Going into their winner-take-all WNBA playoff game against Phoenix on Wednesday night, the Indiana Fever players knew it might be their last chance to do something that guard-forward Marissa Coleman described as “bigger than basketball.”
So while the national anthem played before the game, every Indiana player knelt with their arms locked.
Taking a knee during the anthem has become a popular way for some athletes to peacefully protest social injustice in recent weeks since San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick started doing so during the NFL preseason.
But the Fever are thought to be the first professional team to take the action as a unit. And they did so on a day when violent protests continued to take place in Charlotte over the police shooting of a black man.
"It was unanimous that we were going to do it together," Coleman said after the 89-78 Phoenix win. "We have a platform, and I think it's a disservice if we don't use it. This was bigger than basketball. As important as this game was, there are other things going on in this world. It's just to get conversations started."
The protest didn’t get a noticeable reaction from crowd. The Indiana players were on the opposite end of the court as the flag, so some members of the crowd may not have seen them during the anthem, USA Today reports.
Phoenix’s Mistie Bass and Kelsey Bone also took a knee during the anthem. In fact, Indiana center Erlana Larkins told USA Today that those two players from the opposing team inspired the Fever’s decision to make their own statement.
“We heard Phoenix wanted to do something and we just joined in the decision and decided to stand as one,” Larkins said.
Indiana’s players didn’t tell anyone — not even Coach Stephanie White — what they planned to do. But “when we got into the huddle, [White] looked at each one of us and said she was proud of us,” Fever star Tamika Catchings said.
White told reporters: “Something like this creates conversation, and that’s how we create change. We don’t create change by seeing it on the news and waiting until next time. People who have the platforms have the ability to affect change, and I’m proud of our group for using the platform in a respectful manner.”