In the wake of the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis. and widespread boycotts in American professional sports, Washington Mystics players opted not to play their scheduled game against the Atlanta Dream Wednesday evening.
In turn, the WNBA postponed that contest along with two others set to be played Wednesday. News of the decision broke with the Mystics and Dream on the court, broadcast on ESPN.
Mystics players took the floor in white shirts that spelled "Jacob Blake" across the front and featured seven gunshot wounds painted on the back to commemorate the seven gunshots police could be heard firing into Blake’s back in a widely-shared video of the shooting taken by a bystander.
Up until moments before the announcement, there were reportedly plans to forge on with the night's lineup of games, but with symbolic play stoppages every seven minutes. In the end, the decision to opt out became consensus.
"After speaking with representatives from teams playing tonight, as well as our WNBPA leadership, the consensus is not to play in tonight's slate of games and to kneel, lock arms and raise fists during the national anthem." Dream forward Elizabeth Williams said in a statement. "We stand in solidarity with our brothers in the NBA and will continue this conversation with our brothers and sisters across all leagues and look to take collective action.
"What we have seen over the last few months and most recently with the brutal police shooting of Jacob Blake is overwhelming. And while we hurt for Jacob and his community, we also have an opportunity to keep the focus on the issues and demand change."
“Talking to our team and talking to other teams, we just wanted to make sure everybody felt like they were supported,” Mystics guard Ariel Atkins told ESPN’s Holly Rowe on air. “And understanding that this isn’t just about basketball. We aren’t just basketball players. And just because we are basketball players doesn’t mean that’s our only platform. We need to understand that when most of us go home, we still are Black, in the sense that our families matter.
"We're not just basketball players. And if you think we are, then don't watch us. You're watching the wrong sport, because we're so much more than that. We're going to say what we need to say.
“These moments are so much bigger than us. And I really appreciate my team for not only having my back, but saying what they feel. It’s hard to say that type of stuff in these moments, it’s hard to be vulnerable in these moments, but I think, like Nneka kind of said earlier, if we do this unified as a league, it looks different. Because this league is close to if not over 80 percent Black women. We have brothers, we have cousins, we have sisters, mothers. Everyone. We matter.”
WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert spoke on the broadcast, as well, expressing solidarity with her players.
“We absolutely support them. We are running a very player-first agenda,” Engelbert told Rowe.
“We know that this is a very emotional time, a very divisive time in our country. And what we’re trying to do is unify, come together with them, help facilitate some conversations with social justice activists, to help them strategize about how they can have an impact.”
Engelbert said the unplayed games from Wednesday are being treated as postponements for the time being, and that the league will seek ways for the players to “band together in solidarity, and really have a strong platform, and also play basketball.”