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PALMETTO, FL- SEPTEMBER 9: Brianna Turner #21 of the Phoenix Mercury and Brionna Jones #42 of the Connecticut Sun fight for position during the game. on September 9, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. (NBA Content Network)
Our Pepper Persley’s latest podcast features Brianna Turner of the Phoenix Mercury. The two discuss the elevated television coverage of the WNBA and how it helped amplify the social justice message of the WNBA players, why the killing of George Floyd was so personal to Turner and so many others moved to protest it, and much more.
PEPPER PERSLEY: The league has played for women like Breonna Taylor and Sandra Bland. What is it like to be a part of a league that is so committed to this type of important activism?
BRIANNA TURNER: I think it's really awesome. Because that could have been any of us. Breonna Taylor, she was 26 years old. A lot of ballplayers are 26 in this league. So I think it's really important and good that the league has taken this stance, especially since so many of our games are televised and streamed, so a lot of people can tune in. So I think it's really great that they are encouraging it.
PERSLEY: Yes. And you mentioned the part about — that being on TV, so your message gets out even more, which I hadn't thought about. So that's a great point. Thank you for that. What does Say Her Name mean to you?
TURNER: Say Her Name is just, I mean, it's just so many countless hashtags. And a little, obviously, a lot of times we hear like, men and their names, but a lot of times the women, they get left out of the conversation. So I think Say Her Name just helps to keep those names going and not just forgotten once it happens.
PERSLEY: Yes, I know, the league is full of Black women. So it's really inspiring to watch them try to highlight the sad stories and the powerful stories of Black women. What is it like for you to grow up with two parents in law enforcement? And what is it like to have them as parents now with so many people focusing on police officers?
TURNER: I think it definitely provided me with a unique perspective growing up. I don't think I knew anyone growing up that had two parents as officers, and now with so much going on? I mean, it's just, it's great for me to just kind of get their perspective, because obviously, like I'm on social media and thinking they're a different perspective. And then I can kind of go back home at night and talk to them and see, hear their perspective. But they're obviously, of course, against police brutality. And they think that there should just be more accountability within these police forces, so that it can be more trust between civilians and police forces. So I mean, I think it's really good that I've gotten that perspective on it as well.
PERSLEY: That the more perspectives you have, the more knowledgeable you can be. You said that "There are a lot of people who would see my dad and think he's a threat to them, and that's an extremely scary thing to me." Can you explain that?
TURNER: Um, yeah, that was shortly after what happened to George Floyd. And I think the description I saw of George Floyd, was a 6'6" Black man, and my dad is literally a 6'6" Black man. So if people can see George Floyd is a threat, I mean, my dad is like, spitting image. So I just thought that parallel was kind of scary.
PERSLEY: Yes, and so many Black people right now are hoping that their family members or even them won't be the next hashtag, which is terrible. Switching to basketball, you're leading the league in blocks, and top-five in rebounding, and you are known for being a fierce defender. When did you start to love playing defense?
TURNER: I think I've just always had a passion for playing defense — high school, college and now the WNBA. I think we can really get our offense push just from our defense, so if we can get quick stops we can really get going fast on the offensive end, so I think our defense can help lead to our offense.
PERSLEY: Yes, the defense leads to offense — I hear so many passionate defenders, including you, saying that now. With Brittney Griner away from the team, how have you helped to fill her big shoes?
TURNER: I'm definitely just trying to rebound more and just be a bigger threat on the defensive end. I know when BG was here, a lot of people were hesitant to drive in because, obviously, you had her standing on there. But now it's me, and I just try to block as many shots as I can and discourage defenders from attacking the rim.
PERSLEY: Yeah, as we mentioned, leading the league in blocks, which is really impressive. You played for a Hall of Fame coach, what are some of the most important lessons you learned from Coach McGraw?
TURNER: That we are just more than basketball players. She encouraged all of us [inaudible] she always told us about, like, important on-campus people coming to visit. Like one time Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg came to campus and she spoke, and I didn't even go and I regret that so much. But just encouraging us to do stuff off the court and knowing that we can have an impact and we can create change.
PERSLEY: Yes, the off-the-court pieces, especially what's inspiring this season with social activism. What do you think about the hiring of Coach Ivey?
TURNER: I think it's a great hire. She's just so passionate. She's just such an exciting coach to play for, her love for the game is unmatched. And I think she's gonna have a lot of success at Notre Dame.
PERSLEY: I know you mentioned that she will have success, but I was wondering what you think will make her a great coach and so successful as the head coach of Notre Dame women's basketball?
TURNER: I think really just her personality. She's just such a likable person. She's so charismatic. So I know like, all the players, all the incoming people, are gonna really be excited to play for her.
PERSLEY: Were there any special experiences you have with Coach Ivey?
TURNER: I think she's just really easy to talk to, even non-basketball-related stuff, so if you have any issues or anything, she's more than welcome to have her door open and have people come talk to her.
PERSLEY: Yes, it's so helpful to have a coach who's going to listen, as well as one to help you. Speaking of Notre Dame one last time, you play with a Notre Dame legend, Skylar Diggins-Smith. What has it been like playing with her?
TURNER: It's been really exciting to play with Sky. This is my first season playing with her. I mean, she's just one of the most passionate players I've ever played with. She's so competitive and her drive is unmatched, so it's been really exciting to play with Sky.
PERSLEY: Yes, you can see her passion out on the floor. It's pretty impressive. And speaking of amazing players, you play with the GOAT, Diana Taurasi. Do you have a fun story about DT you can share?
TURNER: I would definitely say she's a very funny person. She's always cracking jokes, always making people laugh. So she's just a really fun person to be around.
PERSLEY: Yes, but when it's game time, she's focused and she's intense. We can definitely see that as well. Players often talk about the moment when they realized it was no longer college. What was your, quote unquote, "Welcome to the WNBA" moment?
TURNER: I'm not sure. I think just the whole season last year was really just surreal for me. So I think just everything was kind of like, "Welcome."
PERSLEY: Yeah. What was your favorite wubble activity, of course, other than basketball?
TURNER: I'm honestly just so boring here! [laughs] I don't really do much. But as a team we went to the beach a couple weeks ago, so that was the only time we got to leave, so I guess definitely leaving for a couple hours and going to the beach was nice.
PERSLEY: Yeah, being stuck in the wubble, a beach vacation must have been awesome. And definitely helpful to take your mind off of basketball and the heaviness of social justice. What is the best piece of advice you would give to a young girl who wants to play in the WNBA?
TURNER: I would just say to keep pushing through, and keep working hard, and you'll make it. There's going to be doubters in your way. There's gonna be people on social media saying that women's basketball doesn't count or it doesn't matter. But you have to keep persevering and keep working hard, and you can make it.
PERSLEY: Just like your shirt, bet on women and bet on yourself — you will make it, you can do it. And one last question for you. WNBA players inspire so many young people. But who inspires you, Brianna Turner?
TURNER: I would definitely say my parents. I'm an only child, so just growing up with them and seeing their hard drive and their hard work has definitely inspired me throughout my life.
PERSLEY: I'm an only child as well, so I would have to agree with that. My parents are so awesome and so helpful, especially in this journalism. Well, thank you for that perspective, and thank you for doing the work that you're doing and being a social justice inspiration and a defensive inspiration. It really means a lot to be able to chat with you. Thank you so much.
TURNER: Thank you. I enjoyed speaking with you.