Sporting leagues across the country are postponing play in response to the latest incidents of police violence towards black citizens. Raising awareness on this issue has been at the forefront of every element of the WNBA’s “bubble” season in Bradenton, Florida. Last Friday, police killed Trayford Pellerin in Lafayette, LA. On Sunday police in Kenosha, WI shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.
For most of us, now is a time to listen. There’s nobody better to listen to than Lynx head coach and GM Cheryl Reeve. She’s been at the forefront of social justice issues for a very long time. Reeve speaks on the matter in press availability and her own podcast even in more “peaceful” times. She’s knowledgeable and passionate about a litany of subjects like women’s rights, minorities in athletics and political activism. More importantly, she’s not afraid to share her thoughts and use her platform to bring meaningful change to society.
“You can’t have change with people like us sitting there and accepting it,” Reeve said Thursday after the postponement of her team’s game. “It takes courage and it takes sacrifice. Many before us have done it. I am proud of this generation of women in the WNBA who don’t fear people that want to take this away from us and say ‘you spoke up too much, we’re going to take your league away from you.’ We’re unafraid of that. Maybe we shouldn’t have basketball. They fear for their lives, not playing the game of basketball. They fear for their family member’s lives.”
In a wide-ranging, 30-minute media availability, Reeve took on issues like voting, diversity of leadership, police unions, the role of black athletes and the WNBA’s role in raising awareness this summer. She’s known for being open, honest and direct with the media and those around her, on Wednesday she was equal parts raw, angry and devastated. It was the most passionate, moving and important press conference of her career. Hopefully the entire thing makes its way to the internet. Until then these clips will suffice.
Of course the idea of protesting and raising awareness on these issues is nothing new for the the Minnesota Lynx. They famously wore Black Lives Matter shirts to a game in 2016 in the wake of Philando Castile’s murder. Reeve was asked by Power Plays news’ Lindsay Gibbs about the progression from that moment in 2016 to this one.
“When I think about then and I think about now I do think about this does feel like more of a sea change around the world, not just a Minneapolis thing,” Reeve said. “What we saw around George Floyd and the impact around the world is what I think maybe 2016 was an impetus in terms of our attention on this and seeing how the support. When we put black lives matter on a shirt in 2016 the reaction for so many people including some in our organization was ‘you can not put black lives matter (on a shirt)’ and now black lives matter is being painted on streets by the urging of city leaders.’’
As of now the NBA is slated to return to playoff action this weekend. There’s been no indication from the WNBA about their plans. It is yet to be seen whether they will return to play at all. They’ve been perhaps the most active league in sports when it comes to social issue. Their season is on the brink.
“They don’t care about playing basketball,” Reeve revealed. “Those that have their minds on basketball, don’t get it….I can tell you that those that might suggest that playing basketball is something we should focus on, or the fear of losing TV money and our owners losing money and therefore our league being in jeopardy, that’s not going to work. (The players) are focused on what we can do to help our communities and our families so that we can live safely and live the same as white people.”
Cheryl Reeve and the WNBA are transcending basketball. They play a game but stand for so much more.