silence for Taylor for 26 seconds, Taylor’s age.