August 17, 2020 

How WNBA’s activism has affected young fans

A nine-year-old's report on what the league's social justice movement means for her generation

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PALMETTO, FL- JULY 25: The Indiana Fever and the Washington Mystics honor Breonna Taylor prior to a game on July 25, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. (NBA Content Network)

Jordan Mazur’s daughter, Ellie, loves the WNBA. She is a curious, energetic six year old, who is also a sports fan. They have traveled to almost all of the WNBA cities, and she has had some amazing experiences with players and coaches in those cities. Recently, they started talking about the history of the United States, how some people are treated and why it’s hard for some people to accept the need for change. 

“The activism the WNBA players have shown has provided us with great opportunities to have these important conversations and help her learn. And they’ve helped emphasize to her that it is not enough to passively disagree,” Mazur told The Next. The influence that the league’s activism has on its young fans is vital.

The WNBA has long been a league that has worked toward social justice, especially this season. The WNBA created a Social Justice Council that includes Layshia Clarendon of the New York Liberty, Sydney Colson of the Chicago Sky, Breanna Stewart of the Seattle Storm, Tierra Ruffin-Pratt of the Los Angeles Sparks, A’ja Wilson of the Las Vegas Aces, Nneka Ogwumike of the Los Angeles Sparks, and Satou Sabally of the Dallas Wings. The league has dedicated the 2020 season to the #SayHerName campaign. All the players in the Wubble are wearing Breonna Taylor’s name under their own which is an idea originated by Angel McCoughtry of the Las Vegas Aces. In the first weekend of play, players dedicated games to Breonna Taylor, and then dedicated the second weekend to Sandra Bland.

Other players like Natasha Cloud of the Washington Mystics, Renee Montgomery of the Atlanta Dream, and Maya Moore of the Minnesota Lynx all sat out this season for social justice concerns. Several players have only been speaking about racial injustice, Black Lives Matter, and police brutality during press conferences and in-game interviews. Another action the WNBA took was putting Black Lives Matter on their courts.

As a child, I find these actions very inspiring. This season is very important not only because the players are making change, but because they are impacting children like me to make change.

I spoke with several players about the WNBA’s impact on children.

Satou Sabally of the WNBA social justice council expressed the hope that children they reach are “inspired to be socially aware of things that are happening to minorities. People who do not have the power or platform like we do. In the end of it all we’re humans. And we need to fight for equal rights.”

Nneka Ogumike, also of the Social Justice Council said, “I really hope we can inspire them by simply being ourselves. I feel as though right now we’re in a moment where we need bigger voices and allies to bring eyes and ears to the WNBA. I see that happening right now. So I’m excited to have new eyes and ears, especially in this season that we’ve dedicated to social justice and impactful change. I’m hoping that this brings light to not just the cause and the initiatives that we’ve always spoken about, but also the women behind the voices, so I look forward to that.”

Another council member, Layshia Clarendon of the Liberty, said, “I’m hoping that when people watch us play know that you can be more than an athlete, that it’s never a time to shut up and dribble, shut up and swing, shut up and whatever version of the sport you play. So, I want people to know that you have a voice, especially young players, young kids, young girls. You have a voice, that it matters, and that as an athlete you can always use your platform and impact for bigger change.”

For Jewell Loyd, it’s personal. She thinks of her niece and nephew, who are 6 and 4, respectively, every time the league expands its social justice footprint.

PALMETTO, FL- JULY 25: Team members of the Seattle Storm honoring the memory of Breonna Taylor by wearing Taylor’s name on their jerseys on July 25, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida.

“What we’re doing affects them,” Loyd said. “…As long as they watch us, they’re learning. They’re getting educated, and that’s something that’s very important and what we’re trying to do this whole season.”

Isabelle Harrison of the Dallas Wings created the # IAm_ campaign to address what she called a racial pandemic across the world. She said of the campaign, “I did #IAm__ to basically fill in for whatever you feel like you bring towards this fight.”

The WNBA’s activism is already influencing my generation. A picture of Jordan Mazur’s daughter, who put Breonna Taylor on her Sabrina Ionuescu jersey, went viral. 

“I asked her what she thinks of the WNBA activism tonight before bedtime,” Mazur said of his daughter. “She said she thinks it is important that they speak up and not stay silent. When I asked her why, she said because it is important that people hear from strong, smart girls. I am so grateful that she gets to see strong, smart women on TV and in social media speaking up for what is right.” 

10-year-old Mirabelle Megdal, who has written about the WNBA for High Post Hoops, said, “After seeing what the league is doing for the BLM movement, I have a lot of respect for them. I like seeing women stand up for what’s right. Seeing Breonna Taylor’s name on everyone’s jersey inspires me to stand up for what’s right even more than I did before.”

Young girls and boys across the country are being affected by the league’s activism as we speak. I have also been affected by the league’s activism — it led me to covering the league, and not just the games themselves, but the work off the court from the WNBA’s players as well.

The league’s actions affect children and young fans in so many ways, and we are only beginning to see the ripple effects of that impact across the world in the years to come.

On that front, according to Amanda Zahui B., my journey has only begun.

“I need you to actually make a change and go home and have a conversation with your family, with your kids,” she said.

Written by Pepper Persley

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