Column: WNBA leads as NFL follows

Photo Credit: Minnesota Lynx

Weeks such as this one have to make one feel proud to be a women’s basketball fan.

A football fan – not so much.

In this polarizing and treacherous political climate, sports leagues were at a crossroads and had a stark decision to make. They could either attempt to stifle the voices of their workforce or they could decide to embrace those voices looking to make a positive difference in the lives of them and others.

It is quite clear what side the NFL has chosen, as evidenced by its decision this week to ban kneeling during the National Anthem – while still giving players the option to stay in the locker room if they choose not to stand.

How a sports organization such as the NFL, who is 70 to 80 percent black in terms of its flagship employees – its players – is beyond anyone’s wildest imaginations. But it is quite clear that the NFL has decided to take the side of the past instead of forging ahead with the future.

Then, there is the WNBA.

The 2016 season was a tumultuous one, socially, for the W – at least at first. Players were protesting the police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile as well as the five Dallas police officers that were shot at a Black Lives Matter rally in Dallas.

Initially, teams were fined before widespread league and fan outrage led to the rescinding of those fines.

Ironically, that tumult was one of the first major issues that incoming (at the time) president Lisa Borders have had to deal with.

In a sense, during that season, the WNBA found its voice – and took a major step forward in finding its identity.

Ever since then, we have seen players such as Breanna Stewart join protests at Los Angeles International Airport. We have seen players such as Brittney Griner protest “bathroom bills” such as those in Texas. We have seen Maya Moore establish herself as a voice for criminal justice reform. We have seen teams such as the Seattle Storm and New York Liberty openly show support for Planned Parenthood.

And this year, we are now witnessing, arguably the W’s most emphatic social statement yet. This is seen with of the “Take a Seat, Take a Stand” initiative where money generated through ticket sales can also lead to donations to one of six organizations – including Planned Parenthood – geared to the empowerment of women.

That is how you position yourself as a league dedicated to the advancement of social change.

And apparently, the WNBA’s big brother league has taken plenty of notes. NBA commissioner Adam Silver has also encouraged his players to not “stick to sports” in the wake of what the NFL has done.
Leagues such as the WNBA and NBA and the Colin Kaepernicks, Breanna Stewarts and Brittney Griners of the world will be proven to have been on the right side of history. What Lisa Borders and Adam Silver understand is that their athletes are more than just the best basketball players in the world.

They understand that there is more to the world than basketball while the NFL wants to confine its mostly black player base to only what is between the white lines.

Borders and Silver understand that there is more to life than just basketball – and that basketball has become so much of a global game that players (as well as coaches such as Cheryl Reeve, Steve Kerr, and Gregg Popovich) have the perfect platform to influence the masses and effect change.

In this day and age where women are finally being recognized for more than just their looks and bodies, sports provide a great stage for women to display that their athletic talents deserve just as much recognition as those of any man. The idea of the strong woman has never been more crucial than it is at this particular time and, as we all know, there will never be any shortage of strong women in the WNBA.

In spite of not receiving the lion’s share of credit for being agents of change in sports as their male counterparts, WNBA players have not only walked the walk, but they have talked the talk. When looking at the stark contrast in how sports leagues are handling this socially conscious period we are in in history, one would think the NFL was literally established yesterday and that the WNBA has been around for 60 or 70 years.

While the NFL may be the more powerful sports league in terms of teams and revenue, the 12-team WNBA, along with the NBA, is proving itself to be a bigger organization than the NFL, perhaps, will ever be.

By: Akiem Bailum (@AkiemBailum on Twitter, Instagram)

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