The WNBA and its players are showing their support for the victims of racially charged violence in Charlottesville.
The Los Angeles Sparks and the Washington Mystics locked arms at center court before the start of their nationally televised game Wednesday night. The Minnesota Lynx and Seattle Storm did the same thing before their contest later in the evening.
“It is not a surprise that racism and bigotry exist in this country, but it is not something we stand for in any way. We feel great shock, sickness, and sadness with the degree of acceptance and normalization of this hatred, culminating in ways in the events in Charlottesville this past weekend,” players from the Washington Mystics and Los Angeles Sparks said in a statement.
“We feel pain and disbelief following the blatant hate displayed and the President’s response to it. There is no way to innocently protest alongside a hate-based group and to take pause on condemning the acts that took place is inexcusable.”
Heather Heyer was killed when a car rammed into a crowd of people protesting a white nationalist rally that descended into violence last weekend. Two Virginia State police officers also died in a separate incident when their helicopter crashed.
Both the Mystics and Sparks have visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture over the past month.
“Our team recently had the honor of meeting Rep. John Lewis, and part of his mantra that especially resonated with us was the message of recognition of wrong and having the courage to speak out,” the players’ statement said. “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something.”
The league sent out a memo to its teams which was obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday night. In the memo, the WNBA said it’s “suspending the national anthem protocol (which entails lining up in a dignified posture along the foul lines during the playing of the national anthem) beginning (Wednesday) and ending August 25.”
The memo went on to say the league was doing this to accommodate the support of the players’ voices and to “honor the victims of the Charlottesville tragedy”.
The WNBA was doing this at the request of Nneka Ogwumike, the Sparks star who is president of the players’ union.
“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 in a statement. “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 league also offered a sample script for teams to announce to the crowd before the start of games. It’s the same script that the New York Liberty used in their game against the Los Angeles Sparks on Sunday.
“Fans, at this time we ask that you please rise, as we take a moment of silence to remember 32-year old Heather Heyer, and Virginia State Patrol Troopers Berke Bates and Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen, who died tragically as a result of the violence that transpired this weekend in Charlottesville, Va. As we mourn those who lost their lives, let us also remind ourselves of the strength, values and diversity that unite us as Americans.”
It’s the second consecutive summer that the WNBA players have responded to a social issue. Last year, WNBA players wore black shirts in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. The league originally fined the players for it but then rescinded the fines.
Unlike last summer with the black shirts, the players let the league know ahead of time about their plans.
“I like the fact that players in our league have a conscience and are willing to express it,” Washington Mystics coach Mike Thibault said. “Our team talked about it this morning and I thought they did the right thing.
“It was appropriate and it sent a positive message for what needs to be in our country.”