Although it didn’t quite get the national attention of Major League Baseball’s return to sports last Thursday—with players from the New York Yankees and Washington Nationals kneeling before the playing of the national anthem and clutching a black rope that bound the players together—the WNBA opened its season this weekend with an even more dramatic tribute to Black Lives Matter.
Before the start of Saturday’s game kicking off the pandemic-shortened, 22-game season, which is being played at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, players for both the New York Liberty and the Seattle Storm walked off the court together prior to the playing of the national anthem in a moment of protest tied to the league’s vow to dedicate its season to social-justice issues.
After the players left the court, two returned: Layshia Clarendon of the Liberty and Breanna Stewart of the Storm, both members of the league’s newly formed Social Justice Council. They spoke about Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old woman shot by Louisville police officers who had entered her apartment on a controversial (and now banned) “no-knock” warrant.
“We are dedicating this season to Breonna Taylor, an outstanding EMT who was murdered over 130 days ago in her home,” Clarendon said. “Breonna Taylor was dedicated and committed to uplifting everyone around her. We are also dedicating this season to Say Her Name campaign, a campaign committed to saying the names and fighting for justice for Black women, Black women who are so often forgotten in this fight for justice, who do not have people marching in the streets for them. We will say her name.” Then she recited the names of Black women who have died at the hands of police: “Sandra Bland. Atatiana Jefferson. Dominique Remy Fells. And Breonna Taylor. We will be a voice for the voiceless.”
Then Stewart called for a 26-second moment of silence, representing “the age [Taylor] was when she was killed.”
Before the game, players wore warm-up shirts with Black Lives Matter on the front and Say Her Name on the back, as they will for the remainder of the season, and the phrase Black Lives Matter was stenciled on the perimeter of the court. (The Storm won the game by a score of 87 to 71.)