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WNBA won’t play Thursday, but players are committed to continuing season

Players from the Sparks and Phoenix Mercury stand for a moment of silence in honor of Breonna Taylor on July 25.
(Phelan M. Ebenhack / Associated Press)

After postponing three games Wednesday, the WNBA will extend its stoppage at least through Thursday’s games in light of the Jacob Blake shooting, but players are committed to continuing the season in Bradenton, Fla., after what Sparks forward and WNBPA president Nneka Ogwumike called a “moment of reflection.”

“As a group, we decided last night that we want to play,” Ogwumike said Thursday during an interview on ESPN. “There are games scheduled tomorrow, and that’s what we’re ready to do, but that doesn’t come without demands of the players to continue to amplify our voices in more ways than when we came here. We realize that the work is not easy, but we also understand the work is never done.”

The WNBA will work to reschedule the three games originally planned for Thursday — Chicago-Indiana, Dallas-New York and Las Vegas-Seattle — along with the three games missed Wednesday.

During the “SportsCenter” interview, five members of the WNBPA’s executive committee — Ogwumike, New York Liberty guard Layshia Clarendon, Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird, Atlanta Dream center Elizabeth Williams and Indiana Fever forward Natalie Achonwa — sat on the court with ESPN’s Holly Rowe. The other players in the league stood shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm, on the side. They all wore shirts that read “Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor.”

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Naomi Osaka’s courage following the Jacob Blake shooting, likely lost on most while wildcat player strikes spread across team sports, shouldn’t be overlooked.

WNBA players have worn Taylor’s name on the back of their jerseys during games as one aspect of their overall commitment to social justice this season. Ogwumike said the break wasn’t a boycott or strike but, rather, a moment to “recommit” to their dedication to fighting for justice and the #SayHerName movement.

Players formed a social justice council and have met regularly with families of female victims of police brutality during the season on conference calls. They also play games almost every other day. As the basketball season moved into its second half, the weight of simultaneous fights for social justice and championships amid a global pandemic was crushing.

“We were dealing with so much hurt and pain and loss in 2020, and people forget that we’re athletes, but we’re not machines,” said Clarendon, the WNBPA first vice president. “So we show up every day, we have to perform through anything that’s going on in the world, and at this time, we just need a pause, we needed a break.”

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Athletes in the NBA, WNBA, MLB, MLS, NFL, NHL and professional tennis refused to take part in scheduled events in protest of the shooting of Jacob Blake.

Despite the stoppage and mental toll of playing in a bubble, WNBA players remained committed to finishing the season, knowing their voices are louder when gathered together in Bradenton. This is what they built the bubble for, said Ogwumike, who did not specify when games would restart.

On behalf of the players, Ogwumike called upon Kentucky Atty. Gen. Daniel Cameron to arrest the officers involved in Taylor’s death and for Wisconsin Atty. Gen. Josh Kaul to investigate the officers involved in Blake’s shooting. The 2016 MVP encouraged people to register to vote, show up on election day, fill out the 2020 census and contact local officials.

“If you’re watching or listening and you understand the humanity in the movement for Black lives and you recognize that your voice matters, do not remain idle,” Ogwumike read from the statement. “Demand that your leaders step up and take real action. Do something today.”


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