'It’s going to take more than us:' WNBA players feel continued weight during fight for justice

Simply sticking to writing about basketball isn't, and hasn't been, enough.

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The Lynx’s Kayla Alexander, Lexie Brown and Kiki Herbert Harrigan wear their “Black Lives Matter” shirts prior to Minnesota’s Aug. 11 game against the Washington Mystics. Photo credit: Minnesota Lynx Twitter account.

I intended to write about basketball on Monday. I had planned to rewatch Sunday’s Lynx loss to the Dream and write about Minnesota’s defensive troubles. But then another video surfaced, and I couldn’t find an ounce in my being that cared about defensive rebounding.

On Sunday, Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, was shot in the back seven times by Kenosha, Wis. police officers. Blake survived the attempted murder but was paralyzed from the waist down and will have to deal with the trauma he and his family have endured for the rest of his life.

The hypocrisy hit me around the third hour of consuming news updates on Blake’s condition and just what had transpired in Kenosha. My goal is to ultimately find another full-time opportunity to write about basketball, but my motivation write or even care about basketball has waned since the pandemic, since Ahmaud Arbery was gunned down while jogging, since George Floyd pleaded for his life for eight minutes and 46 seconds, since Breonna Taylor was murdered in her own home, and since Blake was shot seven times by police officers while his children watched. How could I bring myself to write about the Lynx’s failure to do their job for one game, knowing how depleted my work ethic has been for months?

I still couldn’t talk about basketball on Tuesday, so I decided to shift my focus and ask about Jacob Blake being shot by the police.

Napheesa Collier said it was sickening.

“It’s the reason that we’ve dedicated our season to injustice like this because there is no situation, no reason why that should have ever happened where he’s shot in the back seven times, his kids are in the car,” Collier said. “There’s no reason for that to ever happen.

“It’s just really disheartening to see and pretty disgusting.”

Damiris Dantas let out a large sigh and tilted back in her seat before giving her response.

“It’s very hard for me,” Dantas said. “I’m from Brazil, and in Brazil, every day Black people die in the same situation.

“I’m scared for me, my family, my kids.”

Lexie Brown was taking a break from Twitter when the video of the shooting went viral.

“I kind of missed that whole thing, like I wasn’t really watching the news,” Brown said. “I kind of needed a break mentally from exactly that — things going on in our country that we’re not dealing with. When I returned the other day, it was all over the place, and it just made me so sad because I thought that we were making strides in the right direction. To see that happen again and this time in front of his family, in front of people he knew, it’s just heartbreaking. I feel like now we’re going backward. Now I just see the division in our country just getting bigger and bigger, and it’s sad, it’s scary. I have a Black dad, obviously. I have a Black little brother. I’m here in Bradenton in a bubble, and I have no idea what they’re doing or where they are, if they could ever run into a situation like that.

“Regardless of whether he was resisting arrest, not following directions, shooting someone seven times — or shooting someone at all — should never be the end all be all to situations like that. And seeing people who still are defending behavior like that is frightening, and it makes me super upset, very worried about the direction our country is going.”

The Lynx had not formally discussed the shooting as a group, but Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve said she had heard from some individual players.

“More than anything, what it feels like is, when is this going to end?” Reeve said. “When is it going to be enough? When is it going to stop? It’s exhausting. It’s sickening. And yeah, it affects them.”

Reeve also acknowledged how Lafayette police officers shot and killed 31-year-old Trayford Pellerin the night before Jacob Blake was shot in Kenosha.

“What we’re doing isn’t working,” Reeve said. “Saying her name is not enough. All the great work that we’re doing to continue to talk about it is not enough. I think that for those who want real police reform, if anybody is opposed to it, you’re just not understanding it, what the root of the problem is. The root of the problem is bias for those that are policing and how they feel when they see a Black or Brown individual. And it’s sickening and it’s not OK.”

The Star Tribune’s Michael Rand went on to ask Reeve if she’s ever conflicted with playing a game while these issues are going on.

“I think that’s the first thing that crossed our minds was those that committed to being here, the idea that — whether it was WNBA or NBA — was that being in uniform would perhaps be each individual choice that they felt like they could use their voice more effectively,” Reeve said. “But it certainly makes a case for those like a Dawn Staley who has said, ‘No more. No more sports. They need us, they need our attention. No more.’ I understand and I know that it’s crossed all of our minds and we’ve all gone, ‘What are we doing here?’ I think that’s the difficult part.

“But it’s going to take more than us — that’s for darn sure. But we certainly think this needs our attention. We cannot just keep going on another day like it didn’t happen and just move on.”

I’ve asked players what their “Say Her Name” and “Vote Warnock” shirts mean to them, but it took another Black man being shot by the police on video for me to actually write about how players and coaches are being impacted by the never-ending anguish of racism in America. Therefore, my reporting has been inadequate.

I’m asking reporters to leave their comfort zones by learning and shedding light on how uncomfortable it is to be Black in America. The absolute least we can do is remember that these players and coaches are much more than just players and coaches.

We’re going to ask strictly basketball-related questions and write articles relating to defensive strategies, season awards and playoff predictions. That’s our job. But it is a grave injustice to the WNBA to simply stick to writing about basketball and ignore what players and coaches are enduring when they step off the court.