Last week I wrote about the activism in the NBA; the way basketball players were using their status to continue to shine a light on anti-Black racism and demand action and change.
And, I missed something.
The roots of resistance: the WNBA
Long before the NBA players paused the playoffs, even before Kaepernick knelt for the anthem the athletes of the WNBA have been shining a light on anti-Black racism. Their protests began in the summer of 2016. Four Minnesota Lynx team members (Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus, Lindsay Whalen, and Rebekkah Brunson) held a press conference before a game to talk about police violence in the wake of the killing of Philado Castille. They then word black T-shirts that read: Change Starts with Us: Justice & Accountability. The next day in New York, members of the New York Liberty wore black T-shirts with #BlackLivesMatter and #Dallas5 during warm up.
Other WNBA teams wore black t-shirts as well.
The WNBA issued uniform violation fines. These were protested by the players and eventually the league backed down.
In September, the entire Indiana Fever team locked arms and knelt during the national anthem.
This was all in 2016.
If this is the first you are hearing about it, you can read more here.
Who gets attention?
All of the above are powerful actions meant to raise awareness – and likely did, quietly, for WNBA fans. The media frenzy only started when Colin Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem in August 2016.
Ask yourself why.
Why have we not heard (more) about these protests and the WNBA players stand on social justice?
Why did Colin Kaepernick’s actions catch media attention instead?
And why did the NBA’s stepping up a few weeks ago make such an impact?
The impact of gender and money.
I was going to write about these separately, but they are intertwined. Money provides power. Money gets attention. There is a reason for the phrase “money talks”. Now consider gender.
Just like women still (in 2020) make only $0.81 to the dollar that their male counterparts make in organizations, female basketball players make much less than their NBA counterparts (in 2018, the average salary for WNBA players was $71,000 USD, and the minimum salary for NBA players was $843,000 USD).
This difference in how women are valued shows up in sport and elsewhere and has ripple effects on girls, on women: on our self-esteem, and on how we are seen (or not seen), how we are valued, and how seriously we are taken by men and boys (and even other women!). And the cycle continues.
Now consider this: since WNBA players make a fraction of the pay that NBA players do, consider the differential impact on the players financial wellness of refusing to play a game – the financial cost of their commitment to social justice.
Money, value and media attention
Then, consider the money in the WNBA versus the NBA – and what that means for sponsorship, game broadcasting, uniforms, venues, media attention… I’m sure there is more. I don’t know the intricate details of the sports world, and I’m not a follower of basketball, however if I consider the last time I heard about a WNBA game or even the WNBA playoffs (never) compared to the NBA, the disparity in attention is glaringly obvious.
In a world where we still value men over women in so many ways – money being one manifestation – we shouldn’t be surprised that the WNBA protests were a blip compared to the NBA and NFL actions.
Now let’s add skin colour to the mix
Let’s take all of this and add one more important consideration: The WNBA athletes who held that first press conference are Black.
Intersectionality is real. There is compounded impact of having multiple marginalized identities when it comes to being heard, seen and taken seriously. (As another example, I couldn’t find a photo for this blog of a Black, female basketball player in my usual photo source.)
Gender + skin colour = additional invisibility, silencing, discounting.
you can read more about this here.
Put gender, money and skin colour into the media machine and it’s no surprise we didn’t hear more about the WNBA protests when they happened in 2016, and didn’t hear more about them a few weeks ago – as a nod to the Black women who led the movement.
This is how silencing works (and is perpetuated).
We hear some voices and not others.
We hear some voices over others.
And in so doing, we miss out on powerful role models and examples of integrity, resilience, fortitude, using ones position to make a statement, and the importance of speaking up – even at a cost to oneself.
This silencing perpetuates our perspectives: who we see and hear, who we value, whose voice and opinion matters, what we know.
It’s time to give our heads a good shake and get a clearer view – so we can make a real difference.