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WNBA players should be applauded for taking a stand on issues


When I was younger, like a lot of folks, I spoke out on anything I had a strong opinion about — even when it would have been best to just keep my mouth shut.

As I got older, I became more diplomatic. More thoughtful. More calculating. There are times when the best thing to say really is nothing. Not everything is worth arguing over.

Also because you realize no matter what you say, the vast majority of your fellow humans aren’t listening and don’t care anyway. I don’t mean to sound defeatist. It’s just that I think with age comes a kind of resignation that, to a degree, we’re all shouting into the wind.

But you know what? Even if that’s all I’m doing — shouting into the endless, howling hurricane that is the Internet — I support the WNBA players who kneeled during the national anthem at Wednesday’s Indiana-Phoenix game. And all the league’s players who are speaking out and peacefully protesting the mistreatment of black citizens in this country. Like other athletes who are doing this, they hope to spark not just dialogue, but substantive changes that are necessary.

In the team's pregame huddle after the anthem, Fever coach Stephanie White told her team, "I'm proud of y'all for doing that together, being in that together. That's big. That's big. It's bigger than basketball, right? Bigger than basketball."

In the team’s pregame huddle after the anthem, Fever coach Stephanie White told her team, “I’m proud of y’all for doing that together, being in that together. That’s big. That’s big. It’s bigger than basketball, right? Bigger than basketball.”

AP Photo/Darron Cummings

WNBA players are among the most well-educated and worldly professional athletes you will find. Most of them have spent a lot of time playing overseas, and they care very deeply about many issues. The Black Lives Matter movement and the overall topic of racial injustice is not some kind of “fad,” or a chance to “show off” as some ridiculously accuse.

I’ve covered the WNBA since its inception in 1997, and women’s basketball since I was a college freshman in 1984. I’ve spent most of my adult life writing about female athletes, and a large percentage of those women have been black.

There have been times when I’ve questioned if I was always the right person to do some stories I’ve done. Not because I didn’t care enough or wasn’t invested enough. But because I wondered if my life experience was such that I might not have been the person that black women related to well enough to fully share their lives.

I grew up in a very small town in Missouri, and went to a high school of about 800 total students, probably 98 percent of them white. Heck, it might have been 99 percent. I went to Mizzou in the 1980s, where it was not uncommon to have entire classrooms of white students every day. I don’t recall working with any black journalists at the student newspaper.

The black students I knew mostly were athletes. I admired them, and I really liked talking with them. But I wasn’t sure how well I was truly getting to know them. I wondered, “Do they trust me? Do they think I’m fair to them? Do they think I understand them?”

All these years later, I sometimes still ask myself those questions. But I’m so grateful and thankful that I’ve been able to tell their stories of winning and losing, of peaks and valleys, of great joy and, unfortunately, some deep sorrows.

Here’s the bottom line: There would not be a WNBA — and I wouldn’t have this career — if it were not for the toil, the strength, the ability and the courage of black women. So what they care about, I care about. What they worry about is a concern to me. When they speak, I listen. It’s my job, but it’s also at the very core of why I wanted to do the job in the first place.

Yes, we’re all human beings, and to an extent share the same experiences. But race continues to be a factor in how many people are treated, how they live, and how they feel they are perceived.

I don’t pretend I can know exactly what it’s like to walk in another’s footsteps, but I can empathize. Such as when a player like Phoenix’s Kelsey Bone, who kneeled Wednesday, said that she worries about her father, her brothers, her uncles, her cousins, her friends.

“What happens if I get a phone call?” she said. “If one of them is next?”

Many WNBA players have had with these concerns all their lives, and they have reached a point where they can’t stay silent. Or as Phoenix’s Mistie Bass, who also kneeled Wednesday, put it, “My heart was just too heavy to stand today. I did this to say, ‘Enough is enough.’ I think people are starting to see athletes coming together of all races.

“Even if the WNBA’s platform isn’t nearly as big as, say, an NFL platform, the fact that you see a team do like Indiana did — kneel all at once — that’s powerful.”

Bass was not critical of those of her teammates who did not kneel. She spoke passionately about her support for law enforcement, and that this is not an attack on police, or the military, or the flag, or patriotism.

I understand what she’s saying, and it totally makes sense to me. But on topics like this, emotions run incredibly high, to say the least. There will be those who condemn the WNBA players for their actions, or mock them by saying nobody cares about the league, or both.

I’m not going to change those minds, or even dent them. That’s not the point.

But just as you figure out when it’s best to stay quiet, you also figure out when it really matters to say something. I support what the WNBA players are doing, and I respect their choices — those who decided to kneel, and those who didn’t — because I respect them as caring, intelligent people who are trying to make the world a better place for everyone.

This story is featured on espnW.com