Essence Carson has had quite a career as a basketball player. But many know her for the role she played in the infamous Don Imus controversy in 2007.
So when the newly signed Washington Mystic had to make the choice whether to compete or not for this upcoming season (while many other WNBA stars opted out to fight for social justice), it is noteworthy that she chose to play.
"I did my protests," Carson said in a Zoom meeting with reporters on Saturday. "This wasn't my first round of protests. What I like to tell people is that 'I've been Black all my life.' So, the experience isn't anything that's new, speaking up for myself and for my community. It's nothing new. It's been a daily thing for me for a long time."
She was the captain of the Rutgers women’s basketball team when Imus made his inappropriate comments. Quickly, Carson became the focal point of interviews and media conversations in the press that followed.
The way she handled the aftermath of Imus' remarks drew attention from many. Carson was well-spoken beyond her years and no 20-somethings probably could have managed the situation better. Since then, Carson has been regarded as a figure in the fight against racism.
That doesn't mean, though, that Carson's calm but powerful voice will be silenced now that she is in the WNBA's bubble in Bradenton, Fla.
Earlier in July the WNBA dedicated the 2020 season to social justice and launched The Justice Movement and created the WNBA/WNBPA Social Justice Council. This was in response to numerous players who called for action following the death of George Floyd and the protests across the country.
This season there will be virtual roundtables, player-produced podcasts, dedication to violence victims on jerseys and 'Black Lives Matter' text featured prominently on the court. In a statement, the WNBA made a powerful stance committing to "drive impactful, measurable and meaningful change."
This response from the league is what swayed the 33-year-old. Being able to use her voice in a unique way within the bubble could open up to new creative ways to be an activist in the WNBA.
"Being able to get my message across, convey that message in a way that I like to, it doesn't necessarily always require me to be there front and center," Carson said. "So, I just wanted to be a little innovative, see how innovative I can be within this bubble with using my voice in different ways than I possibly have used it in the past, which would be more hands-on the more in-person approach.
"So yeah, you can be creative. You have to be. And as a Black community that I feel like that's what we do best, right we win when we've been given so little throughout our existence, we always found, or find ways to make things happen, make something out of nothing. That is a talent. That is, you know, we've been blessed with that ability."
After playing on a one-year deal with the Phoenix Mercury last season, Carson was not on a roster when the WNBA announced its plan to hold a season. The Mystics signed the guard/ forward after Natasha Cloud and LaToya Sanders announced they would not play in 2020.
She admits that it took some patience to get through the uncertainty of the season and not being with a team. Had Washington not shown interest, there's a chance she would not have gotten the opportunity to be in the unique spot where the season focuses on race.
But just because she chose to play doesn't mean that it was wrong for others to opt-out. She's fighting her fight and wants others to do the same.
"I don't want anyone to believe that or feel that, because they don't fight the fight in a way that their neighbor may fight the fight that their role isn't important," Carson said. "You fight the fight the way you choose to fight, just fight the fight. And so the bubble won't silence me in that regard"
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