In wake of Charlottesville violence, WNBA teams unite for national anthem protest

"It's terrible, the state with which our country is in right now. Things need to change."

CREDIT: Lindsay Gibbs
CREDIT: Lindsay Gibbs

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Four days after one civilian was murdered and two police officers died during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and one day after the President of the United States vehemently defended the rally in a combative press conference, the WNBA’s Washington Mystics and Los Angeles Sparks intertwined and locked arms during the national anthem before their nationally televised game on Wednesday night.

The action was a continuation of the national anthem protest started by NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick one year ago, as a way to bring attention to racial injustice and police brutality. It was also their way to honor the Charlottesville victims, and to speak out against the divisive, discriminatory messages coming from President Trump.

“We just want to stand united in lieu of the socio-political climate, just to remind everyone that it’s important to stay together in the midst of some tumultuous times,” Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike, the reigning league MVP and President of the WNBA Player’s Association, told ThinkProgress before the game.

“I think there’s a lot of people that have a lot of opinions, but when it comes to discrimination, that’s just not what we’re about.”

Mystics guard Natasha Cloud echoed that sentiment, saying the two teams came together to send a message that they are unified.

“This league, we want to use our voices, we want to use our platform, to send the message that we accept and love every person,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what color you are, what religion you are, what sexual preference you have. Across the board, we’re human. We’re all supposed to be loved and respected.”

Cloud said that the Mystics players, coaches, and management have been talking about the horrific events in Charlottesville and Trump’s reaction for the past few days.

“It’s terrible, the state with which our country is in right now. Things need to change. When things from the top — from the President — are unjust and unfair and demeaning and disrespectful, it trickles down to a low percentage, but it’s still a percentage in our country,” Cloud said.

“And if it doesn’t get handled, I’m scared for where we’re headed. There’s going to be retaliation eventually if something isn’t done from a higher power — our President. He needs to get off his ass and do something.”

The WNBA has been one of the most progressive leagues when it comes to social issues, and in the past year, the players have been incredibly outspoken about racism. Last season, multiple teams held media blackouts and wore Black Lives Matter t-shirts in response to the police killings of Anton Sterling and Philando Castile. This year, the Mystics have met with civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) and toured the National Museum of African American History. Mystics All-Star Elena Delle-Donne has spoken out against Trump’s transgender military band, and stated that if the team won the WNBA championship, they would not go to the White House if invited. The Sparks toured the National Museum of African American History the day before the game.

Players across the league are paying close attention to the President’s actions, and seem prepared to keep speaking out until the situation improves.

“[Trump] responds to everything else very impulsively, tweets very impulsively, but there’s a wait when something so wrong is going on in Charlottesville,” Cloud said “So I’m not surprised, but unfortunately that’s where we’re at. So something’s got to change.”

In a statement provided to ThinkProgress, the WNBA offered its support to all its players speaking out.

“We fully support our players, who are offering a demonstration of unity that we hope America can emulate in the wake of the tragic events in Charlottesville,” WNBA President Lisa Borders said. “We offer our sincere condolences to the families who lost loved ones and our support to those who were injured during the inexcusable violence that transpired.”

The WNBPA also said that it “fully supports our players and their efforts to come together as one to demonstrate unity and leadership in the wake of the recent tragic events in Charlottesville. Our members are strong, and passionate advocates of a world where hate is not tolerated.”