- WNBA teams walked off the court in protest prior to the national anthem during the opening weekend of the league’s 2020 season.
- Conservatives including Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Kelly Loeffler, and commentator Tomi Lahren criticised the WNBA and poked fun at the league’s following in response to the demonstrations.
- In speaking to the media, Phoenix Mercury stars Brittney Griner and Brianna Turner said they were opposed to the league playing the national anthem.
- Griner added that she would continue to leave the floor throughout the season.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Conservatives are blasting the WNBA – and mocking their viewership – after teams left the floor prior to the playing of the national anthem throughout opening weekend.
Prior to the first game of the 2020 season, Seattle Storm and New York Liberty players walked off the court and returned to their locker rooms before “The Star-Spangled Banner” reverberated through the “Wubble” at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. Just before tipoff of their game a few hours later, the Phoenix Mercury and Los Angeles Sparks followed suit in protest of police brutality and racial inequity.
By the end of the weekend, every team in the league had excused themselves before the national anthem played.
“It was amazing that all the teams collectively were able to protest together and not come out for the national anthem,” Mercury star Brittney Griner, who led the league with 20.7 points per game in 2019, said Monday morning. “I honestly feel like we should not play the national anthem during our season. I think we should take that much of a stance to just not play the national anthem.”
Her teammate, Brianna Turner, agreed.
“The national anthem was deemed the national anthem in 1931,” Turner said Monday. “[More than] 20 years from the Civil Rights Act. If people are saying ‘You’re dishonoring America, you’re dishonoring our country’ well, when the national anthem was deemed the national anthem, Black people didn’t routinely have rights at that point. So you’re telling us we’re disrespecting a song that didn’t even represent all Americans when it was first made.”
“People say take politics out of sports,” she added. “It doesn’t get more political than the national anthem.”
Social justice demonstrations during the national anthem have been political bait in the United States ever since former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling prior to NFL games in 2016, and the WNBA’s strong opening weekend message was no exception. On Saturday, Texas Senator Ted Cruz took to Twitter to lambaste the league and its players for protesting the anthem and poked fun at the league’s following while doing so.
“Stunts like this could provoke the fans to walk out,” the Republican politician wrote. “Oh, wait…”
Stunts like this could provoke the fans to walk out.
Oh, wait… https://t.co/FY7rN5MHoB
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) July 25, 2020
NBA analyst and former head coach Stan Van Gundy was one of many to criticise Cruz’s attack and question why he takes issues with the players exercising their First Amendment rights. The Senator responded that while the First Amendment allows the players to express themselves however they wish, it also protects his “right to say I don’t like it.”
Sure, they have a right—which I will vigorously defend—to walk off during the anthem. And to burn the flag, or spit on it, or trample on it. But I have a right to say I don’t like it. That’s how the First Amendment works.
If pro sports keep insulting fans, they may not have any. https://t.co/BKIe7fHe0z
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) July 27, 2020
“I don’t mean that in any disrespect to our country,” Griner added along with her comments about the anthem on Monday. “My dad was in Vietnam and a law officer for 30+ years – a sheriff in Houston, Texas. I wanted to be a cop before basketball … I wanted to go into the military.”
Cruz’s criticism came in response to an ESPN tweet that wrongfully reporting that players walked off the court during the anthem. Twelve hours later, the network issued a correction that players had actually left the floor prior to “The Star-Spangled Banner” playing.
Correction: Players left the court before the national anthem was played, not during. https://t.co/MdW7HtMO1P
— ESPN (@espn) July 26, 2020
Still, Griner insisted that “even if we were out there, I would have walked off the court.”
“I’m gonna protest regardless,” the six-time WNBA All-Star said. “I’m not gonna be out there for the national anthem, and if the league continues to want to play it, that’s fine. It will be all season long. I will not be out there. And I feel like there will be more that are gonna probably do the same thing.”
That same day, Georgia Senator Kelly Loeffler – who is a co-owner of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream – also critiqued the players’ choice to leave the floor. Loeffler has previously called on the league “to remove politics from sports” while simultaneously using women’s basketball as a political stance in her hotly contested special election. Players have called for her ouster from the league in recent weeks.
“Shameful,” the Republican Senator wrote on Twitter. “This isn’t unifying Americans. It’s a political stunt that disrespects every man, woman & child who has given their life for this country.”
“The WNBA has fully embraced the BLM political movement & turned its back on the American flag,” she added. “That’s not sports – that’s politics.”
Shameful. This isn’t unifying Americans. It’s a political stunt that disrespects every man, woman & child who has given their life for this country.
The WNBA has fully embraced the BLM political movement & turned its back on the American flag. That’s not sports-that’s politics. https://t.co/HftIxFdZMi
— Kelly Loeffler (@KLoeffler) July 25, 2020
On Sunday night, Fox commentator Tomi Lahren also joined the conversation surrounding the WNBA’s anthem protest, tweeting that she’s sure “all 4 of their fans noticed” the players’ anthem demonstration.
WNBA players left the court during the National Anthem huh? I’m sure all 4 of their fans noticed…
— Tomi Lahren (@TomiLahren) July 27, 2020
In actuality, the league’s viewership is up dramatically compared to years past. After an average of 540,000 watched Saturday’s matchup between the Los Angeles Sparks and Phoenix Mercury on ABC – a 20% increase from 2019’s opener on the same channel and the most-watched opener since 2012 – ESPN announced its decision to broadcast 13 additional regular-season WNBA games on its network.
The entire league has dedicated its 2020 season to demanding justice for Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old EMT who was shot and killed by police while sleeping in her Louisville, Kentucky, home. Walking back to the locker room prior to the anthem was just one of many steps the WNBA has taken to promote Taylor’s cause and advocate for the arrest of her killers. Among other things, each player is wearing Taylor’s name under their own on the back of their jersey throughout the season.
“It was amazing to be able to go out on the court and wear Breonna Taylor’s name on my back,” Griner said. “It definitely meant everything to me, honouring her, trying to still get justice for her. It’s sad that we’re still waiting. Her family is still waiting for justice. I can only imagine how they feel and my heart goes out to the whole family and everybody that’s been affected by police brutality and haven’t gotten justice yet.”
Throughout opening weekend, players, coaches, and supporting staff wore T-shirts that read “Black Lives Matter” on the front and “Say Her Name” on the back. “Black Lives Matter” is printed across the hardwood at IMG Academy, and Taylor’s name is visible on the boards running along the sidelines.
Griner, Turner, and many players across the league have vowed to continue the conversation about social justice and police brutality throughout the season. But whether or not political figures continue to challenge their protests – especially now that the league has an expanded national platform – remains to be seen.
- Read more:
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- Paige Bueckers – UConn basketball’s next big star – is the 2020 Gatorade Athlete of the Year
- Senator Kelly Loeffler told the WNBA ‘to remove politics from sports’ while using women’s basketball as a political stance in her hotly contested special election
- Maya Moore already paved the way for athletes like Kyrie Irving who are ‘willing to give up everything’ for social justice reform
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