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A year after George Floyd’s murder, NBA, WNBA players push to pass police reform

Chelsea Gray of the Las Vegas Aces brings the ball up the court. The WNBA still prominently features “Black Lives Matter” on the playing surface. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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On the anniversary of George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer, the NBA, the NBA and WNBA players’ unions and a player-backed voter rights group have escalated their calls for the passage of the law enforcement bill that bears Floyd’s name.

Behind its newly formed Social Justice Coalition, the NBA has become the first major American professional sports league to publicly advocate for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. In a statement released ahead of the first anniversary of Floyd’s death Tuesday, the NBA vowed to use its platform to support the bill and other “common-sense policy” reforms that ensure equality.

“We are calling on our elected representatives of both parties to work together to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in the U.S. Senate now and present it to President Biden for him to sign into law this year,” James Cadogan, executive director of the NBA’s Social Justice Coalition, said in the statement.

On Wednesday, members of the WNBA players’ union’s executive committee and board of player representatives will hold a private legislative briefing with Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), union president Terri Jackson said.

“Our player leadership is committed to doing the work and staying informed,” Jackson said in a statement. “The [WNBA] players meant it when they talked about connecting the dots between voting and legislation.”

The WNBA players’ union, in alliance with the National Basketball Players Association, has also teamed up with Athletes For Impact and More Than A Vote, which launched last year following the deaths of Floyd and Breonna Taylor and was bolstered by the support of superstar LeBron James. On Tuesday, the group will release an open letter and ad campaign that will air throughout the NBA playoffs. In the 53-second commercial, featuring images of people of color who have been killed by police, the coalition encourages viewers to call their senators to pass the bill.

“George Floyd’s murder, along with those of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and too many others, brought the players together as activists last year, and the work to honor their lives continues with this campaign,” Michael Tyler, a More Than A Vote executive, said in a statement. “The players fully understand their power and will wield it in support of this legislation as a first step in their efforts to secure lasting justice for Black communities that are regularly subject to police brutality.”

Behind a push from players, both basketball leagues have created a new blueprint for professional athletes as activists.

Last summer, WNBA players openly campaigned for the opponent of former senator Kelly Loeffler, who co-owned the Atlanta Dream at the time, after she spoke out against the Black Lives Matter movement. Also, though many players went abroad to continue their playing careers following the WNBA season, they offered public support for the coronavirus vaccines, encouraging their fans to get educated about them.

The men of the NBA have also increased their advocacy. Last summer, when the NBA restarted its season inside a bubble near Disney World, a sobering tone defined the games. Players wore social and racial justice messages on the backs of the jerseys, and “Black Lives Matter” was prominently displayed on every court, as it was during WNBA games.

In response to Jacob Blake being shot seven times by a police officer in Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Bucks led a walkout during their playoff series. Their act swept through professional leagues both at home and abroad, with many athletes either choosing to sit out games in protest or take a knee during the national anthem.

On Tuesday night, ahead of the three NBA playoff games, several players are expected to wear shirts calling for the passage of the Floyd bill, according to Tyler. Players who are involved in the NBPA’s efforts, such as Donovan Mitchell, CJ McCollum, Harrison Barnes and Garrett Temple, will be public faces for the campaign, using their social media platforms to appeal to fans to call their senators.

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