August 28, 2020 

Lynx, WNBA unified as games resume

Minnesota Lynx co-captains Sylvia Fowles and Napheesa Collier are proud of the unity WNBA players have shown in their effort to demand racial justice.

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Minnesota Lynx co-captains Sylvia Fowles and Napheesa Collier shared their support for the WNBA’s recent player strike during Friday’s shootaround availability. Photo credit: Screenshot from Zoom availability recording.

Minnesota Lynx players typically address the media individually. They take turns sitting in front of a laptop, expected to convey their emotions to reporters who’re a thousand miles away.

But on Friday, Sylvia Fowles and Napheesa Collier addressed the media side by side, with one unified message: their identities aren’t limited to their profession, and basketball hasn’t been their main focus.

“We’re willing to be open with everything about how we feel and what’s going on in the media, and we’re not trying to take away that we are basketball players, but we just want to solely focus on the things that are going on in the community,” said Fowles in her opening statement.

Fowles said she and her co-captain would be willing to answer basketball questions if reporters felt the need to “trickle in a few” basketball-related questions, but no such questions transpired. How could they?

Less than 48 hours before Friday’s shootaround availability, the Lynx were one of six teams that chose not to play their Wednesday night games to protest the United States’ inability to make progress in the fight for racial justice.

“Since the day that we decided not to play the games, it’s been a little somber, just because it’s such a heavy issue, and after that, we had a lot of player meetings and things like that to figure out what we wanted our combined message to be, and just trying to figure that out,” Collier said. “It’s hard, because we come here to play basketball, but our focus the past couple days hasn’t been on that, it’s been on bigger issues that are obviously a lot more important. So we’ve been trying to figure that out, focus on that, and trying to stick together as a league.”

Collier said the Lynx found out the Milwaukee Bucks, who were the first professional sports team to refuse to play on Wednesday, weren’t going to play 30-40 minutes before heading to their game against the Los Angeles Sparks.

“It was a scramble to try to get the team together on what we wanted to do, trying to coordinate with LA about what they wanted to do, coordinate with the teams before us because we wanted to stand together as a league,” Collier said. “Thirty minutes before Washington was supposed to play, we’re still on the court deciding what we’re going to do, so it was a lot.”

Fowles said it was “pretty clear” the Washington Mystics — who were scheduled to open Wednesday night’s slate of games with their game against the Atlanta Dream — weren’t going to play on Wednesday.

“Hearing them out, and them hearing us out, I think it made the decision very clear that they weren’t going to play,” Fowles said. “And so I think it made it clear for every other team out there because they were the ones who were going to set the tone if they were going to play or not.

“I think the platform would have been a little different if they would’ve played and everyone else would’ve played. And so, it just says a lot about how we were in unison. We have to stick together and believe in what we believe in and make sure we don’t let each other down.”

When asked if there’s frustration attached to being expected to make sacrifices in their careers while police departments and politicians fail to bring about change, Collier and Fowles were again in unison. In their eyes, the lack of change is the sole cause of frustration.

“I think it’s great that we’re using our platform, because people watch sports more than they know who their local officials are,” Collier said. “It’s just a fact. People are watching their games more than they’re paying attention to the politics in their area. So it brings more eyes and more attention that athletes have been doing this. So I’m proud that they’re doing it. Before — not so much now — it was, ‘Just play your sport and don’t worry about it.’ Because they don’t want that out there, they don’t want more eyes. They know that, by us doing that, people are going to start paying attention more. So I’m proud of that fact. That’s not frustrating. It’s the other part that is frustrating.”

The strike continued through Thursday, which was meant to serve as a day of reflection for players and coaches. Viewers got a glimpse of the WNBA’s solidarity when ESPN aired all players standing together, arms linked in an IMG Academy practice facility.

“Obviously, this is what we’re here for,” Fowles said. “When we stand strong in numbers, I think our voices are echoed more loudly, so to be in that gym with the group of women that we love and that we share the game with, I think that is a very powerful moment.”

“It feels like what we’re doing is really important,” Collier added. “Even though we know that we don’t have as many eyes as maybe the men’s side, we’re doing our part in what we feel is right in order to make an impact. It feels big.

“We are competitors. When we step on the court, it’s dog-eat-dog, you’re trying to beat the next person as hard as you can, but when you step off, we’re united in this cause and we’re united as a league, and so it was really cool to be with them. We’re wearing the same thing for the same cause, standing arm in arm. It felt really powerful.”

Members of the players’ association also hosted a roundtable with ESPN’s Holly Rowe on Thursday and shared their intent to resume play on Friday. The Lynx will return to play on Friday when they face the Atlanta Dream at 5 p.m. ET. The Lynx and Dream will kick off Friday night’s slate of games.

Fowles has missed the Lynx’s last four games due to a calf injury but said she’s not sure she’d want to back to playing on Friday if she were healthy.

“Personally, if I was playing, I wouldn’t be sure if I wanted to go back to playing, only for the baseline reasons that it takes more than one day to reflect on what’s going on because things are happening rapidly — every day, almost — at a fast pace, so it’s kind of hard to wrap your head around what’s most important,” Fowles said. “Like Phee said, we never want to de-emphasize the fact that we’re here to play basketball, but at the same time, we’re two African-American women and these things are happening close to home.”

Collier is ready to get back to playing and acknowledged that everyone processes things differently and that with 144 players, differing opinions will arise.

“It’s hard because everyone handles things differently,” Collier said. “We did have a player’s meeting, and it was pretty unanimous that we wanted to continue the season, but like Syl said, it’s really hard to focus on that. For Syl, she said it’d be hard to go back to playing. For me, personally, I like the distraction of being able to play the game to get away. It’s hard because each person handles things differently, but Syl said what she feels personally. Personally, I’m happy to go back to playing, because things are so heavy in your real-life world, so it’s nice to get away for an hour and do what you love.”

But even as basketball resumes, the players’ goal of spreading awareness won’t waver. It will only be amplified.

“I think it gets more and more exhausting seeing these things in the media, seeing people killed day after day,” Collier said. “I think it was 112 people killed since George Floyd. So while I think the goal is still the same, I think it just weighs on us heavily that we’re dedicating our season to this and we’re not seeing any change so far. So I think just makes what we’re trying to do more important. Because it’s so amplified in the media right now, and yet these things are still happening. So it’s really an eye-opener, and we really see that things are bigger than basketball. There has to be a real change in our country.”

Written by Katie Davidson

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