Speaking out, standing up, sitting in, taking a knee: That is speech, the vocabulary of activism, as embraced by athletes of all stripes expressed for the reason that daybreak of televised sports activities. Tonight, when viewers tune in for the tip-off of the 2023 WNBA season, they’ll see a league with activism deeply woven into its DNA—utilizing the complete vary of this vocabulary to remind us what patriotic protest, at its greatest, is all about.
The WNBA has come to be outlined by its gamers’ capacity to guide by way of the challenges of the second. It’s a league of ladies who’ve expressed their voices and exercised their energy in ways in which have set the usual for collective motion. Negotiating a landmark collective bargaining settlement; dedicating the 2020 season to social justice, declaring that Black Lives Matter, and emblazoning Breonna Taylor’s identify on their jerseys; standing sturdy with teammate and sister Brittney Griner, whereas galvanizing the Biden Administration to assist convey Brittney residence from a horrific 10-month detention in Russia—these are the hallmarks of an engaged, passionate group that’s fluent within the language of social justice and savvy about shaping the nationwide discourse.
Final 12 months, most WNBA groups selected to stay of their locker rooms in the course of the nationwide anthem, in a gesture of unified protest towards the incongruity between the values the anthem signifies and the realities for Black folks in America. This 12 months, as a lot stays unchanged, some groups or gamers might do the identical. Others might sit or kneel. Nonetheless others, together with Brittney Griner, plan to face up—bodily for the anthem itself and symbolically for the rights of their friends to make themselves heard and specific dissent loudly and boldly, and in accordance with the proudest traditions of this nation, nonetheless they see match.
All the above is bound to be misinterpreted—in some circumstances willfully—by the identical “shut-up-and-dribble” voices that reflexively assault and deform each principled expression of athlete dissent, from Muhammad Ali’s refusal to struggle in Vietnam, to Dr. John Carlos’ and Tommie Smith’s raised fists on the 1968 Olympic Video games, to the Minnesota Lynx gamers’ carrying Black Lives Matter shirts in 2016, to Colin Kaepernick’s determination to take a knee. However sports activities don’t exist in a vacuum; like artwork, politics, music, and each different thread that make up our tradition, sport is woven inextricably into the lifetime of this nation. Which suggests our nationwide life all the time bleeds into the sports activities pages—particularly when the fundamental rights, and even the lives, of athletes and their households are what’s on the road.
As a league led by Black and brown ladies, members of the LGBTQIA+ group, and allies, activism has been a truth of life and a situation of survival for the reason that WNBA’s inception. By daring to exist, not to mention excel, in areas that have been by no means meant for them, ladies athletes are doing one thing inherently revolutionary each time they take the court docket. Which is why, regardless of the acute shock and horror felt by each member of the WNBA household—from gamers and coaches to brokers and followers—on the information of Brittney’s detention final 12 months, this activist league knew precisely the best way to reply. Brittney had been taking part in in Russia attributable to pay inequity rooted in racism, sexism, and homophobia. The truth that those self same forces are what made her an excellent political pawn for Russian President Vladimir Putin saved each WNBA participant exceptionally targeted and unified—and rallied others, from members of the general public to journalists who heeded warnings about Brittney’s security in an effort to help her return.
Having been put in a literal cage, too small for her body, stripped of her important American freedoms, and disadvantaged of even her most simple rights throughout a sham trial and unjust sentencing, Brittney, supported by many different gamers, will make a press release this WNBA season by standing tall for these uniquely American freedoms—an important of which being absolutely the and inviolable and constitutionally protected freedom to face, sit, kneel, reward, protest, and in any other case make your voice heard.
Of their acceptance and celebration of each other’s liberty to decide on other ways to specific themselves, WNBA athletes are celebrating what it means to be a patriot. They’re remodeling the sadistic stunt of BG’s detention, meant by Putin to function a racial and political wedge, right into a reminder of the vibrancy, the variety, and the energy of every little thing that America’s adversaries hoped to defeat. Not least, each single certainly one of them is standing in unmistakable solidarity with Brittney—even when they occur to be making their stand by taking a knee.
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