The WNBA is set to begin its season in late July with a 22-game slate at IMG Academy in Brandenton, Florida but, before the games begin, the league and WNBPA announced that the campaign will be dedicated to social justice. As part of that focus, a WNBA/WNBPA Social Justice Council has been created, with its mission “to be a driving force of necessary and continuing conversations about race, voting rights, LGBTQ+ advocacy, and gun control amongst other important societal issues.”
Members of the council include A’ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart and the group “will cultivate designated spaces for community conversations, virtual roundtables, player-produced podcasts, and other activations to address this country’s long history of inequality, implicit bias and systemic racism that has targeted black and brown communities.”
“As many WNBA players–past and present–have said and, more importantly, consistently demonstrated, the reason why you see us engaging and leading the charge when it comes to social advocacy is because it is in our DNA,” WNBPA President Nneka Ogwumike said in an official statement from the league. “With 140-plus voices all together for the first time ever, we can be a powerful force connecting to our sisters across the country and in other parts of the world. And may we all recognize that the league’s stated commitment to us – in this season and beyond – offers a pivotal moment in sports history.”
In late June, WNBA star Angel McCoughtry urged the WNBA to allow players to wear the names of victims of police brutality on their jerseys and, only a few weeks later, that vision is a reality. The names of Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, Vanessa Guillen and many more women and girls that have been victims of police brutality and racial violence will be recognized during the first weekend. From there, WNBA players will don warmups with “Black Lives Matter” on the front and “Say Her Name” on the back throughout the entire season, with “Black Lives Matter” also displayed on courts during game action.
“We are incredibly proud of WNBA players who continue to lead with their inspiring voices and effective actions in the league’s dedicated fight against systemic racism and violence,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said. “Working together with the WNBPA and the teams, the league aims to highlight players’ social justice efforts throughout the 2020 season and beyond. Systemic change can’t happen overnight, but it is our shared responsibility to do everything we can to raise awareness and promote the justice we hope to see in society.”
The WNBA and the WNBPA pledge to “drive impactful, measurable and meaningful change” in the coming days and this messaging is a strong start toward that goal. While the words displayed on jerseys and courts may draw the headlines, the work is ongoing and, with the establishment of the council, there is a strong foundation for the future.