June 20, 2020
Washington Mystics participate in Juneteenth march
Monumental Sports & Entertainment also pledges to advocate for reforms, invest in charitable efforts, and raise awareness
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Yesterday, on Juneteenth, the Washington Mystics and Wizards basketball teams led a march to honor George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, and others who have been killed by police.
The 1.9-mile march began at Capital One Arena, which was the Mystics’ home court through the 2018 season, and ended at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.
The march was part of a larger announcement on Thursday by Monumental Sports & Entertainment (MSE), which owns both teams, regarding “a series of initiatives, actions, and investments which the company is making to advance a broad community conversation towards policy maker action on police brutality and fighting social injustice.”
Those other initiatives, actions, and investments include:
Designation of Juneteenth and all election days as paid days off for employees
A commitment to advocate alongside athletes for policing reform and social justice
Partnerships with nonprofits related to voting and police brutality to raise awareness about those causes
An employee match program where Mystics owner Ted Leonsis and MSE will each match every dollar donated by employees to policing reform and social justice causes
A communications and marketing campaign to promote voter registration and turnout
An internal review of MSE’s diversity and inclusion practices
MSE pledged to reveal more details about its plans “in the coming weeks.” Leonsis explained, “My goal is for our organization to serve as a unifying force for good – I believe this is part of our social responsibility, which we all take seriously at MSE.”
MSE’s financial commitment through the employee match program is especially notable because of the economic challenges that the sports industry is facing due to COVID-19. Leonsis previously paid part-time employees for his teams an estimated $1.2 million for games that were not played in March and April, and he has suspended his own pay during the crisis. MSE recently implemented hiring freezes and salary reductions for senior leadership and other higher-paid employees in order to “protect as many employees as possible during this unprecedented experience.”
However, people around the country are increasingly speaking up and taking action in response to police violence and racism, and corporations are increasingly expected to follow suit.
WNBA players have been at the forefront of these efforts dating back to Minnesota Lynx players’ news conference in 2016 following the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Many WNBA players have participated in protests around the world against Floyd’s death and in support of Black Lives Matter. That includes the Mystics’ Natasha Cloud, who has been active in the community throughout her career and reportedly organized Friday’s march.
WNBA players including Phoenix’s Skylar Diggins-Smith, Dallas’ Arike Ogunbowale, and Las Vegas’ A’ja Wilson are also part of the new “More Than a Vote” organization to combat voter suppression. In addition, Atlanta Dream guard Renee Montgomery recently announced that she will sit out the 2020 season to focus on racial justice, joining Lynx guard Maya Moore as players who have paused their basketball careers in order to focus on activism. Montgomery also hosted a pop-up block party in downtown Atlanta for Juneteenth.
Around the league, the Connecticut Sun launched a social reform platform called “Change Can’t Wait,” the Lynx are partnering with The Minneapolis Foundation to help fight racism and inequality, the Los Angeles Sparks and New York Liberty hosted virtual Juneteenth panels, and the Lynx and Dream designated Juneteenth as a company-wide paid holiday. Brendon Kleen also reported that the WNBA is expected to announce that Juneteenth will be a paid company holiday going forward.
While teams have addressed racism and police brutality in different ways, it is good to see WNBA teams and their ownership groups standing with players. The Next will continue to report on how Monumental Sports & Entertainment and other entities around the WNBA are addressing social injustices.
Written by Jenn Hatfield
Jenn Hatfield has been a contributor to The Next since December 2018 and is currently the site's managing editor, Washington Mystics beat reporter and Ivy League beat reporter. (She also writes the "Family Rivalries" series for The Next.) Her work has also appeared at FiveThirtyEight, Her Hoop Stats and FanSided.