It's been more than four months since Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by Louisville police in her own home. The officers involved in her death—Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison, and Myles Cosgrove—have yet to be arrested.
As more time passes with no accountability in sight, demands for justice grow louder and more widespread. On the heels of a new collective bargaining agreement, the WNBA, which launched a new social justice council earlier this month, is dedicating its entire season to the Black Lives Matter movement. Players will wear Nike-branded warm-up shirts with "Black Lives Matter" on the front and "Say Her Name" on the back.
After Las Vegas Aces star Angel McCoughtry tweeted a jersey mockup with Taylor's name in lieu of her own, the WNBA—among the most progressive sports leagues in the country—announced new uniforms to "seek justice for the women and girls, including Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, Vanessa Guillen, and many more who have been the forgotten victims of police brutality and racial violence."
Say their names on our jerseys pic.twitter.com/AGF1r3Eqp2
— Angel McCoughtry (@angel_35) June 25, 2020
But over in the NBA, which restarted its 2020 season this week, players can choose from a selection of 29 pre-approved statements: Black Lives Matter; Say Their Names; Vote; I Can’t Breathe; Justice; Peace; Equality; Freedom; Enough; Power to the People; Justice Now; Say Her Name; Sí Se Puede (Yes We Can); Liberation; See Us; Hear Us; Respect Us; Love Us; Listen; Listen to Us; Stand Up; Ally; Anti-Racist; I Am A Man; Speak Up; How Many More; Group Economics; Education Reform; and Mentor.
It's not enough. "Say Her Name" is the only one that seems to acknowledge the disproportionate number of Black women and girls who have gone missing in the U.S. and who often remain an afterthought in the outrage over police violence.
Several prominent members of the men’s league declined to wear the jerseys after criticizing the options for not going far enough. LeBron James felt the phrases didn’t “seriously resonate” with his advocacy work. Instead, players are taking it upon themselves to fight for justice in Taylor’s case.
A post shared by LeBron James (@kingjames) on Jul 17, 2020 at 2:17pm PDT
Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul George used his entire postgame interview time on Wednesday to discuss the police killings of both Taylor and George Floyd.
"[Shoulders] felt great, but I think most importantly, I take this time to give my condolences to the family of the Taylors," George told reporters. "Breonna Taylor, rest in peace. George Floyd, rest in peace. There are so many others out there that have been brutally murdered by the hands of police. That is all I got—that is my message for everyone and that will continue to be my answer.
I asked Paul George how his shoulders were feeling, he chose to only answer about Breonna Taylor.
I expect this to be the normal this NBA season, and I have zero problem with it. I embrace it.
Video: @kylegoon (Follow him for bubble videos)pic.twitter.com/ayrfhMMME6
— Farbod Esnaashari (@Farbod_E) July 22, 2020
"I mean, her murderers are still free, so nothing is done yet," he added. "And hope to continue, again, keep this fight going and use our platform to stand up for those that can't stand anymore. I think that is what we are here for, to continue to keep that in the back of people's minds."
Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart answered every single question from reporters during his media availability with, "Justice for Breonna Taylor."
Here is Marcus Smart's entire media availability. "Justice for Breonna Taylor." pic.twitter.com/q2IsMENjbs
— Chris Grenham (@chrisgrenham) July 21, 2020
Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris had one message during a press conference: "We want to make sure that [Kentucky Attorney General] Daniel Cameron will arrest the cops and the officers involved with Breonna Taylor’s death and that’s all I got to say."
Tobias Harris’ media availability today lasted 59 seconds.
He had one message.
“We want to make sure that Daniel Cameron (Kentucky Attorney General) will arrest the cops & the officers involved with Breonna Taylor’s death and that’s all I got to say.” pic.twitter.com/AxKUDGlcIA
— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) July 20, 2020
Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma begged members of the media via social media to prioritize social justice work when asking post-game questions.
Media & players: We work hand n hand. We have platforms but help us out! Yes we know your job is to ask us about basketball questions. But if you guys believe in equality for all, let’s ask a few social injustice questions here n there. We’re all in this together
— kuz (@kylekuzma) July 22, 2020
LeBron James sidestepped the missed jersey messaging by writing "#Justice4BreonnaT" on his sneakers during a Thursday scrimmage. He later told reporters that he'll use the NBA's platform to "talk about what’s going on," and to "push the envelope."
— Rex Chapman🏇🏼 (@RexChapman) July 24, 2020
Meanwhile, the women's jerseys will be on full display this weekend during the 2020 season opener at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. All games will take place without a crowd, and masks and social distancing are required for players at all times except during games. (Yahoo! Sports has more information on how to watch here.) Taylor's mother, Tamika Palmer, told TMZ Sports the WNBA's tribute is part of "what keeps [her] family going each day." Palmer has also reportedly Zoomed with more than 30 NBA stars, including Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony, about using their social media platforms to push for actionable change.
The NBA, along with the rest of the country, has finally clued into the fact that it's no longer prudent to stay silent. Still, its biggest stars clearly believe there's more to be done. The league has refused to simply "shut up and dribble" for some time now, but the WNBA is setting the precedent for what social justice looks like in sports.
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