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Courtesy of JBL Candace Parker
Candace Parker is grateful for the opportunity to use her voice.
The WNBA player, who is JBL's latest ambassador, tells PEOPLE she's proud of athletes who double as activists for various social justice issues in the United States, dispelling critics who argue sports professionals should just "shut up and dribble."
"I think the biggest thing is to be really informed, and to be knowledgeable, and to learn, and to read, and to know these things before you go out and use your platform to state your opinion," says Parker, who plays for the Chicago Sky. "It's important to be knowledgeable of the subject that you're discussing. And it's important to understand that people are going to have different ideas and different viewpoints, and that's what's welcomed within our country."
Parker, 34, continues, "But when those viewpoints and those opinions limit what I'm able to do within the country as an African American woman, then we're obviously going to have to continue to have discussions and push the envelope. So, I think that we're not going to shut up and dribble."
Last year, women in the league were outspoken in calling for the WNBA to remove former Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler from her role as co-owner of the Atlanta Dream following the lawmaker's comments criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement. (The team has since been sold.) And Washington Mystics players wore shirts with faux bullet holes after the police shooting of Jacob Blake over the summer, posing for a photo-op before boycotting their game. A month prior, members from the Seattle Storm and the New York Liberty walked off the court during the national anthem and returned to their respective locker rooms at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, in support of BLM.
"I think we have a number of people and athletes that are able to speak out and demand change, but just as a doctor is able to speak about politics, I don't see why athletes can't," Parker tells PEOPLE. "And so, I really love that we're continuing to have these conversations because I think that's the only way things are going to change."
The NBA on TNT analyst adds, "I think the WNBA as a whole is utilizing its platform to be in the communities and push for change."
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Courtesy of JBL Candace Parker
Parker's interest in social justice also led her to team up with JBL. Parker and the audio equipment company paired with Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, and Dwyane Wade's Social Change Fund to deliver headphones to in-need youth organizations like After School Matters in cities including Chicago, Los Angeles and Knoxville, Tennessee. The equipment will help assist with e-learning in those communities — all of which are close to Parker's heart — amid the pandemic.
Parker — who was also featured in JBL's Sonic Stories to celebrate Women's History Month — tells PEOPLE she initially became part of the Social Change Fund last summer: "It was just basically about helping our community, and helping utilize our partnerships and our connections to get involved."
That mission, she says, "goes right into what we're trying to do with JBL. I'm very excited to be a part of JBL."
"To be able to help those communities, and be able to donate headphones and things like that has really been a benefit, and added to the partnership," she says of the program, noting that JBL isn't just focused on selling gear, they really want to benefit communities.
Parker says she's just one of an entire generation of WNBA athletes who are making "strides forward" in ensuring the league is taken seriously on the court – and off.
"We've gone from a couple of athletes speaking out to now, an entire league shutting down and demanding change," she tells PEOPLE.