On July 25, in Bradenton, Fla., members of the Women’s National Basketball Association began their season with a powerful rebound—but not just one on the court, but rather one that addressed the racism plaguing our country today.
Team members of the Seattle Storm and New York Liberty walked off the court before the National Anthem began, signifying the teams’ solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, and specifically against the police brutality that led to the murder of Breonna Taylor.
Layshia Clarendon, a New York Liberty player, began:
“We are dedicating this season to Breonna Taylor—an outstanding EMT who was murdered over 130 days ago in her home.”
“Breonna Taylor was dedicated and committed to uplifting everyone around her. We are also dedicating this season to [the] 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.
When questions of kneeling during the anthem surfaced, Clarendon addressed how kneeling can feel performative in some scenarios.
The players wanted to send a more powerful message than just kneeling, so they walked off the court while the anthem echoed through the near-empty arena.
“Kneeling doesn’t even feel like enough to protest,” Clarendon told ESPN. ” I don’t want to hear the anthem, I don’t want to stand out there. I don’t want to be anywhere near it, because it’s ridiculous that justice and freedom are just not offered to everybody equally.”
The teams then turned around for a 26-second silence in the name of Taylor—her age when she was killed.
Clarendon said, “We thought that was very fitting to do a moment of recognition—not a moment of silence. Because we’re not being silent by any means.”
The WNBA will be playing a delayed 22-game season with traditional playoffs—yet, with empty arenas, the season will be anything but “traditional.”
Nneka Ogwumike, the WNBA Players Association president, gave a statement on June 15 highlighting the importance of the WNBA being at the forefront of these movements, especially at a crucial time like this.
She shared the association’s strong support for a plethora of social justice movements—including #BlackLivesMatter, #SayHerName, LGBTQ+ rights, gun control, voting, #MeToo, mental health and others.
“This is not only necessary from a humanitarian perspective, but it may be one of the biggest opportunities that this league has and will ever have,” Ogwumike said of the WNBA’s activism.
On the court, after the silence, a voice over the intercom proclaimed:
“All season long, we say her name.”