“Before it happens, you have that fear: What’s going to happen again? And then you see it, and it’s worse than everything you could have ever thought,” Mahinmi said. “I’m watching this thing like, ‘When is this going to be over?’ ”
Many of his teammates, as well as the WNBA champion Washington Mystics, shared the same gut-wrenching reaction while watching the video. So a group of players from both teams spent time collaborating on a statement and crafting a plan for their next steps.
On Saturday, the Mystics’ Ariel Atkins, Natasha Cloud and LaToya Sanders and the Wizards’ Bradley Beal, Ish Smith and Mahinmi orchestrated a joint statement released by both teams. They called for justice for victims of police brutality while also holding themselves accountable, writing that “our actions must speak louder than our words.”
The players worked together on daily Zoom brainstorming sessions that ultimately led to the lengthy statement, penned by Beal. The all-star guard did not return messages from The Washington Post, but others involved discussed his efforts.
“It’s a statement that needs to be made, and once you do the statement, it has to be a follow-up, and that follow-up has to be action,” Smith said. “Once we use our voice, now we’ve got to use our activity.”
While athletes across sports have joined the chorus of those protesting police brutality and racial injustice, the Wizards and Mystics players are using their voices and platform as never before.
“I give the players full credit. We support them, and their input was instrumental,” Wizards General Manager Tommy Sheppard said of his team’s statement. “It’s their story. They were wonderful. I’m so proud of our players, I couldn’t even tell you.”
In the days following Floyd’s death, Beal messaged his teammates in a players-only group chat. He wanted them to know what was on his mind and in his heart, and he pitched the idea of releasing a strong statement.
“Me and Brad have probably been on the phone every single day for a week now. I can’t tell you how much he’s involved,” Mahinmi said Saturday. “I want to salute him for being one of the many great leaders and giving his time and offering solutions.”
According to several players, Beal wrote the words. Teammates agreed with his sentiment and blasted it on Twitter and Instagram.
Afterward, Sheppard said rivals from other teams contacted him because their players wanted their own statements to be as powerful as the declaration from the Wizards.
“Brad’s been so good with his words,” Smith said. “He’s so genuine with how he feels and what needs to be done and what needs to be changed, and we all follow him in that sense.”
The players’ views were boosted on the team’s social media platforms and supported by management. On June 4 — when Sheppard needed to release a statement about the NBA’s return-to-play plan, which includes the Wizards — he said he made sure the first sentence stressed there are “much more meaningful and important issues for our country to focus on” beyond the return of professional basketball.
“That video of George was horrendous, but so was all of the other ones,” Sheppard said. “My biggest concern is we can’t have this moment pass.”
Although time has passed since Floyd’s death May 25, the six Wizards and Mystics players remained focused on their message.
Leading up to the release of the joint statement, the group, joined by front-office members from both teams, went back and forth in hour-long conversations, hearing the different perspectives of what it’s like to be a black man or a black woman in the United States.
“You go outside and you look around, you see people, and it’s like, ‘Are you with me or against me?’ It’s tough to live like that,” said Mahinmi, who was raised in France but proudly represents his West African roots. Mahinmi’s father is from Benin.
“This is a pain that you cannot understand unless you’re black,” he added.
Smith recalled hearing the hurt in Cloud’s voice as she talked about the climate of the country. Cloud, who wrote an essay for the Players’ Tribune about those who remain silent, matched Beal in his bluntness on those calls.
“Brad’s been spearheading it, and you know how Tasha is on the [Mystics’] side,” Smith said. “Tasha don’t play.”
There has been a plethora of statements put out by athletes and teams, but the level of action behind those statements has varied. The Wizards and Mystics players wanted to make sure their words weren’t fleeting.
They had a meeting with New Orleans Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins on Tuesday to pick his brain about the Players Coalition and discuss how the NFLers plan to take their next steps. Jenkins and former NFL wide receiver Anquan Boldin founded the organization in 2017 to focus on social justice and racial equality.
“There’s so many things that’s affecting the black community,” Sanders said. “We can’t tackle all of them at once. I think our next step is just to pinpoint and get down to two or three facets that we want to tackle head-on. Also, we don’t want to just do something that’s maybe going to run two or three years. We want to do something that’s sustainable.”
Players on both the Wizards and Mystics have been activists in the community in different ways, but the group thought a collective effort would carry more weight. Everyone had their own passions — from education to healthy food options to financial literacy — so many of their meetings focused on tightening the area to attack.
“[Jenkins] feels like when you can get a bunch of individuals to work together, more progress is made, and it’s made faster,” Sanders said. “Instead of having all six of us tackling different agendas separately, if we all come together and pinpoint three things we can tackle right now, we’ll just move faster and basically [be] more efficient.”
Several Wizards who had left the region during the NBA’s shutdown are returning to their day jobs as the team prepares to resume play. Though duty calls, Mahinmi does not want the return of basketball to be a distraction from the unrest that has gripped the nation.
Instead, he wants the message amplified.
“For the people who say we need a distraction: No, we do not need a distraction. For me at this point, it’s not about having a distraction. It’s about [the need to] keep thinking. How can we move forward? Don’t sweep this under the rug no more,” Mahinmi said. “I understand that the NBA is such a huge thing, and it’s a business, and a lot of people are happy that it’s back. I’m not saying I’m unhappy, but I’m saying at this particular point it is very not on my mind.”
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