By Mark F. Gray
AFRO Staff Writer
Things haven’t worked out for the WNBA champion Washington Mystics in defense of their championship. However, despite their place in the league’s standings, they remain some of the leading voices among athletes who are making social statements from inside the pro-basketball bubble.
Among the resounding images from the demonstrations following the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., was the Mystics fashion statement. The white t-shirts with black letters spelling out his name – featuring seven red spots signifying the number of shots into Blake’s back – made national headlines as they knelt before the American national anthem then left the floor and joined with the NBA players boycott of their playoff game.
Both league’s suspended play for three days as the solidarity of their movement drew national attention during the Republican National Convention (RNC). The Mystics stood out among the rest of their league speaking with a compelling voice echoing the sentiments of their NBA counterparts.
“We wanted everybody to feel like they were supported,” said Ariel Atkins, who plays guard for the Mystics and spoke on behalf of the team. “Understanding that this isn’t just about basketball. We aren’t just basketball players and just because we are basketball players, doesn’t mean that’s our only platform. We need to understand that when most of us go home, we still are Black, in the sense that our families matter.”
The Mystics are not the same team on the floor that they were at the end of last season. COVID-19 and the fight for social justice has dramatically impacted their chances to defend their champion. Their roster was truncated when the WNBA’s reigning Most Valuable Player Elena Delle Donne wasn’t given a medical exemption because of the effects of Lyme disease on her immune system. Natasha Cloud and LaToya Sanders, who were starters on the 2019 WNBA championship, chose to sit out this season to focus on social justice reforms. Cloud had already established herself as one the basketball’s loudest voices for change by speaking out against gun violence in the community surrounding the team’s home arena.
“I have a responsibility to myself, to my community and to my future children to fight for something that is much bigger than myself and the game of basketball,” Cloud said. “I will instead continue the fight for social reform, because until Black lives matter, all lives can’t matter.”
Washington remains on the outside of the WNBA playoffs after losing 10 of their first 14 games to start the season. However, they began the final weeks of the regular season just two games behind the Dallas Lynx for the last spot in the postseason.
After a brief shutdown both the NBA and WNBA announced a collaborative effort to influence a potential voter suppression effort around the country. Following the abrupt halt to play that gained worldwide attention, both leagues participated in discussions with their league’s and their ownership. Their initial results culminated with all 32 of the NBA’s venues – such as Capital One Arena where the Washington Wizards play – now scheduled to be used as a polling place for the Nov. 3 general election.