No group of professional athletes has been more committed to social activism than the WNBA.
Players have been outspoken about racial injustices on social media over the last two weeks, but one important voice that had been missing publicly until Thursday night was commissioner Cathy Engelbert.
All 12 teams had released statements or videos condemning racism and police brutality in light of the death of George Floyd. The Lynx turned their words into action Wednesday by entering a multiyear partnership with The Minneapolis Foundation to address systemic inequities.
Meanwhile, Engelbert, who listened and talked to players in private over the last week, didn’t give a public statement until Thursday, when she announced the league would donate proceeds from its “Bigger Than Ball” merchandise to groups working against racial inequities.
“We will build on this commitment and support WNBA players in the fight against racial inequality,” Engelbert wrote. “Enough is enough.”
Before that, the WNBA, a league that prides itself on being diverse and inclusive, had remained relatively quiet, with the exception of one short and vague statement.
The WNBA wrote in a May 29 tweet, “The time for change is now. Enough is enough.” It was accompanied with a graphic that read, “Bigger than ball.”
Some players believe the WNBA’s initial response wasn’t enough.
“I’ve spent a lot of time on Instagram and Twitter just assessing people’s apologies or solidarity posts,” Sky guard Sydney Colson said. “It’s one thing to retweet and agree with other people, but . . . our league is [more than 70%] black women, and so it should be pretty clear where we stand.”
“You can’t tip-toe around it, like, it’s frustrating,” Sky guard Diamond DeShields said. “It’s beyond frustration, though, you know what I mean? For me to say ‘I’m frustrated’ is me putting it very lightly and nicely.”
DeShields added that she wasn’t “waiting for the league to say anything because . . . it’s a little too late for that.”
The WNBA has been accused of silencing players who speak out on racial injustice issues in the past.
In 2016, the WNBA disciplined three teams and their players with hefty fines for violating the league’s uniform policy by wearing black T-shirts during pregame warmups in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, though the fines were eventually rescinded after the league received immense backlash.
DeShields thinks there should be a more “open dialogue” between players and league officials.
“Change will start with a conversation,” DeShields said. “There are players who are carrying the burden of social injustices in many different ways, and so to have an opportunity to voice that for once would not only be refreshing but also allow us to begin our work within the league, which [is] a place we all love and hold very dear to our hearts.”
The WNBA held a virtual town hall with players this week, giving players an opportunity to share their thoughts on systemic racism and the Floyd protests.
“I do think that they want us to be heard, they want us to use our platforms,” Colson said. “I think players just want to make sure that while we’re using our platforms that we are fully supported.”
Asked if she felt supported, Colson said, “I have to wait until we have a bigger conversation about what steps we plan to take and what they plan to do if we take those steps.
“But whether I feel supported and stuff or not, I’m going to post what I want to post about black people dying no matter what anybody tells me.”