By Dorothy J. Gentry
A’ja Wilson and other WNBA players were determined to play this season for something bigger than themselves.
“You take the basketball ability away, you take the uniform away – we are Black women. When we got the call to be a part of the Council I did not hesitate at all because I knew I wanted to be a voice for the voiceless and that’s what our Council is,” the Las Vegas Aces star said of the WNBA’s newly formed Social Justice Council.
“It hits home,” Wilson said of the realities of racial injustice. “Yeah, it could be my dad or my brother or my boyfriend but it could also be me, or my mom or any of us, and when it hits raw I think that’s what makes you want to fight and that’s what we’re about.”
So in a season unlike any other, the players of the WNBA used their collective voices to take a stand and push forth social justice activism, with specific efforts to spotlight and raise awareness of Black women who have been victims of police brutality.
As a result of their efforts and for the first time ever, the WNBA has named all the WNBA players as the recipients of the 2020 season-long WNBA Community Assist Award for their continued commitment, leadership and collaborative efforts to promote racial equality and create systemic change.
The WNBA Cares Community Assist Award was previously awarded to one player each month of the season, traditionally recognizing an individual who best reflected the WNBA’s passion for making a difference in the community.
The players are being recognized for their collective passion and dedication to social justice and working as a unified community to bring awareness to and fight against systemic racism.
As part of the award, the WNBA and State Farm will donate $50,000 to the African American Policy Forum, in recognition of the WNBA players’ commitment to the WNBA Justice Movement and the #SayHerName campaign, while bringing awareness to inequality and systemic racism, lifting up marginalized communities, and pushing for change.
“Black women’s leadership in sports has often been unwritten as soon as they do it,” said Professor Kimberle Crenshaw, founder of the AAPF and the creator of the #SayHerName initiative.
“The WNBA players are standing collectively to make their leadership obvious, apparent and uncompromised. These players are not going to allow their voices to be muted.
“They will not allow the issues they are talking about to be forgotten. This is a new moment in the history of racial justice and in the history of athletes speaking for racial justice.”
Throughout the 2020 season, in addition to having “Black Lives Matter” featured prominently on the floor of the basketball court, Breonna Taylor’s name on the uniforms, and “Say Her Name” on warmup shirts, WNBA players have worked with AAPF to have on-court moments of recognition to raise awareness of the female victims of police brutality–women like Sandra Bland, Michelle Cusseaux, Kayla Moore, Tanisha Anderson, and many others.
Through the leadership of the Social Justice Council, the players have called for action to address the policy issues highlighted by AAPF, convened activists, organizers, and elected officials in powerful forums, and promoted community education on the census and voting rights.