CAR­RY­ING ON A TRA­DI­TION

WNBA PLAY­ERS HAVE BEEN AT FORE­FRONT OF SO­CIAL AC­TIVISM AMONG ATH­LETES FOR YEARS, AND SKY ARE DO­ING THEIR PART

Chicago Sun-Times - - SKY BEAT - BY MADE­LINE KEN­NEY | mken­ney@sun­times.com | @mad­ken­ney

Even be­fore em­bark­ing for Braden­ton, Florida, the Sky knew this sea­son was about much more than bas­ket­ball. Sure, win­ning a cham­pi­onship is a pri­or­ity for a team that was one shot away from the semi­fi­nals last sea­son. But the Sky also felt a call­ing to use their plat­form in the “Wub­ble” to con­tinue the con­ver­sa­tion about sys­temic racism and po­lice bru­tal­ity in the U.S.

Over the course of sev­eral Zoom meet­ings lead­ing up to the sea­son, the Sky came to an agree­ment that what­ever they de­cided to do they were go­ing to do it as one.

“We’re stronger to­gether,” Gabby Wil­liams said.

The re­sult was a so­cial-jus­tice ini­tia­tive, an­nounced Tues­day, called “Sky Takes Ac­tion,” in which play­ers will do­nate their own money — based on game-day per­for­mance — to sev­eral Chicago or­ga­ni­za­tions that are al­ready mak­ing an im­pact in the com­mu­nity.

“It’s just us try­ing to do our part,” said Di­a­mond DeShields, one of the mas­ter­minds be­hind the ini­tia­tive. “There’s so much work that needs to be done, and to be able to be a part of some­thing like this with the Sky fam­ily and all of our fans and every­body, it feels nice, it feels re­fresh­ing. This is an em­pow­er­ing mo­ment and there’s so much work that needs to be done, but we feel this is a good step.”

Be­fore the sea­son, the WNBA launched a so­cial-jus­tice com­mit­tee, which in­cludes Sky guard Syd­ney Col­son, who’s still waiting to clear the league’s COVID-19 pro­to­cols so she can join the team in Florida.

Dur­ing the open­ing week­end, play­ers walked off the court be­fore the na­tional an­them and held a 26-sec­ond mo­ment of si­lence in recog­ni­tion of 26-year-old Bre­onna Tay­lor, who was fa­tally shot by Louisville po­lice in March. The Sky will join the rest of the league in wear­ing Tay­lor’s name on the back of their jer­seys through­out the sea­son.

This is the lat­est chap­ter in WNBA play­ers’ long his­tory of be­ing the most com­mit­ted and vo­cal group of pro­fes­sional ath­letes when it comes to so­cial ac­tivism.

In 2016, the Lynx donned warmup shirts that read “Black Lives Mat­ter” and on the back had the names of Al­ton Ster­ling and Phi­lando Castile, two Black men killed by po­lice. That same sea­son, the Fever, Lib­erty and Mer­cury wore black T-shirts in­tended to draw at­ten­tion to re­cent po­lice shoot­ings. The Fever also kneeled dur­ing the an­them be­fore a play­off game.

More re­cently, four-time WNBA cham­pion Maya Moore missed the 2019 and 2020 sea­sons to ad­vo­cate for crim­i­nal-jus­tice re­form while she helped free a wrong­fully con­victed man from a Mis­souri prison.

DeShields said she feels blessed to carry on the league’s legacy.

“WE’RE ALL IN THIS FIGHT TO­GETHER, AND I WOULD JUST LIKE TO EN­COUR­AGE EVERY­BODY TO CON­TINUE TO BE BOLD AND BE STRONG.” DI­A­MOND DESHIELDS

“It’s very, very neat to be able to be a part of such a strong and pow­er­ful group of women and to have seen what play­ers have done be­fore me,” she said. “I know I’m young, but I think it’s our duty to step up in mo­ments like this and to con­tinue and carry on the mes­sage and to try to make sure we are uti­liz­ing our plat­forms the best we can. That’s what the league has al­ways been about.”

And what the league, DeShields said, will con­tinue to be about.

“We’re all in this fight to­gether, and I would just like to en­cour­age every­body to con­tinue to be bold and be strong,” DeShields said. “We’re all in this to­gether, and Black Lives Mat­ter, all day.” ✶

PHE­LAN M. EBENHACK/AP

Sky guard Di­a­mond DeShields, look­ing to pass in a game in Braden­ton, Fla., wel­comes the op­por­tu­nity to carry on the WNBA’s legacy of so­cial ac­tivism.

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