For those who still believe that athletes should be apolitical, it’s time to wake up. Players in the WNBA, NBA, MLS, NHL and MLB have shown there is no separating the two. The Washington Mystics are much more than basketball players. They are champions. They are advocates. They are human beings.
The postponement of major sporting events in recent days is a result of players speaking against racial inequality, most recently in response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black man who was shot seven times in the back, in front of his children, in Kenosha, Wis. on August 23.
Along with Blake, the players are fighting for Breonna Taylor, to whom the WNBA season has been dedicated, and many more who have yet to receive the justice they deserve.
When the Mystics arrived at the arena Wednesday night ahead of their scheduled game against the Atlanta Dream, players and coaches alike entered wearing T-shirts emblazoned with letters spelling out Jacob Blake’s name as well as seven holes on the back signifying gunshots.
August 26, 2020
In a parallel image, when the team entered the stadium Friday night, they wore T-shirts with a raised fist and the words “Apply Pressure.”
We’re here #TogetherDC #ApplyPressure pic.twitter.com/NX2sLvHM1N— Washington Mystics (@WashMystics) August 29, 2020
The WNBA has always been on the forefront of social justice movements. What we can learn from professional athletes, including the Mystics, is the power of togetherness.
This group continues to show support and unity during the worst of times. They are doing what we all should do, speaking out against injustices in this country, supporting the “Say Her Name” campaign and declaring that Black Lives Matter.
“We are going to say what we need to say, and people need to hear that,” said Mystics guard Ariel Atkins.
On Wednesday night, Atkins spoke to Holly Rowe about the decision not to play. With teammates standing behind her, Atkins was both eloquent and profound.
“We have to realize that these moments are so much bigger than us,” Atkins said. “I really appreciate my team for not only having my back but saying what they feel. It’s hard to say that type of stuff in these moments. It’s hard to be vulnerable in these types of moments, but I think if we do this unified as a league, it looks different.”
This isn't just about basketball.— Washington Mystics (@WashMystics) August 28, 2020
Doing this unified as a league - it looks different. ✊ ✊ ✊ #TogetherWeStand #ApplyPressure pic.twitter.com/N9gKxRn8Q4
Atkins’ words illustrate the togetherness of this Mystics team as well as professional sports leagues such as the WNBA. The overall message: “We stand together against inequality and racism.”
The decision not to play games to bring attention to systemic racism and police brutality should be commended and applauded. Supporting these athletes and their choices can only strengthen the unity and togetherness of those fighting for equality, a call that we are all obligated to answer.
And it must be about more than words.
“We have to figure out what to do next and not just talk about it,” said Mystics forward Tianna Hawkins, who is fighting for many, including her five-year-old son, Emanuel, who is with the team in the bubble. “Not just put the names on our shirt, not just put the names on our shoes. What can we actually physically do being here in the bubble? Whether it is reaching out to our fans, reaching out to get more people involved and to use their voice and continue to use our voice on different platforms.”
These actions continued to be on display in Friday’s contest as the Mystics took a 24-second shot clock violation to start the game in an attempt to bring awareness to social justice issues.
While the bubble has been challenging, it has provided an opportunity for players to connect with teammates and have meaningful conversations.
“It’s just getting to know all my teammates better,” said Mystics forward Myisha Hines-Allen. “In the bubble y’all are all here and there’s nothing to do. You can’t get away. You do things with your team, so I just feel like this experience really helped not only me but the rest of my teammates just getting to know each other.”
The unity of this Mystics team was on display when Atkins spoke to Rowe. It was on display with the T-shirts they wore on Wednesday and Friday. And it was on display across social media. Multiple players took to Twitter, posting the following message:
“Jacob Blake was shot 7 times, 7 times, 7 times on August 23rd in Kenosha, Wisconsin in front of his 3 children all under the age of 9. He was shot 7 times by Kenosha Policemen who were said to be called to the area for a domestic disturbance. He was unarmed, he was not belligerent, watch the video. Yet, he was shot. In front of his children. The cops have been said to be placed on administrative leave! People question why we have to say Black Lives Matter: this is why.
Kenosha County District Attorney: Michael Graveley, is responsible for filing charges against the police officers who shot Jacob Blake 262-653-2400.”
With the Mystics, along with other sports leagues, resuming play this weekend, keep Atkins’ words in mind. Sports will return, but things won’t revert to the old normal. If anything, the resumption of games will serve to further demonstrate the significance of togetherness and a commitment to change.
“We’re playing for each other,” Hawkins said. “Our priority is to play for social justice. Right now we are playing for social justice and that’s just our mindset right now.”
“We matter and I think that’s important,” Atkins said. “I think people should know that. I’m tired of telling people that. I know I matter. We know we matter. I’m tired of telling people that. If you don’t know that, if you don’t think that you need to, recheck it. And if you have a problem with saying Black Lives Matter then you need to check your privilege. Yes, we matter and I think that’s important and people need to know that.”