Los Angeles Sparks show solidarity with NFL players, WNBPA issues statement in support of team

With additional reporting by Lee Michaelson

September 24, 2017 (Minneapolis) - Minnesota Lynx players stand with linked arms during national anthem before game one of the WNBA Finals. Los Angeles Sparks players decided to stay in the locker room during the anthem. Photo: © Lee Michaelson.
September 24, 2017 (Minneapolis) – Minnesota Lynx players stand with linked arms during national anthem before game one of the WNBA Finals. Los Angeles Sparks players decided to stay in the locker room during the anthem. Photo: © Lee Michaelson.

Today, before the tip off of game one of the WNBA Finals, players from the Los Angeles Sparks decided to returns to the locker room during the national anthem in solidarity with their professional athlete colleagues in the NFL including the Pittsburgh Steelers. Most of the Steelers skipped the anthem before their game Sunday. Minnesota Lynx players stood on the court with their arms interlocked during the anthem.

The Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA) issued a statement about the Sparks’ action.

After careful and thoughtful discussion, the players of the Los Angeles Sparks unanimously determined that we would remain in the locker room in solidarity with the many players of the NFL, who took part in demonstrations today all over the country and across the globe. We will use the time to reflect and engage in constructive conversation about our country.

This demonstration of support is consistent with who we are as individuals, athletes, teammates, and citizens. It is consistent with our mission as a union of players and our core values.

This is our opportunity to unite rather than divide our country. This is our sole focus.

Chelsea Gray, Jantel Lavender
WNBPA Player Representatives

Nneka Ogwumike
WNBPA President

WNBA president Lisa Borders address the media before game one of the 2017 Finals.
September 24, 2017 (Minneapolis) – WNBA president Lisa Borders address the media before game one of the 2017 Finals.

During her opening remarks to media before the game, league president Lisa Borders talked at length about her support of players and the current political climate.

Let me just say that our commissioner, my colleague and my friend, Adam Silver, put out a statement yesterday, and I want you all to know and everyone watching to know that I personally, the [WNBA], all of us stand in full support with Adam, our big brother, the NBA and our entire enterprise.

So we want you all to understand that we are not insensitive to what’s going on around us. In fact, our players are some of the most socially conscious that you will ever find. You all have seen that in the years before I got here, and I’m sure it will continue in the future.

A point of personal privilege here. This is a very difficult time for all of us but I want to say, as a daughter of the South and someone who grew up during the civil rights era and who benefits every day, as we all do, from the work that was done then; we still have more work to do. America is a democracy, but this is an experiment that has worked better than anywhere else in the world, but it is an experiment, and we work to perfect the union every day.

So we want to be part of a constructive dialogue. Our players have been working in their communities, not just this year or last year. This has been an ongoing effort by the WNBA since its inception. So our players, I am sure, will continue this, as will I and all of us that are working at the league.

After the game, Hoopfeed.com asked Ogwumike about the team’s action. Her response:

It was honestly a very spur-of-the-moment type of thing. We were obviously on our phones on the way to the game — on the way to the gym, sorry.

And when we got to the locker room, Candace [Parker] had shown everyone the remarks of the head coach of the Steelers. I don’t know if anyone has seen what he said. But we completely resonated with everything that he said. You know, it’s not about showing any type of disrespect.

With athletes, you know, we want to be able to be on this main stage and lead our communities and set an example. I think what we agreed with, with what the head coach of the Steelers said, some people may want to kneel; some people may not want to. But we want to… we want to show everyone that a team does as the team does. So we want to stand in solidarity together and stand by, you know, our mission, and that’s in unity and togetherness. And we felt that we wanted to also show our respect for other people who understand how important it is for us to be together at this time.

And honestly, there’s also been word… there wasn’t any disrespect at all to the Minnesota fans or anything. It was a very spur-of-the-moment type of situation, and I think that a lot of people were confused when they didn’t see us out there, but that’s what it was about.

Athletes have been active in bringing attention to social ills at sports events for decades. From the Black Power salutes of Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the medal stand during the playing of national anthem at the 1968 Olympics to the outspoken political positions of the late Muhammad Ali who refused to fight in the Vietnam War.

Most recently, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit during the national anthem last year to protest police brutality against black citizens and systemic racism in the United States has spurred controversy. Other athletes have also engaged in activism to shed light on the issue of police mistreatment including WNBA players. Last season the league assessed fines to players who wore warm up shirts with the phrase “Black Lives Matter” to bring attention to murders of African-Americans by police officers. However, the league rescinded the fines after an uproar from fans, players and media.

During the presser before game one, Borders said the process of issuing fines and then rescinding was “a time for us to stop and reflect on what our rules were, whether it was about uniforms or anything else, and give it a really hard look.”

“What we had to do was stop, take a breath, step back and evaluate exactly what was going on in the context of what was going on across the country,” said Borders. “Those conversations were very fruitful. They were very productive and constructive. Our players have been very open, not only then but they continue today. We talk to them regularly but I think the conversations are more intense, and I think they are more insightful.”

In the past week, President Trump attacked NFL players who have protested police brutality. He also lashed out at Golden State Warriors basketball star Stephen Curry for expressing opposition to the president’s views and policies.

The commissioners of the NFL, NBA, owners of teams in both leagues as well as WNBA players responded to Trump’s attacks with criticism of the president’s antagonistic behavior.

“Athletes have been at the forefront of social change,” said Connecticut Sun player Chiney Ogwumike (Nneka’s younger sister), in a video posted on social media. “Whether it was Muhammad Ali or Billie Jean King. So, when it comes to ‘sticking to sports’ it’s just not in our DNA honestly.”

WNBA legend Ticha Penicheiro also chimed in.

In addition, the Warriors issued a statement in response to the president’s attacks on Curry.

Saturday evening, Bruce Maxwell, a catcher for the Oakland Athletics, became the first major-league baseball player to kneel during the national anthem as a form of protest. Earlier today, several NFL players knelt during the national anthem before games.



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