Standing in the mecca of basketball on Sunday afternoon, members of the New York Liberty donned warmup shirts memorializing and mourning the victims of last week’s police shootings featuring the hashtags #BlackLivesMatter and #Dallas5.
According to longtime league star Swin Cash, the decision to take a public stand ― and to become part of an increasingly loud subset of athletes embracing center-stage activist roles ― was spurred by organic conversations happening between team members and in the WNBA as a whole.
As tragedy after tragedy elapsed over the past week, the Liberty realized just how important it was to use their platform to plead for peace.
“For us collectively as a group, we decided this is something that we needed to do, wanted to do, and do it here today in New York,” Cash said after the game.
The decision to honor Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, who died in confrontations with police, along with the five Dallas police officers killed Thursday by a sniper was both intentional and central to the players’ message. According to the players who spoke Sunday, the team aimed to promote a message of unity and cohesion, hoping to inspire a movement to effect peaceful systemic change.
“I think it’s a shame that we keep seeing people that want to make this movement as something that’s violent,” Cash said. “Five cops gave their lives up trying to protect a peaceful movement. And in this country, I do believe that you can assemble peacefully and protest against injustice.”
The Liberty players joined a long list of athletes who’ve spoken up about the shootings witnessed over the past week. LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, members of the U.S. women’s national soccer team and dozens of others used social media to beg for an end to the violence while the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx also wore warmups dedicated to those who died.
After the contest, New York’s Tina Charles and Carolyn Swords both reiterated the responsibility athletes have to use their public persona for good ― to “engage in” and “ignite” conversation, thereby “mak[ing] change,” as Swords phrased it.
While WNBA brass wasn’t made aware of the shirts prior to Sunday’s game, per The New York Times, potential fines and slaps on the wrist from the league office are not the things worrying Cash and her teammates. What worries them ― and what motivates them ― seems instead to be the consequences of inaction around the Black Lives Matter movement.
“[And] until the system transforms, we cannot sit here and act like there is not a problem here in America,” Cash added.