Listening to Michelle Obama talk about the importance of voting made Storm forward Alysha Clark realize she has more influence than she believed.
“One thing that she said that stuck with me was don’t discredit yourself with how small you think your circle is,” said Clark, who has long been an advocate for charity groups and social-justice causes. “She talked about how in some of the research they did about voting, elections are sometimes won by something as small as 30 votes.
“Don’t think whatever platform you have is too small, because it’s not. That’s something that I am helping bring back to my family and my friends. Just because you’re not a professional athlete that doesn’t mean you don’t have influence and a voice in your circle.”
On Sunday afternoon, the former first lady hosted a Zoom conversation with WNBA and NBA players in coordination with ‘When We All Vote,’ a non-profit and non-partisan organization that seeks to increase voter participation.
The discussion with Obama came on the heels of an emotionally charged WNBA opening weekend in which players from all 12 teams walked off the court before the playing of the national anthem and held a 26-second pregame moment of silence in honor of Breonna Taylor, a Black emergency technician who was killed by police in her home in March.
Two ‘Black Lives Matter’ decals are positioned at both ends of the court at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., where the WNBA is holding all of its games during the shortened season.
WNBA players have dedicated the season to Taylor and the ‘Say Her Name’ campaign, which advocates for Black women who have experienced police violence.
So far, the feedback from family, friends and fans has been overwhelmingly positive, Clark said.
“They were proud that we’re using this platform and this time to stand up and use our voice to really challenge the day-to-day thoughts of people in this country,” she said. “And to really help shed a light on what’s wrong.
“To see me, their niece, their cousin, their daughter and their sister standing up in the face of injustice … it gives them the strength now to do the same in their circles.”
While some WNBA fans might prefer players to focus exclusively on the games, including Tuesday’s 7 p.m. PT matchup against Minnesota (1-0), the Storm (1-0) have every intention of advocating for Taylor and others throughout the season.
“I thought opening weekend was exceptional,” guard Jordin Canada said. “It was great overall. I’m sure lots of people were watching the games and were able to witness the history that was made.”
The scenes from the WNBA’s first six games provided powerful images and showcased the uncanny solidarity among the league’s 144 players.
“It’s not hard to get all of these women in our league to stand up for something that is right (and) to stand up against injustice,” Clark said. “We are the minority of the minority. Not only are we women, we are Black women.
“There’s LGBTQ women in this league as well. We’re used to being on the other side of the injustice (and) having to fight for human rights (and) having to fight for equal freedoms. It’s not new to us.”
Still, few sports leagues are as unified as the WNBA in messaging and execution.
The Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA) hosted several preseason Zoom calls to educate players on social-justice reforms, including a teleconference with Stacey Abrams, the first Black female major party gubernatorial candidate.
“Just making sure that when we do speak and have that platform, we’re ready to combat whatever comes at us,” Clark said. “In the age of technology, ignorance is a choice. If you want to learn and you want to be educated on all of these topics, it’s right there at your fingertips.”
— ESPN added 13 WNBA games to its broadcast schedule, which brings the total for the 2020 season to 37, the most ever for the network. The Storm will make eight appearances on ESPN following last Saturday’s opener.