WNBA Players Walk Off Court During National Anthem, Dedicate Season To Breonna Taylor
“Kneeling doesn’t even feel like enough to protest,” said New York Liberty player Layshia Clarendon before the WNBA season opener this weekend.
WNBA players for the New York Liberty and Seattle Storm walked off the court during the national anthem at the league’s season opener this weekend — a powerful visual statement in support of racial justice and the Black Lives Matter movement. As players left, cameras captured text on the back of their shirts: “Say Her Name.”
The WNBA has dedicated its season — which it, like other sports leagues, shortened because of the coronavirus pandemic — to the Say Her Name campaign. The goal is to raise more awareness for the deaths of Black women at the hands of police.
Breonna Taylor was honored at the opening game on Saturday, where players wore her name on their jerseys.
"We are dedicating this season to Breonna Taylor, an outstanding EMT who was murdered over 130 days ago in her home," said New York Liberty player Layshia Clarendon, a member of the WNBA’s new Social Justice Council and the vice president of the Women's National Basketball Players Association.
The teams held a 26-second-long moment of “recognition” because Taylor was 26 when she was shot and killed by police earlier this year in Louisville, Kentucky, in her own apartment. No one has been charged in connection with her death.
"We thought that was very fitting to do a moment of recognition — not a moment of silence," Clarendon said, according to ESPN. "Because we're not being silent by any means."
The Say Her Name campaign is “a campaign committed to saying the names and fighting for justice for Black women,” Clarendon added in remarks before the game. “Black women who are so often forgotten in this fight for justice, who do not have people marching in the streets for them.”
“We will say her name: Sandra Bland, Atatiana Jefferson, Dominique ‘Rem’mie’ Fells and Breonna Taylor,” Clarendon said. “We will be a voice for the voiceless.”
ESPN reported that Clarendon “said there was a feeling among WNBA players that kneeling during the anthem had become ‘performative’ in some instances.” While “players may opt to kneel as the season goes on … they wanted a stronger statement regarding the anthem for the opening weekend, which is why they left the court.”
“Kneeling doesn’t even feel like enough to protest,” Clarendon said. “I don’t want to hear the anthem, I don’t want to stand out there. I don’t want to be anywhere near it, because it’s ridiculous that justice and freedom are just not offered to everybody equally.”
Louisville police said three plainclothes officers discharged their weapons on March 13 at Taylor’s apartment while executing a no-knock search warrant in a suspected drug case. Taylor was shot eight times. One of the officers was fired in late June, more than three months after her death. The other two were placed on administrative leave.
In mid-June, the Louisville Metro Council unanimously passed “Breonna’s Law,” which bans no-knock warrants in the city. No-knock warrants allow officers to enter a property without warning or identifying themselves as law enforcement, and judges issue them when they determine officers’ prior announcement could compromise their safety or lead to the destruction of objects that police are searching for. Taylor’s death has sparked a national debate about the warrants’ use and validity.
The Louisville metro police chief was also fired in June after officers shot and killed a Black business owner while their body cameras were turned off.
Due to the lack of charges filed so far, protests in Taylor’s name have continued around the country. This weekend, three people were injured by gunfire in a protest that drew Black and white armed militias to Louisville.
“The Black NFAC militia organized the march in honor of Breonna Taylor … The far-right Three Percenter militia encouraged its members to also show up, but their presence was dwarfed by an estimated 500 NFAC members,” The Trace reported. “During the gathering, three NFAC marchers were struck by what police say was an unintentional discharge by a fellow militia member. The most seriously injured NFAC marcher was treated in the ICU; all are expected to survive.”
Breanna Stewart of the Seattle Storm is also on the WNBA’s Social Justice Council and said she plans to wear Taylor’s name on her jersey all season.
“I think to me it’s a no-brainer,” Stewart said, according to ESPN. “We want to continue to use our platform to amplify things we’re fighting for and continue to put an emphasis on Breonna Taylor. Focus on the fact that her killers haven’t been arrested.”
The players also want to emphasize their coordination with Taylor’s family while honoring her memory. ESPN reported that the Social Justice Council held a Zoom call last week with Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, as well as former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and “Say Her Name” campaign co-founder Kimberlé Crenshaw.
"Everything we've done as activists and organizers is wanting to make sure we're honoring,” said the Liberty’s Clarendon. We're not just slapping her name on a shirt and being like, 'Here we go.' We're doing it alongside her mother."
In Louisville, four activists are entering their second week of a hunger strike to demand justice for Taylor. According to Spectrum 1 News Kentucky, their two demands are that “the three officers involved with Taylor’s fatal shooting are fired and their pensions pulled.”