WNBA players have linked arms during the national anthem. They’ve taken a knee or walked off the court entirely. They have worn matching “Black Lives Matters” T-shirts and tackled a variety of social issues in media interviews.
Knowing how engaged many of its players are, on subjects ranging from police brutality and race relations to climate change and issues affecting the gay and lesbian community, the league office brought together a handful of players for a focus group in February to discuss increasing the WNBA’s societal impact. One result was announced Thursday, the “Take a Seat, Take a Stand” initiative, with the league pledging to donate $5 from each ticket sold to select games to nonprofit organizations devoted to women’s issues and programs.
“It’s one thing to advocate for something. It’s quite another to act on behalf of something,” WNBA President Lisa Borders said Thursday. “So it’s a call to action.”
Borders said the initiative goes beyond symbolic gestures and impassioned talking points. All 12 WNBA teams are on board; the program offers a chance to create change, she said, rather than simply talk about it.
“Our athletes realize that they have an extraordinary opportunity and perhaps an obligation to use their platform in a constructive way, and that’s what they have always done,” she said. “But we are beginning to make it official and really put — for lack of a better term — a stake in the ground around social issues and things that we think need to be addressed.”
The promotion also calls for a free ticket “to send a young woman or girl to a game to inspire her by the strength, talent and leadership of the women of the WNBA,” according to a news release.
The $5 donation will apply to single-game ticket sales. Each WNBA team has the opportunity to designate up to six games for the promotion. Fans at these games can choose which one of six national nonprofits should receive the donation, and individual teams are likely to incorporate local causes and organizations as well.
The WNBA selected six organizations that focus on women’s issues. Bright Pink is a group fighting ovarian and breast cancer in young women, for example, while It’s On Us works on sexual assault issues. One of the six is Planned Parenthood, a political lightning rod often targeted by antiabortion activists. Last year, the Seattle Storm became the first professional sports team to partner with Planned Parenthood, and Borders said the league has no concerns about negative reaction, noting that the organization’s primary mission is to provide health care and education for women and children across the country.
“We would support women by supporting Planned Parenthood and the work that they do for women, children and families,” she said. “Period, full stop.”
The Washington Mystics have identified four home dates for the promotion: Sunday’s season opener against the Fever as well as June 3, Aug. 3 and Aug. 12.
“I’m proud to be a part of the WNBA and to stand in support of all of the tremendous work these athletes and coaches do inspiring and empowering young girls and women across the country,” Washington owner Ted Leonsis said in a statement. “They are true leaders. ‘Take a Seat, Take a Stand’ is a great way for fans to do their part to help spread some of that inspiration and empowerment by supporting these groups doing important work in our communities.”
The league has been the most progressive in American sports, and players have long tackled a variety of social issues. Borders called 2016 an “inflection point” for many in the WNBA as players spoke up on violence involving police officers and the mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub, among other topics.
“This is all about relevance and resonance and being part of the cultural ecosystem,” Borders said. “Sports does that. It unites people. And so we want to make sure that we pull that lever, and pull it hard.”
The WNBA season opens Friday night with the Dallas Wings facing the Phoenix Mercury, and Sunday marks the first day with a full slate of games. Teams are still working out details about which games will be designated for the “Take a Seat, Take a Stand” program.
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