November 1, 2020
Sparks emphasize the importance of voting
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When the 2020 WNBA season tipped off back in July, the players made it clear that this year was going to stand for something bigger than basketball.
The season began during a time of social unrest throughout the country. The killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd at the hands of law enforcement sparked waves of protests in which many WNBA players took part. Calls echoed across the nation for a glaring need to focus on, and address the systemic racism that is so deeply embedded in American society.
The WNBA dedicated this season to the memory of Taylor, as well as the many other Black women who have been killed by police officers in this country. The 2020 season also began amid a global pandemic that has disproportionately affected Black and Brown working-class communities.
Keeping with their mission to tackle these issues head-on and to use their platform to push towards meaningful change, WNBA players rallied around the need for Americans to exercise their right to vote in this upcoming election.
With the season now over, the Los Angeles Sparks have continued to educate the public on the importance of registering to vote and to ultimately participate in the electoral process this coming Tuesday.
During the season, Sparks guard Chelsea Gray partnered with Rock The Vote and Equality California, two organizations designed to bring about meaningful social change. Rock The Vote is aimed at spreading awareness among youth about the importance of voting, and Equality California advocates for the LGBTQ+ community at both the state and national levels.
Gray announced that she would donate $100 to those organizations for every assist she dished out this season. In total, they were able to raise $11,600. The Sparks organization also matched her donation.
Last week, Gray and teammate Candace Parker participated in a virtual panel on Facebook Live with Rock the Vote President and Executive Director Carolyn DeWitt and Equality California Managing Director Tony Hoang. The discussion focused on using voting as a form of activism and centered around the topics of mail-in ballots and voter suppression.
Parker, who has a nephew who will be voting for the first time this election, had some words of advice during the discussion for young voters heading to the polls.
“There is no test where you’re going to get an A or a B on it. But at the same time, you’re going to see the results,” Parker said. “You make that sure you know what you’re voting for and know why you’re voting for it. If you have those two things I think, going to the poll first and foremost and exercising your right, and then making sure that the policies as well as the people that you’re electing share your same morals and values and will uphold your vote and do the things you’re electing them to do.”
Sparks forward Tierra Ruffin-Pratt also took part in an online discussion this past week alongside former WNBA player Rushia Brown, UCLA’s Dean of Public Interest Brad Sears, and Sonni Waknin, a UCLA student and activist. The panel entitled Ignite the Vote centered around empowering young people to use voting as a tool to enact social change.
The nationwide conversation in regards to the need for systemic change is something that hits home for Ruffin-Pratt. On the day she signed her rookie contract with the Washington Mystics back in 2013, her cousin was killed by an off-duty Arlington County sheriff’s deputy.
Ruffin-Pratt was a member of the WNBA’s social justice council during the course of the season, and she’s continued to push for change in her hometown since returning from Florida. She spoke about the importance of local elections that could directly impact a community much more than the national races.
“I think a lot of people lose sight of the local elections when it’s around the president…The local elections are what’s most important in my mind because they really determine what happens in the place that you’re from,” Ruffin-Pratt said. “Those are the ones that impact you the most whether it’s city council, the governor of your state, even voting for the judges, those things matter. Those are the ones that are as close to you as possible, those are the ones that are more hands-on…Everything that happens in your city or in your county, those are things that matter most.”
One of the biggest ways the Sparks have pushed towards getting out the vote is by partnering with the Los Angeles Lakers, the Los Angeles Kings, AEG Worldwide, and the LA Country Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk to turn Staples Center into a voting center.
On Oct. 24, Staples Center opened its doors for the first time since the pandemic began as a voting center for voters to come in and cast their ballots early. Through Nov. 3, voters are provided a safe space to vote or to drop off their mail-in ballots.
This past Thursday, Sparks forward Reshanda Gray appeared at Staples Center alongside Lakers guard Danny Green and California Secretary of State Alex Padilla to host a media briefing discussing the nature of the center and the voting opportunities available.
Having this opportunity available is of particular importance to Gray who is a Los Angeles native and grew up just south of Downtown LA.
“I’m just letting people know that we have power, our vote is power. And we dictate who we want in office, we control our history and what we want,” Gray said. “Just how we came together as a city and supported the Lakers and supported the Dodgers, I hope that we can come together as a city and go vote. I’m doing this for the young girl who grew up in the same situation or the same position I’m in.”
Written by David Yapkowitz
David has been with The Next team since the High Post Hoops days when he joined the staff in 2018. He is based in Los Angeles and covers the LA Sparks, Pac-12 Conference, Big West Conference and some high school as well.