- Mechelle Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.
Members of the Seattle Storm and New York Liberty left the floor for the playing of the national anthem before the WNBA season opener on Saturday, with representatives from both teams then honoring the memory of Breonna Taylor.
Breonna Taylor is one of several Black people whose deaths at the hands of police have sparked civil rights and social justice protests and conversations this year. Taylor was shot and killed in her apartment in March by police when plain-clothes officers entered while executing a no-knock search warrant. The officers involved have not been charged in her death.
Just before Saturday’s televised game on ESPN, New York’s Layshia Clarendon and Seattle’s Breanna Stewart, both members of the WNBA’s new Social Justice Council, spoke about the “Say Her Name” campaign and asked for a moment of silence for 26 seconds.
Taylor was 26 years old when she was killed.
WNBA teams are wearing Taylor’s name on their jerseys this season, an idea that originated with Las Vegas Aces player Angel McCoughtry.
The league began its 22-game regular season, with standard playoffs to follow, on Saturday in Bradenton, Florida. The teams and coaches are staying and practice at IMG Academy, and the games are being held at Feld Entertainment Center, which is just a short bus ride away.
Social justice is a major part of the season for the WNBA players. The words “Black Lives Matter” are on the courts at Feld. The Social Justice Council on Wednesday held a Zoom call with Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, who shared memories of Taylor with the players. Also on the call were Georgia attorney and politician Stacey Abrams and professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, who started the “Say Her Name” campaign that raises awareness for Black female victims of police brutality.
WNBA players have demonstrated during the national anthem in past years, too. The Indiana Fever kneeled during the 2016 playoffs to protest of the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling and to support quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who kneeled during the anthem in NFL games. The Los Angeles Sparks left the court during the 2017 playoffs in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
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