The Portland Thorns are the new National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) champions after taking down the Kansas City Current in the league’s final on Saturday, which aired on CBS in a primetime slot. Thorns player Sophia Smith, the league’s MVP and a phenom-in-the-making, celebrated her goal with an instantly iconic Michael Jordan shrug, and her team got an urgently needed morale boost after their former coach and leadership teams were at the center of two sexual abuse investigations over the last year.
The game also featured a heartwarming show of solidarity with Brittney Griner, the WNBA player who was arrested in Russia in February. Several Twitter users pointed out that We Are BG, the official campaign to bring her home, had a booth set up at Audi Field in Washington, D.C. NWSL fans were encouraged to write letters to Griner to let her know that Americans are still thinking about her, talking about her, and demanding that she be brought home from Russian prison. The notes will apparently be scanned and sent electronically to Griner, whose appeal was rejected by a trio of Russian judges last week, while the physical letters will be filed away to give to Griner when she arrives back in the States—a hopeful element in a grim story.
“The line is so long too because we all love & are praying for the safe return of Brittney Griner,” Fatou Sadio, a board member for Black Girl Hockey, wrote on Twitter on Saturday night. “Women’s sports are always at the forefront with movements like this.”
The fact that the NWSL coordinated with We Are BG—the group led by the WNBA’s players association and a coalition of supporters and athletes—underscored the entire championship game with a fighting spirit and a call for togetherness, and set a template for the historically less political and less vocal men’s leagues to follow. To encourage fans in attendance to write letters to Griner is an incredible example of how women’s sports leagues innately understand that there is power in numbers and collaboration and that slapping Griner’s name on a court or on t-shirts, as the NBA has done, isn’t enough to bring her home.
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Every league should show up for BG as the NWSL did this weekend. Men’s sports fans need to start picking up the slack.