May 25, 2022
Natasha Cloud, Eric Thibault lead Mystics media blackout after Texas school shooting
‘We cannot continue to allow these things to happen'
WASHINGTON – As Washington Mystics players arrived at the Entertainment and Sports Arena on Tuesday hours before their 7 p.m. game, many of them hadn’t yet heard about the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, earlier that day. Acting head coach Eric Thibault — coaching in place of his father, Mike Thibault, who missed the game for non-COVID personal reasons — had only seen the headlines before the game tipped off.
The news only got worse, with more details emerging and the death toll climbing, as the Mystics earned their sixth win of the season, 70-50 over the Atlanta Dream.
As of 10:30 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday, at least 19 children and two adults had been murdered by an 18-year-old gunman, who was eventually killed by police. Several additional people were injured and taken to local hospitals. It was at least the 30th school shooting in 2022 — a span of just 144 days — and came less than two weeks after 10 people were murdered at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, on May 14.
The Mystics decided on a response during a brief conversation between point guard Natasha Cloud and Eric Thibault after the final buzzer sounded. They would use their postgame media availability to hold a “media blackout” in which they would not discuss basketball but instead raise awareness of the shooting and the need for legislative change.
“Everybody’s just kind of now hearing everything that’s come out and it’s just insane,” Thibault told reporters in his postgame remarks. “It’s insane what we’re doing as a country, allowing this stuff to continue, and obviously being in DC … it’s people in our backyard who are setting the course for this country.”
The Thibaults have strong ties to Connecticut, where Mike was the head coach of the Connecticut Sun from 2003-12 and Eric graduated from East Lyme High School, and Eric referenced the 2012 shooting that killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in his comments on Tuesday.
“You can draw a straight line from that to where we are now,” he said. “I don’t have kids yet, but every time I go see my wife’s family, we drive right by Sandy Hook. It’s right on the way. And that should have changed our country and it didn’t. …
“I don’t know what to say that hasn’t already been said. But it’s just brutal … One side of the debate is probably not going to change, so it’s on the side that that feels wounded by this — Democratic leadership — to make it a priority to try to get some things changed. So hopefully that will happen. Hopefully, there will be a new impetus to do that.”
About eight minutes after Thibault concluded, Cloud entered the media room wearing street clothes, not her game jersey. She apologized to reporters for keeping them waiting and gave a two-minute statement, as she has done several times in her Mystics career in response to gun violence and police brutality.
“We have an issue in this country, not only white supremacy, [but] we also have a gun violence issue,” Cloud said. “And this is us using our platform, right? This game doesn’t matter. [What matters is] the 18 lives — and the number is going up by the minute — the 18 lives that were lost today from senseless gun violence in Texas at an elementary school. We’re talking about our kids not being safe to go to school. And our government is still not implementing sensible gun laws. This isn’t about taking people’s rights away from bearing arms. This is about putting sensible gun laws in so this doesn’t happen again.
“We cannot continue to make the same mistakes. We cannot continue to allow these things to happen in our country and nothing is being done with it for money, for profit. So I’m calling on everyone: Please put this out, post it, write to your not only local representatives but your federal representatives and tell them you are tired. Tell them that we are tired of lives being lost in this country for senseless shit. It is time to implement gun laws and stop caring about profit and money over people and lives.”
Cloud’s eloquence in the face of tragedy on Tuesday was far from new; she has led the Mystics on social issues for several years and has initiated several media blackouts, both individually and teamwide. In 2019, she coordinated a team media blackout in response to three bullets striking Hendley Elementary School, which is located less than two miles from the Mystics’ arena.
“We’re talking about five- and six-year-olds, and they’re in fear for their life,” she said then. “… Being in there, seeing the kids, hearing them talk about it as just something that happens — this shouldn’t be something that happens.”
In 2020, less than a month after George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis, Cloud announced that she would sit out the WNBA season to advocate for social justice. She also helped organize a march on Juneteenth to honor victims of police brutality and was the first to suggest that the Mystics sit out a game in response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake in August 2020. Her teammates ultimately took that suggestion, and the rest of the league quickly followed.
Last season, Cloud and Ariel Atkins declined to talk about basketball after a game on May 25, the one-year anniversary of Floyd’s murder. Cloud suggested specific policy changes to curb discriminatory policing, including banning chokeholds, eliminating qualified immunity and demilitarizing the police.
Already this season, Cloud had spoken for her team about Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner’s wrongful detention in Russia, and she took the mic again with a heavy heart on Tuesday. This media blackout occurred just one home game before the Mystics’ annual “Wear Orange” night on June 3, which is an event that Cloud has spearheaded to raise awareness of and help end gun violence. The entire team has historically worn orange warm-up shirts from Everytown for Gun Safety on that night, and Cloud wore one on Tuesday, as she has done often over the years.
Cloud has used her voice and poured her pain out to reporters and the public over and over on these issues, which is a burden that she simply shouldn’t have to bear. But she summoned the composure and eloquence to do it again on Tuesday while still processing the tragedy herself.
“To the families in Texas, the Mystics are sending our love, our prayers,” she said in closing. “We prayed for y’all today. We will continue to pray for you, and we will continue to fight for you, and we will fight for everyone in this country.”
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. Her work has also appeared at FiveThirtyEight, Her Hoop Stats and FanSided.