Cloud, who was already active in the fight for social justice, made up her mind last week to sit out the WNBA season and is spending time every day focused on the movement. She started with an essay for the Players’ Tribune that challenged people to join the cause and flatly said, “If you’re silent, I don’t f--- with you, period.” Then she was part of a group of Washington Mystics teammates and members of the Washington Wizards who created a joint statement calling for justice for victims of police brutality. Next, she was marching through the streets.
“I’ve never been so drained,” Cloud said, “but it’s an essential drain and it’s a necessary drain. … This hasn’t been easy in any sense, and I think people think that, ‘Oh, Tash is sitting out; she’s just going to enjoy her summer.’ No. I’m literally waking up and working every single day to make sure that I’m keeping these issues at the forefront, that I’m talking about it, that I’m having these hard conversations. I’m finding different resources and finding different social impact groups. … I’m figuring out different avenues in which our community desperately needs help in.”
Cloud is just one professional athlete who has determined it is best to not play this year. Four MLB players have opted out — the Washington Nationals’ Ryan Zimmerman and Joe Ross, Ian Desmond of the Colorado Rockies and Mike Leake of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Three cited health concerns, and Desmond, in an emotional Instagram post, cited both health concerns (his wife is pregnant with their fifth child) and a need for more activism in his Sarasota, Fla., community.
The NBA was well into planning its return when Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving asked his fellow players to consider the social climate and questioned whether it was appropriate to return to the court. Davis Bertans (Wizards), Trevor Ariza (Portland Trail Blazers) and Avery Bradley (Los Angeles Lakers) have opted out. The Nets’ DeAndre Jordan and Wilson Chandler also have opted out, with Jordan saying he had recently tested positive for the coronavirus.
Bradley was vocal alongside Irving, with both helping organize conference calls among players to discuss health concerns and social justice actions.
Bertans’s decision seems to be about injury prevention before becoming an unrestricted free agent this offseason. ESPN reported Ariza’s choice was based on a custody issue involving his son.
Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert was patient zero in the NBA, which was the first league to go on hiatus, and he recently told French sports outlet L'Équipe that he still hasn’t fully recovered from his March bout with the coronavirus.
Joe Ingles, Gobert’s teammate on the Jazz, found himself in a precarious position as the NBA’s restart approached. Ingles has a pair of toddler twins, including an autistic son, and a pregnant wife. He had every excuse to opt out, but the team and league have conducted several informative meetings that helped ease his mind — as has his wife, Renae, a professional netball player in their native Australia.
“She was probably a lot more confident in me playing than I was myself,” Ingles said. “She was adamant that I was going to play. I try to keep it as real as possible and keeping the options of not playing open, especially at the start of it with so much unknown about it. I wasn’t going to just dive into it and just go and risk it. …
“The hardest part for me is going to be leaving for a couple months … the longest I’ve been away from my kids. There’s going to be a few days in there I’ll be very grumpy because it’s the kids’ birthday while we’re away and a couple other things that I’ll miss.”
Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath and Christen Press opted out of the National Women’s Soccer League’s Challenge Cup tournament. Rapinoe was the star of the national team’s World Cup championship last year and has been vocal about many social justice causes, but she has not stated her reasons for sitting out. Press and Heath made statements citing concerns about the coronavirus.
The NBA, MLB and WNBA have included opt-out clauses in their return plans, and the reasons have already been apparent. The NBA and its players’ union announced 16 players from a pool of 302 tested positive in the first round of mandatory tests last week. The Denver Nuggets shut down their training facility Saturday after two members of their traveling party tested positive. The Philadelphia Phillies announced an outbreak among players and staff at their spring training headquarters in Clearwater, Fla. The Tampa Bay Lightning closed its facilities after three players and other staff members tested positive.
The WNBA, so far, has had the most prominent players deciding to stay home. Cloud and LaToya Sanders are starters on the defending champion Mystics. Maya Moore (Minnesota Lynx), Jonquel Jones (Connecticut Sun), Renee Montgomery (Atlanta Dream), Tiffany Hayes (Dream), Kristi Toliver (Los Angeles Sparks), Chiney Ogwumike (Sparks), Cecilia Zandalasini (Lynx) and Rebecca Allen (New York Liberty) have chosen to sit, either for medical reasons or to focus on social activism.
Montgomery was already a self-described germaphobe before the global pandemic. She would wear masks on planes and took blankets to sit on at the movie theater, but her decision to opt out came a few days after Floyd’s death. She said she needed to take action. Since then, she has hosted a Juneteenth block party in Atlanta and is now focused on the educational aspect of social justice.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about [Floyd]. … It was almost like a reoccurring nightmare,” Montgomery said. “I’m jumping off of a cliff in a sense of, I took a leap and I don’t necessarily know where I’m going to land with it. … But I feel like when you’re doing stuff for the right reasons and your heart’s in the right place, it’ll work out.
“I didn’t go back and forth. I know myself and … I’m a passionate player. When I play, I’m passionate. So, I need to have that passion to play and, right now, my passion is here with this movement.”
That passion can also be exhausting. People of color, African Americans in particular, have been physically challenged during the past several months. The coronavirus has disproportionately affected black communities, and watching video after video of black people being killed can be mentally draining.
Cloud said she sometimes feels exhausted before she even starts the day, but she’s encouraged by the support she receives and has had in-depth conversations with Irving, the Wizards’ Bradley Beal and others. Addressing voting issues is the next step. More will follow.
“Immediately, I was having conflicting feelings about playing because I feel like this is a moment that I haven’t seen before,” Cloud said. “I’ve never seen this much momentum and this much leverage behind the movement. So I feel like we have to capitalize on this moment, and going into a bubble and being taken out of my community doesn’t really sit well with [me].”