For Sparks’ Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, George Floyd death hits home
Tierra Ruffin-Pratt knows the story too well. A black man is killed by a police officer. Outrage, anguish and sadness follow.
Whether it was Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, whose deaths in 2016 led the current Sparks forward to organize protests when she was with the Washington Mystics, or George Floyd, who died after a police officer pressed a knee to his neck for nearly nine minutes last month, Ruffin-Pratt is reminded of Julian Dawkins.
Dawkins was 22 when he was fatally shot by an off-duty Arlington (Va.) County Sheriff’s deputy in 2013. It was two houses down from where Ruffin-Pratt grew up. Her family had gotten together that night to celebrate Ruffin-Pratt making the Washington Mystics roster as an undrafted free agent. The deputy, who was black, was sentenced to six years in prison for voluntary manslaughter.
Seeing the protests for another black man killed by a police officer this week stirred the emotions of her family tragedy, but the Sparks forward, speaking with reporters Wednesday, said she sees steps “in the right direction.” She just doesn’t want the progress to stop when the protests clear from the streets.
“I think this last week or so has been some of the most craziest things we’ve seen in our lifetime, but we’re being heard and that’s what’s most important,” Ruffin-Pratt said. “And if this continues and if people continue to voice their opinion, continue to stand in solidarity with African Americans and the black community, anything can happen. But it can’t just be the black community that’s standing by themselves. It has to be the white community standing with us as well because if they don’t change, then nothing’s going to change.”
When asked about what aspects of the police force could change to show progress, Ruffin-Pratt agreed with the importance of stringent background checks and psychological screening for prospective officers. She advocated for more African American police officers to provide more understanding in the force.
Allies often ask others how they can help facilitate change, but Ruffin-Pratt said they need to ask themselves that question first.
“All we can say is look yourself in the mirror,” Ruffin-Pratt said. “If you feel like you’re standing on the right side of justice, on the right side of racism, then you’re doing your part. But if you can’t look at yourself in the mirror and say that, if you’re not teaching your kids the right way, that’s not helping.”
Ruffin-Pratt, a seven-year pro who spent her first five seasons with the Mystics, has helped lead the discussion on race and police brutality in the WNBA for years. In 2016, she organized a Mystics protest that included wearing “Black Lives Matter” shirts and refusing to stick to postgame basketball conversations with reporters. It came after the WNBA fined several teams and players for wearing black warmup shirts as a protest. The league said the warmup shirts did not comply with its uniform guidelines.
Four years later with the same issue in the spotlight, Ruffin-Pratt said she has not forgotten the league’s reaction to the previous protests. On May 29, the WNBA posted a message on social media saying, “The time for change is now. Enough is enough.” The post included a picture of an outline of a raised fist in front of a basketball encircled by the words “Bigger than ball.” The image is one of the only statements released on the issue from the league that is currently postponed because of the COVID-19 crisis.
The WNBA plans to hold games at just one location if the season is resumed and that MGM Resorts in Las Vegas and IMG Academy in Florida are the top candidates.
“All we know is they’ve put out quotes saying they’re standing with us and I think, as time goes on, we’ll see if it’s just those one or two posts that they’ve put out,” Ruffin-Pratt said. “Does it end there? Or what goes on after? I know us, as players, we’re trying to do everything we can possible to stand and be united on one front so, we’ll see.”
The Sparks have discussed the current social climate at length, Ruffin-Pratt said. The team meets virtually with the coaching staff twice a week and once as a players-only meeting.
“For me, L.A. stands at the forefront of this type of stuff,” Ruffin-Pratt said. “They don’t mind stepping out … so they’re big on standing up for what’s right and you’ll hear a lot from me, my teammates and those that are a part of the organization standing for this and trying to figure something out to make a change.”
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