WNBA Teams Walk Off Court Ahead Of National Anthem On Opening Day

In a show of support for Black Lives Matter, two WNBA teams preparing to face off in the league’s opening day game Saturday walked off the court before the national anthem played.

The two teams ― the Seattle Storm and New York Liberty ― retreated to their respective locker rooms ahead of the anthem, ESPN reported. 

The players warmed up wearing Nike-branded shirts emblazoned with “Black Lives Matter” on one side and “Say Her Name” on the other, the latter phrase referencing a chant used by protesters in the wake of Sandra Bland’s death in 2015.

The action was organized by the Social Justice Council initiative to address implicit bias and systemic racism, which launched earlier this month as a partnership between the WNBA and the WNB Players Association. 

Layshia Clarendon, a point guard for the New York Liberty and a leader on the Social Justice Council, said in a speech before the game Saturday that this season would be dedicated to Breonna Taylor, whose March killing has been a focal point of recent anti-racism protests.

“Breonna Taylor was dedicated and committed to uplifting everyone around her,” Clarendon said, adding that the season would also be dedicated to the #SayHerName campaign.

The campaign is “committed to saying the names and fighting for justice for Black woman ― Black women who are so often forgotten in this fight for justice, who do not have people marching in the streets for them,” she said.

Clarendon read the names of four Black women who have been killed in the last five years: Sandra Bland, Atatiana Jefferson, Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells and Taylor.

“We will be a voice for the voiceless,” Clarendon said.

Seattle Storm forward Breonna Stewart, another leader on the Social Justice Council, then kicked off a “moment of recognition” for Taylor that lasted 26 seconds, representing her age when she was killed.

The game Saturday took place at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, where all 132 scheduled games of the league’s modified season are expected to be held. The WNBA painted “Black Lives Matter” on both sides of the court, and Breonna Taylor’s name appeared on a large banner on the sidelines.

The Seattle Storm went on to win the game, beating the New York Liberty 87 to 71.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, fans are not allowed to attend the games this season. But at least one fan nabbed a courtside seat during the season opener. Soccer superstar Megan Rapinoe cheered on the players while wearing a white “Say Her Name” shirt.

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