In the summer of 2016, Kelsey Bone was the first WNBA player to join Colin Kaepernick’s protest against police brutality and systemic racism by taking a knee during the national anthem.
She heard Kaepernick’s message, and felt passionately about supporting it. She didn’t care if it made people uncomfortable; that was the point.
“This was not a movement of unity,” she told me last year in an interview on the Burn It All Down podcast. “This is a movement of alarm. ‘Hello, wake up. Do you see us? Do you hear us? We are not trying to go back to where we’ve come from.'”
Two years later, most athletes who joined Kaepernick by protesting during the anthem have moved on. But Bone — who didn’t play in the WNBA during the 2017 season — is still taking a knee during the national anthem at every game.
The Las Vegas Aces center says it wasn’t difficult to decide to continue the protest when she returned to the league this spring.
“I guess I never made the decision to stop, I just didn’t play. For me, it was really simple. What I felt when I began to kneel in 2016, it hasn’t changed. It’s actually gotten worse,” Bone told ThinkProgress in a phone interview on Thursday.
“I’m kneeling because people who look like me, when they encounter the cops, there is usually some form of brutality, whether it’s warranted or not,” she said. “When that brutality happens, those cops are not then held accountable for their actions.”
While NFL owners and coaches have bent over backwards trying to prevent players from taking a knee during the anthem, Bone says she’s received nothing but support from her teammates, coaches, Aces ownership, and the league as a whole.
“[The Aces public relations director] came to me and said, ‘I want to make sure you know, there could be some backlash, there could not, we don’t know how that could go, but we want you to know that we support you 100 percent. We fully have your back. Do your thing and we’re going to support you accordingly,'” Bone recounted.
So far, her mother — who supported her protest back in 2016 — is the only person who has been against Bone continuing to take a knee. She encouraged her daughter to find another way to get her message across and to impact change. But for Bone, the protest and action are not mutually exclusive notions. She’s currently mentoring a group of 10 at-risk youth in Las Vegas. She doesn’t have $1 million to donate to charity like Kaepernick does, but that doesn’t keep her from wanting to do more.
After all, every time she turns on the news, her frustration with the status quo grows deeper. There are alarms everywhere.
“Every day it seems like someone else it being shot and killed by a police officer,” she said. “And for me, I don’t even stop there anymore. You look at what’s going on in these detention centers, these children being separated from their parents. And [mass shootings] in high schools.”
For Bone, it’s all personal. Her brother attends the same high school in Texas where her mother teaches. Are they even safe in the classroom anymore? Earlier this year she was at a Las Vegas mall with her girlfriend, when she spotted a man walking towards the mall toting what she believed to be an AK-47. Suddenly, she was running for her life. It was a hoax, but she didn’t know it at the time. It was a terrifying, sobering experience.
“For as much as I protest and speak my mind, you never really think it’s going to hit that close to home. You never thing it’s going to be you, until it is,” she said.
Bone could talk for hours about all of the injustices in the country today. She’s moved by all of it. But her protest is still primarily about one thing: police are killing people of color — especially black men — and getting away with it. And she has a 16-year-old brother who is black and well over six feet tall. She protests for him.
“You look at Sterling Brown. He plays in the NBA, who would ever think it would happen to him?” she said. “No one is safe. And for me, it’s just so much bigger than just basketball, than being a WNBA player. We’re humans.”
And, as for those who question her patriotism? Well, Bone isn’t shy to admit that she’s been questioning it too given what is happening in the Trump administration.
Growing up, she remembers watching the Olympics with her family, and feeling such pride when an American would win a gold medal and the national anthem was played. And when she was 15 years old, she got her first chance to play for her country as a part of USA Basketball.
“Oh man. There was nothing better than being an American and going around the country and winning gold medals, and hearing the star spangled banner playing,” she said.
“I don’t feel that way anymore. I’m not proud of where I come from.”
So, for now, she’s going to keep taking a knee. It doesn’t bother her that she kneels alone. She gets messages of support from players across the league, and she’s pleased that the WNBA front office has taken a hands-off approach. Plus, she’s not interested in unity just for the sake of unity.
“Just because people don’t kneel, it doesn’t mean they don’t agree. Everybody is entitled to do their own thing, this just happens to be mine. This is something I feel and I live and I breathe daily,” she said.
“For me, I hope it’s not something I have to do forever, but that’s where we are.”