This past season was definitely for one Washington Mystics player one to not crumble under pressure and even stand out leading the pack amongst social justice.
And that is Ariel Atkins.
Atkins came into the 2020 season as the lone starter because multiple players opted out due to COVID-19 and/or advocated for social justice. Expectations roamed in heavily as many wanted Atkins to take over the team. I mean she did such a great job being an additional asset on both ends of the floor including off the court, it was only right that all eyes seemed to be on her.
This season Atkins averaged a career-high in points (14.8), assists (2.4), rebounds (2.9) and steals (1.8). She’s definitely someone you never overlook in any category because Atkins does it all.
Scoring is always a plus, but being able to shake things up on defense and be a notable ball hawk allowed for her to make the WNBA All-Defensive Second Team for a third consecutive season. Keep in mind that she has made the team in each of her three seasons in the league.
But despite what was done on the court, the real admiration came during a time when voices needed to be heard and Black lives being taken away needed to be acknowledged. And that’s where Atkins found her voice.
A voice that quietly lives in an old soul stood out and along with the Washington Mystics brought light to what the outside world tried so hard to cover up.
On August 23, Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back by white police officers in Kenosha, Wisc. Three days later, the Mystics players arrived with white T-shirts with seven painted bullet holes on their backs. Each player along with Head Coach Mike Thibault wore the t-shirt that also included one letter each to spell out Blake’s name. The Mystics were also the first team to convince the entire league to suspend all games on Aug. 26.
Atkins spoke with Holly Rowe of ESPN on the matter. She felt that people needed to comprehend and understand that she and other WNBA players are Black and her and their families still matter.
“We’re not just basketball players. And if you think we are, then don’t watch us. You’re watching the wrong sport, because there’s so much more than that,” Atkins said. “And if they don’t support that, I’m fine with that. At the end of the day, I’m going to make sure that my family’s good any way that I have to do it. If basketball’s not it — God forbid — but that’s what it is. We need to understand that these moments are so much more bigger than us.”
Atkins took leading the floor to a whole new different level, from keeping her team afloat to leading her team in the fight for social justice and awareness. Ariel Atkins truly exemplified the definition of leadership and it will be huge for their 2021 campaign.