August 30, 2020
Storm players and coaches speak out
Several Storm players spoke out about what life has been like since their boycott after their game on Saturday.
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Sue Bird #10 of the Seattle Storm gets introduced prior to a game against the Atlanta Dream on August 12, 2020, at FeldEntertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. (Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAEvia Getty Images)
When the Seattle Storm took the court on Saturday, it was the first time they had done so in four days. Far from some gift from the schedule makers, the Storm had joined many other professional sports teams who boycotted their games late last week to return focus to social justice issues after the police shooting of Jacob Blake and a white supremacist murdering two protestors in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last weekend.
This past Thursday, the day of their scheduled game versus the Aces, the Storm released a statement saying:
The Seatttle Storm and our players stand together in the fight for justice and will not play tonight.
We cannot, and will not sit idly by.
We will continue demanding accountability. We will continue working toward an equitable and safe community for all.
We will continue using our platform to power a Force for Change.
The team’s statement is in line with what has been a primary focus all season long. Their social media platforms consistently show players wearing shirts saying Black Lives Matter, Arrest the Cops Who Killed Breonna Taylor, and the like. Even players like Breanna Stewart are among the most vocal in their support for Black Lives Matter and equality.
Yet, we hadn’t heard much from individual coaches or players since the boycott. Saturday provided ample opportunity for this. What had the last few days been like for the team?
“A lot of organizing. A lot of figuring out what we wanted to do, figuring out the messaging we wanted to have,” said Stewart. “The thing with us as a league is we came here for a reason. We came here for more than basketball. We came here for our season to be dedicated to Say Her Name and Black Lives Matter. So I think that the message that we want to portray to everyone is that we’re still here and we’re still in this together.”
“We needed a second, we needed those two days to mentally reset. It’s been an emotional time and also kind of being isolated in this bubble is not an easy thing. I was really proud of what we’ve done as a league. The fact that we were able to get together Wednesday and Thursday and really show everyone in the world that we’re standing strong together and our strength in numbers and just realizing that our platforms and voice are biggest when we are together.”
Playing in the Wubble has provided a way for players to do their jobs without threat to their physical safety, but it seems last week was a reminder of what was happening on the outside.
“It’s definitely been emotional. It’s been emotional before we even got to the bubble or being in the bubble. Knowing that the black community is still suffering daily. Yesterday and the day before was just a day of reflection, how we handle ourselves here. Having a moment of silence and having a moment to talk with our team that’s something we all needed,” said Jewell Loyd. “As an athlete, you’re always on the go and you don’t really get the chance to sit and be in your feelings. A lot of times being in your feelings is a bad thing, cause what happens is supposed to be tough. But we needed to let our emotions be felt by all of us and we needed each other.”
“For us, we needed a day to be with each other, try to find things to laugh about, and be a joy to each other’s lives but also understand that it’s real outside this bubble. Anything that we can do to help and get better, that’s what we’re going to do.”
The boycott served as a good reminder of the power these players have. No, not playing on Thursday didn’t bring immediate social change but it recentered everyone on the conversation. It reminded those with the most power that having messages on jerseys and Black Lives Matter on the court was merely a starting point. These players have the power to influence that extends beyond the hardwood.
“It’s amazing what we do for other players, other colleges, other organizations, and this platform that we have to speak out and let other people hear what we have to say,” said Natasha Howard. “Not just what we have going on in our country. It’s a beautiful thing that other players can actually speak up as well and use their platform too.”
“First I have a lot of pride in our team and what they’ve stood up for in the last day. Not only our team, but our league. I just want to mention, everyone in our league down here to the coaching staffs and operations staff are in solidarity with our players and the message we’re trying to get out there in this modern day,” said Gary Kloppenburg. “I couldn’t be happier. Obviously very happy with the win, but more so with just the character and the strength of our team and our league.”
It’s become increasingly more difficult for anyone to separate their support for the WNBA and social justice. As league compromised of predominately Black women, these are issues that affect them every day, and observers cannot pick and choose the aspects they support. The message was clear: we won’t just entertain you if you won’t listen to us.
This is a league that has been among the most vocal about racial issues and police brutality and LGBTQ issues even before Colin Kapernick first took a knee. There’s no sign of these players slowing down either.
This week was a reminder that WNBA players won’t be appeased by empty gestures. Teams like the Storm are going to continue advocating for real change for as long as it takes.