The WNBA returned to the court on Saturday and began their season in the only way WNBA players know how: With a powerful statement. In the first game of the season, the New York Liberty faced off against the Seattle Storm, but before tip-off, players from each team came together to reiterate their focus on social justice during the 2020 season. In a joint speech, the Liberty’s Layshia Clarendon and the Storm’s Breanna Stewart reiterated that every game this year would be dedicated to Breonna Taylor, the Black Lives Matter movement, and #SayHerName, an initiative focused on remembering the names of Black women who have been affected by police and racial violence.
Clarendon and Stewart’s joint statement was followed by 26 seconds of silence, during which all the players turned their backs to the camera and displayed the backs of their jerseys commemorating Taylor, who was 26 when she was killed in her sleep by police officers. Both teams then exited the court and returned to their locker rooms before the start of the national anthem—not during it, as ESPN incorrectly reported and later corrected.
The choice to stay in the locker room during the anthem is not new, but it seems to have come as a surprise to Senator Kelly Loeffler, who is part owner of WNBA team the Atlanta Dream, who played and won their game on Sunday. As with previous teams who played over the weekend, the Dream and their opponents, the Dallas Wings, held a moment of silence for 26 seconds and exited the court before the start of the anthem. Loeffler and other conservatives, however, continue to falsely claim that the players left as the anthem played. Loeffler stated on Twitter that the WNBA had “turned its back on the American flag” and referred to the protest as “shameful.”
Loeffler’s shock and disdain over the protests are performative and meant to rile up her base as she faces a tough reelection campaign, particularly as she knew before the season started that the protests would occur—in early July, she even wrote a letter to the commissioner to complain about it.
Despite outcries from conservative media and Loeffler herself, the WNBA has no plans to change course on their efforts to raise awareness this season. In an interview with ESPN, Clarendon said, “I don’t want to hear the anthem, I don’t want to stand out there. I don’t want to be anywhere near it, because it’s ridiculous that justice and freedom are just not offered to everybody equally.”