November 3, 2021
The Liberty are New York’s ‘trusted ambassadors’ of the COVID-19 vaccine
New York Liberty players Betnijah Laney and DiDi Richards appeared alongside Governor Kathy Hochul and Lt. Governor Brian Benjamin to promote the COVID-19 vaccine
BROOKLYN — Last week, New York State Governor Kathy Hochul and Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin had a meeting with New York Liberty governors Joe Tsai and Clara Wu Tsai. Benjamin had an idea to further incentivize New Yorkers and especially younger New Yorkers to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
On Tuesday, the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and the CEO of the Liberty’s parent company BSE Global, John Abbamondi, announced that anyone who gets vaccinated from Wednesday, November 3 on at the Barclays Center’s vaccination site will receive a voucher that allows people to get two free tickets to events at the Barclays center that include seeing the Liberty’s brother team, the Brooklyn Nets, a concert or a game during the Liberty’s 2022 season.
With expectations that the CDC was about to approve vaccination for 5 to 11 year olds — news that followed this event Tuesday night — the Governor’s office and the Liberty’s front office hatched an idea that brought together “trusted ambassadors” to help encourage young people who weren’t previously eligible but as of Tuesday evening, now are. Her trusted ambassadors came in the form of Liberty players Betnijah Laney and DiDi Richards and Nets defensive stalwart Bruce Brown.
“We’re just about to hear the news that it’s going to be okay for 5 to 11-year-olds [to get the vaccine],” Hochul said as she addressed around a dozen children from the Ascend Public Charter Schools on Tuesday afternoon. “Anybody 5 to 11 here, anybody here?”
Richards, while seated feet from the Governor’s podium, turned to her left and asked the child who was wearing a white oversized New York Liberty tee over his black sweatshirt if he was in that age range when Hochul asked the students. After their quick interaction, his arm shot right up.
Governor Hochul explained to the young people from the local Brooklyn school that she doesn’t only look up to the Liberty players and Nets players who have been vaccinated, but by all of the young people who were sitting in the audience when they do get their vaccines.
Could the Liberty have a new couple of new high-profile faces in their seats this coming spring? Don’t count it out. A spokesperson for the governor was rebuffed by Liberty PR when he asked if the New York players could speak with media, but the governor spoke approvingly of New York’s WNBA team.
“I’m very supportive of women’s sports,” Hochul said. “It was not available to me when I was younger. I was the generation where we had to sit and watch our brothers play…I’ve been a longtime basketball fan. And I love seeing women play the sport.”
But now it was Hochul’s turn to play. In their own Black and White Nets jerseys, Governor Hochul and Lt. Governor Benjamin took the floor. She played alongside Richards who watched some of Hochul’s shots go down underneath the bright lights of the Barclays Center hardwood floor.
After playing alongside Richards and Laney, Hochul noted that she had a chance to chat with the Liberty players and she could tell that they were motivated to continue being ambassadors for not only the Brooklyn community but for the whole state of New York.
“I totally support athletes’ rights to stand up for social causes,” she said. “I had a chance to chat with some of the members. They’re energized. They know the role they play as being role models to young girls who look at them and who inspire them.”
Hochul’s Liberty player preferences tilt toward the up-and-coming players, the governor said, particularly Richards. Her energy and perseverance drew the Governor. Hochul proved her evolving W fandom by knowing that the Liberty had a successful season (New York made the playoffs for the first time in four years this past September) and she knew that the season began this past May and had “just wrapped up.”
While Lt. Governor Benjamin wasn’t as dialed into the Liberty’s 2021 season, he has been paying attention to the social justice and health equity advocacy work of the W itself. He explained why players like Richards and Laney are so integral in the process of moving past this global pandemic.
“It carries so much weight because our young women and our young men can see that and that makes it okay for them to get more involved as well,” Benjamin told The Next. “And so today is a different extension of that. Just listen, we have to get vaccinated because if we all get vaccinated, we will live and for them to be involved in this is important. It matters these young kids, these 5 to 11-year-olds, [that] they’re seeing them here. It makes them say to themselves, ‘this is okay, this is normal. I should not be scared to get vaccinated’.”
While Benjamin wasn’t as familiar with the Liberty, he’s not going to forget the time he had playing one-on-one with Laney. She’s his new favorite Liberty player, even though she got the best of him out on the floor. The Lt. Governor quipped that he wasn’t a sore loser and clearly he could see Laney’s All-Star caliber skillset.
“She’s an All-Star, I heard it’s pretty decent,” he laughed. “I don’t know if you saw us playing together but I’ll let you go get the tape on that.”
He also watched Laney mentor the young people and hug the children who she had only met moments before. He watched her model how to take a free throw on a professional hoop.
When asked about the energy in the arena while everyone was on the court playing together, it gave Benjamin a taste of what’s to come if New York is successful in getting more people and especially young people vaccinated for COVID-19. He called it a “we’re in it together vibe.”
“I look forward to the day where we can just be out there playing like we used to, no masks,” he said. “Just kids and adults and you can have a Lt. Governor and a 5 year old and an All-Star just hooping it up together.”
Written by Jackie Powell
Jackie Powell covers the New York Liberty and runs social media and engagement strategy for The Next. She also has covered women's basketball for Bleacher Report and her work has appeared in Sports Illustrated, Harper's Bazaar and SLAM. She also self identifies as a Lady Gaga stan, is a connoisseur of pop music and is a mental health advocate.