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How WNBA teams are assisting their communities off the court this season

Check out the team-wide efforts the Los Angeles Sparks, Dallas Wings and New York Liberty organizations are making in their cities.

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Phoenix Mercury v New York Liberty
While things have not gone as planned for head coach Katie Smith (far left) and All-Star center Tina Charles (far right) on the court this season, they and the New York Liberty organization still have managed to make an impact off the court.
Photo by Catalina Fragoso/NBAE via Getty Images

In recent years, WNBA teams have begun to embrace and address community issues that only a few years ago may have been questioned as “too controversial.” This refers to problems that make some uncomfortable and, therefore, often are ignored by mainstream organizations. By recognizing their communities’ more complicated social concerns, teams can make a powerful impact, as the Los Angeles Sparks, Dallas Wings and New York Liberty have best demonstrated this season.

Here are some (but certainly not all) of the admirable ways teams have assisted their communities off the court this season:

Los Angeles Sparks, #WeAreWomen

On Sunday, Aug. 25, the Sparks honored their 2019 #WeAreWomen finalists, recognizing a diverse group of women who, in the words of the Sparks, “share our goals of empowering the Los Angeles community and females of all ages.”

This celebration of the empowerment of women and girls, which began in 2015, challenges patriarchal norms by highlighting women of all backgrounds who have grabbed (or are grabbing) power in the fields of health and wellness, financial literacy, community, entrepreneurship, service and media and entertainment. This year, LaWanda Hawkins, who has organized a billboard campaign that seeks justice for murdered children, was named Woman of the Year. Hawkins’s billboards, like the Washington Mystics’ Natasha Cloud’s words (or lack of words) and shirts, resist the normalization of gun violence.

Dallas Wings, Recovery Night

Inspired by the efforts of center Imani McGee-Stafford, who has openly shared her experience with anxiety and depression, the Dallas Wings held a “Recovery Night” on Aug. 14, the first event of its kind for a professional sports team. As described by the Athletic:

“The first-of-its-kind themed night will feature not only the traditional “recovery zone” found at most arenas in the league, but will also highlight different organizations and resources in the Dallas/Fort Worth area that help those dealing with substance abuse, alcoholism, gambling addiction and other types of mental health disorders. There will also be different in-game elements highlighting people in recovery and those who have been touched by addiction or mental health disorders.”

In short, the Wings refused to “stick to sports,” instead using the space of sport to stick their neck out and empathize with everyday struggles that often are ignored, especially in the Black community.

New York Liberty, “Forgotten Behind Bars”

In anticipation of their third annual UNITY Day game on Aug. 11, the New York Liberty organized a series of events that examined and illuminated the mass incarceration of women: “Forgotten Behind Bars: Women’s Health Care, Family and Representation.”

All-Star center Tina Charles assumed an active role in the initiative, participating on a panel with three formerly incarcerated women who shared their experiences and, in doing so, underscored the need for criminal justice reform. Describing the motivation for UNITY Day, Charles noted:

“UNITY Day started a few years back when we got tired of seeing black and brown individuals being killed by police at an alarming rate. So, we decided to take matters into our own hands …”

The other events the Liberty organized included a youth basketball camp for children with incarcerated relatives, an empowerment workshop for women and girls hosted by former WNBA President Donna Orender and a performance that highlighted the trauma gun violence causes for families and communities. Speaking to the Athletic, Liberty forward Reshanda Gray reflected on the importance of the events:

“I feel like today taught me a lot about bringing awareness. You may know something I may not know. I may know something that you may not know, and we can help each other out. So communicating, building a community, building unity and protecting each other is definitely something I took away from today.”

Keep tossing assists

As we know from watching basketball, the most memorable assists are those that appear most difficult, when the ball is threaded through a tight space to create a seemingly impossible scoring opportunity.

Like an ambitious point guard driving into a crowded paint only to complete the perfect pass, let’s hope WNBA teams continue to seek to assist their communities with fearlessness, addressing their communities more difficult and discomfiting issues, such as gun violence, police brutality, domestic violence, reproductive rights and voting rights.