October 29, 2022
How Brianna Turner is more than an athlete
The Phoenix Mercury forward won the 2022 WNBA Care Community Assist Award for her work off the court
Two selections to the WNBA all-defensive first team (2020 and 2021), 2014 McDonald’s All-American game MVP and a 2018 national champion with Notre Dame. The on-court accolades for Phoenix Mercury forward Brianna Turner are more than impressive, but her achievements off the court garner attention, too.
Turner caught the eye of first-year Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard throughout the 2022 WNBA season. “I was definitely impressed with Breezy and everything she was able to do. She played such a heavy amount of minutes for us, moved around, played a different position, had a different role, and was also dealing with one of her good friends [Brittney Griner] not being here and the stress that that placed on her and just the ability to show up,” Nygaard told The Next.
The 2019 first-round pick is known for her relentless defense, her rebounding acumen and her grit. However, her work off the court stands above the rest. Turner won the 2022 season-long WNBA Care Community Assist Award after winning it for the month of June.
“It’s an honor to win the 2022 Seasonlong Community Assist Award,” Turner said in a WNBA press release. “Our league plays a vital role in volunteering throughout our communities and advocating for those in need.”
Turner participated in BG’s Heart and Sole Shoe Drive, Griner’s signature initiative that started during the 2016 season. Turner went into the community and gave back in all three shoe distributions during the regular season. She partnered with Phoenix Rescue Mission and distributed water, hygiene kits and shoes on June 28 in the Phoenix community of Sunnyslope. She also volunteered at similar events on July 19 and Aug. 8.
Someone who immediately took notice was teammate Kia Nurse. She explained what it is like to work with Turner off the court.
“She makes everything so easy for you. I think sometimes you go into a lot of different work within the communities,” Nurse told The Next. “You want to just make sure that everybody has a good time, that everybody’s happy, that people feel cared for and loved. I know with Breezy, you always kind of feel that way.”
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It isn’t just Nurse who feels this way. Nygaard described how Turner is a true leader of social change for the Mercury. “Her actions stand out. Her willingness and the times where, instead of speaking to the media postgame, saying, ‘No, we’re making a statement about this.’ She was always the leader with that stuff with our team,” Nygaard said.
In the wake of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, in May 2022, when 19 children and two adults were killed, Turner was the first on the team to speak out. After the team’s game against the Los Angeles Sparks on May 25, Turner made this statement:
“I just want to start off by saying, speaking about the Texas shooting, I know this is business as usual. This is normal America. We experience mass shootings, we go to work, we go to school the next day, we don’t process because it’s so normalized. But you have kids like Xavier Lopez, Jose Flores, Lexi Rubio that didn’t wake up today. Their family will never talk to them again. We have a serious issue. There’s 535 people in Congress. There’s 330 million people in America. We need Congress to help us. We have a serious issue. It shouldn’t be left or right. This shouldn’t be normalized. I’ve been witnessing school shootings for the past 10 years. Sandy Hook was my first memory 10 years ago, and we’re still here. So we have to do better. And I’m gonna answer questions, and it’s normal. So it might happen again in a week. I don’t know. But it’s business as usual, but at the same time, we have a serious issue. And we need help.”
Teammate Skylar Diggins-Smith followed Turner’s heartfelt speech by saying, “Breezy said it” before finishing the press conference. Turner remained outspoken on social media about gun violence and shared her thoughts about what needs to change.
In 2021, Turner was a pro ambassador for Athlete Ally, an organization that promotes equal access to sports regardless of athletes’ sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Later that year, Turner joined another organization closer to home, Equality Texas, as a board member. The organization helps secure equality for all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Texans through political action, education, community organizing and collaboration.
Nurse talked about what it has been like to work with the fourth-year pro in the Phoenix community. “What I think Breezy does a really good job of within the community is every person that she engages with, whether it’s at the Heart and Soul Drive or at a members meeting that we have for the Phoenix Mercury, just being there and being present and feeling seen and feeling heard. Because that’s the kind of aura that she gives off no matter what she’s doing,” Nurse said.
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This month, Turner announced via Twitter that she will be pursuing her graduate degree in human rights and social justice. She enrolled through Arizona State University and has already begun classes. Turner explained why she made the choice in the middle of her WNBA career.
“I just think that’s something that I’m really into and I want to get a deeper understanding and knowledge of it. I just feel like I know from a fan standpoint, but I really want to know from an educational standpoint, and just learn new things,” Turner told The Next. “And I think that this is what I’m really interested in. And when I read the course description, there are different things I could be doing with it.”
Immediately, her teammates were in total support. “We just think it’s fantastic,” Nurse explained. “It makes sense … for someone that’s super outspoken in the way that Breezy is.”
Just like Nurse, Nygaard wasn’t shocked about Turner’s plans to further her education. “It doesn’t surprise me at all,” Nygaard said. “She’s always reading and wanting to find out more. It’s great to see her pursuing this graduate work that will hopefully help shape her future and help her to continue to grow, what her relationship is to social justice, and also to community building and the important work that she does not just with her voice, but with her actions.”
Actions are extremely important for someone of Turner’s position. While she may not be as vocal about issues as players association president Nneka Ogwumike, Turner continues to demonstrate what the WNBA is looking for in a leader. With the 2022 midterm elections around the corner, Turner took a moment to recognize the importance of this time.
“Some people only take the time to vote every four years. But in reality, your local state elections will impact your life more than the presidential election. So who your mayor is, who your attorney general is, who your governor is, who your senators are. I don’t think people realize how much of a direct impact that has, even more so than a presidential election,” Turner said.
Written by Hayden Cilley
Hayden Cilley covers the Phoenix Mercury for The Next. He is currently pursuing a bachelors degree in Sports Journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University.