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August 29, 2017

Standing Up For Unity

Now, more than ever, the Liberty — and all athletes — need to use their platform

BY SWIN CASH

(Photo: Dave Saffran/MSG Photos)

In July of last year, my Liberty teammates and I closed the locker room door to confront a decision — what sort of statement should we make after another string of deadly confrontations between police and young black men and with women of color.

As we went around the room it quickly became clear this was an issue that anguished not only the team’s black players, but the white and foreign born players as well.

To honor the victims of the shootings we took to the court in Black Lives Matter shirts, every one of us standing shoulder to shoulder. We also stood to honor the lives of five Dallas police officers who were viciously gunned down.

The backs of our shirts showed a simple hashtag, #_________, to symbolize that more lives will likely be lost, their names not yet known.

It was our way of saying enough is enough, a silent, mournful protest. It was also a collective demonstration that meaningful change requires people who don’t look alike to stand up together. We grasped that if we didn’t act as one, we wouldn’t be heard.

I’m not sure we knew it at the time, but that was a catalyst, not an endpoint. Since then, the Liberty organization and its players have strived to give a platform to all those filled with outrage. As importantly, the team has worked to forge connections and throw light on the issues, not heat.

It is to our organization’s credit that it supports our players, that it gives them the space to speak their minds. And no sports league has done more to use its platform on these difficult issues than the WNBA.

Perhaps, as women, we have a shared empathy for one another. Regardless of color, we all have known what it is like to feel other. It is important for all athletes to use the megaphone they’ve been provided to move their activism beyond the court and the playing field, in constructive and illuminating ways.

 

Hopes For My Son

This is not easy stuff, especially in times like these, when divisions in the country are running deep. It is a challenge to figure out how to channel all the anger.

I should tell you, too, that five days ago I gave birth to a son. I am concerned about the kind of world he will grow up in, and so these ideas have extra potency for me, extra urgency.

Swin Cash: How can we replace seeds of anger with new seeds?
(Photo: Dave Saffran/MSG Photos)

Black Lives Matter is often misunderstood. It means that if you can’t acknowledge that black lives truly do matter,  if you overlook the plight of African Americans, then you can’t say that all lives matter. We are simply looking for inclusiveness. Black Lives Matter is all about getting people to acknowledge, understand and address the hardships African Americans have faced over generations.

It’s one thing for athletes to share our feelings in the safe haven of the locker room, but it’s another thing to expand our orbit. This is new territory for most of our players, especially our younger ones who are still finding their voice. They are undivided in their goal to somehow make a difference.

Like it or not, we are role models, and when we talk about these sensitive issues — particularly with the media — we don’t have the luxury of getting it wrong. Whether in the U.S. or abroad, the burden is on us to understand that we may have only one chance to deliver our message. The person you’re talking to may be encountering a different point of view for the first time.

My role and the organization’s role is not to push the players, but to simply give them the tools. I tell the players, you are representing all of us. You are a model for the league and a model for other African Americans and countless young women.

We have been heartened by responses from our fans who tell us how proud they are that we have stood up for what we believe.

 

Opening Up Vital Dialogue

We have tried to forge ties between the community and law enforcement, and nine days ago we held our first ever Unity Day. It was punctuated by a panel discussion that included former players, a social activist, scholars, a civil rights attorney and an NYPD chief.

The importance of creating dialogue with the police cannot be overstated. When people are oppressed for so long, they get hardened and distrustful of law enforcement, and then law enforcement gets hardened. Then you have these forces that go back and forth, and nothing gets better.

I think of the young child who grows up in this environment, where seeds of anger are planted so early. And I wonder, how can we change that, maybe even plant new seeds?

When I was a girl, I heard my grandmother talk of growing up in West Virginia, of atrocities against African Americans. She talked about people who were harassed and killed, how they often held back from talking to white people, for fear of reprisal.

I grew up in a housing project outside Pittsburgh. Though I was a star athlete, I had friends in every group, friends who didn’t look like me.

I want for my new baby what my mother wanted for me, to be exposed to other walks of life, to see the world from different points of view.

I am haunted by the words of Heather Heyer, the young woman killed protesting the hatefulness in Charlottesville. In her last Facebook post, she wrote, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” That’s absolutely right.

You can’t live in a bubble, and if things are not where they need to be, then do your part. That’s what the Liberty are doing. In the space we occupy, we are doing our part.

Swin Cash, one of the WNBA’s greatest players ever, retired last year from the Liberty. She is now the team’s Director of Franchise Development.


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