“We took today to really consider organizing and mobilizing,” L.A. Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike said during a televised interview alongside the Social Justice Council. “We wanted to stand with our brethren yesterday, and we did. But we came here for a reason, and that was to amplify our voices. The only way that that happens is if we’re out here. That’s what we’re here to do, we’re here to recommit that passion that we have behind amplifying our voices for each other and for our communities moving forward.
“We’re going to keep doing it on the court and off the court.”
Sporting events across the country were halted Wednesday in the wake of Jacob Blake being shot in the back seven times by a police officer in Kenosha, Wis. The Milwaukee Bucks kicked it off by refusing to come out of the locker room for their playoff game against the Orlando Magic shortly before the Washington Mystics and Atlanta Dream were set to play. The Mystics and Dream gathered on the court to discuss their options and left the floor with plans to play. Mystics Coach and General Manager Mike Thibault said it was clear that some players were not comfortable with the decision and felt pressured to play. Subsequent discussions were held, and the rest of the league agreed not to play.
Games were postponed in the NBA, MLB and Major League Soccer. The world’s highest-paid female athlete, tennis player Naomi Osaka, originally withdrew from the Western & Southern Open before the tournament decided to also halt play.
The WNBA had dedicated the season to social justice initiatives and have worn Breonna Taylor’s name on the back of their jersey’s throughout. The “Say Her Name” campaign has also been a focal point of their actions.
Ogwumike and the council called for Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron to arrest the officers that killed Taylor, and for Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul to investigate the officers involved in the Blake shooting.
“It is important to note that this is not a strike, this is not a boycott,” Ogwumike, the union president, said in a prepared statement. “This is affirmatively a day of reflection. A day of informed action and mobilization. Through ongoing conversations last night, in person and discussions through the morning via extensive text messages, we recommitted to the justice movement.”
The entire league held a vigil Wednesday night inside the Bradenton, Fla., bubble, something players had wanted to do, but were unable because of scheduled games. The Mystics held a short meeting Wednesday morning at which they reemphasized the need to be involved in voter registration, inform on the importance of the census and take action in their own communities.
The prevailing question from the last two days is: What’s next?
“Voting is that actionable item,” said Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird, a member of the Social Justice Council. “Effecting change comes in a lot of forms. As important as it is to be in the streets, to be out protesting, to keeping that energy up, we’ve got to take that energy to the polls.
“If you want to create that change and we want officials in office that represent your values, you have to go out and vote. You have to take your pain, you have to take your frustration, you have to take that energy and you’ve got to take it to the polls. It’s that simple for us.
Mystics guard Natasha Cloud was in constant contact with teammates Ariel Atkins and Myisha Hines-Allen from afar during Wednesday’s decision-making process. The Mystics arrived at the arena wearing T-shirts that spelled out Jacob Blake’s name and featured seven faux bullet holes on the back, but Cloud said they quickly realized that wasn’t enough.
Cloud was one of the players that didn’t feel comfortable starting the season in Florida in the midst of the all the social justice activism that was taking place around the country after George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis. So, she opted out and has spent her time trying to make a difference. Cloud was moved to tears as Atkins spoke from the heart while representing the team and explained why the players took their stance.
“Myisha said to me yesterday, ‘At what point do we stop making statements?'” Cloud said. "'At what point do we stop wearing names on our jerseys and wearing Black Lives Matter on our shirts because that is not working? We’ve been doing that. So what is going to catch America’s attention that we are tired? And that was to be drastic and just sit out. And to say we will no longer entertain you as Black men and women while you support us on the court and you don’t hear our cries off the court.
"You don’t care what happens to us when we take those jerseys off. Because when those uniforms come off, we are Black men and women and for that we are extremely vulnerable in America right now. Our lives are constantly at a threat. We don’t even have to leave our homes anymore for our lives to be in danger from those who are supposed to serve and protect us.”
Wednesday seemed to be the boiling point of frustrations for players throughout the league. The video of Blake being shot had been widespread. Then there was video of 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse shooting protesters with an assault rifle and then walking past police. He has been charged with first-degree intentional homicide in Wisconsin, authorities said, but they did not specify whether he was being charged in one fatal shooting or both. Two people were killed and another seriously injured.
“You get to a point in life, and I think our players got to it last night, where the feeling is enough is enough,” Thibault said. “What makes this one more different? It’s just the latest, but it was so startling to see a situation again, here’s somebody who was clearly not a threat at the moment being shot seven times. That stark reality of, ‘Here we go again.’
“You get into this cycle here where you practice one day and play a game the next day and it’s kind of like rinse-repeat. Wait a second. What was one of our prevailing platforms when we came here? Deal with social justice. And here we are again watching on TV somebody’s life potentially being snuffed out. I think that just added up yesterday.”
Cloud added, “It’s unfortunate that we have to say a shooting re-energizes you. It doesn’t re-energize you. It infuriates you. It pisses you off. It leaves you with tears.”