Over the weekend, Sports Illustrated named the Activist Athlete its 2020 Sportsperson of the Year. The Seattle Storm’s Breanna Stewart was one of five headlining honorees, along with tennis star Naomi Osaka, the Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James, the Kansas City Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes and former Kansas City Chief Laurent Duvernay-Tardif.
In a vacuum, Stewart is an absolutely deserving honoree among WNBA players.
After missing the entire 2019 WNBA season with an Achilles injury, Stewart arrived in the WNBA bubble in Bradenton, FL, in delightfully dominant form. Posting 19.7 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.3 blocks per game for the 18-4 Storm, Stewart earned First Team All-WNBA and Second Team All-Defensive honors. She then led the Storm on an undefeated run to the 2020 WNBA title, capturing a second Finals MVP to go with her second championship.
Along the way, Stewart was actively involved in the WNBA’s activist efforts as a member of the WNBPA’s Social Justice Council. Sports Illustrated is right when they state of Stewart, “When the moment came for Stewart to take a stand, the WNBA superstar didn’t hesitate. Her support of Black Lives Matter never wavered, from the season’s opening tip to the Storm’s title celebration.”
Yet, we do not live in a vacuum. We live in the United States. More specifically, we live in the United States in 2020.
In late spring, as an uncontrolled pandemic raged across the nation, having disproportionate health and economic impacts on Black Americans, all Americans bore witness to repeated instances of police violence against Black Americans.
This collision forced a racial reckoning.
The majority of Americans, finally, began to understand that Black lives matter. Many Americans, finally, realized it was past time to elevate Black voices and celebrate Black contributions.
The WNBA — a league where Black women are more than 80 percent of active players — was prepared to meet this moment.
As inspired by Angel McCoughtry, players wore Breonna Taylor’s name on the backs of their jersey.
Throughout the season, they additionally honored the lives of other Black women killed by the police.
When Atlanta Dream co-owner and Georgia Senate candidate Kelly Loeffler condemned the WNBA’s social justice efforts, Elizabeth Williams and other members of the Dream responded by endorsing her opponent, Rev. Raphael Warnock.
Many players would continue to encourage political engagement ahead of the 2020 election.
From outside the Bradenton bubble, Natasha Cloud and Renee Montgomery used their influence to urgently press for change and support voting rights initiatives in their respective communities. For their efforts, they were named Red Bulletin Heroes for 2020.
After months of , thrilled to share my FIRST for The Red Bulletin: a cover story on Natasha Cloud and Renee Montgomery, "Heroes 2020" for their social justice work outside the WNBA wubble.— Tamryn Spruill (@tamrynspruill) November 17, 2020
2⃣ activist ballers 2⃣ dope covers!
On newsstands now! https://t.co/GualTbFzyd pic.twitter.com/g5xqTs1qCF
Throughout these efforts, Stewart was the model of a white advocate. Along with fully participating the WNBPA’s initiatives, she consistently used her social media platforms to amplify Black voices and highlight Black causes.
However, we no longer need to congratulate white advocates. Creating a racially-equitable society requires crediting Black people for their contributions. It requires choosing to see — and choosing to value — the work of Black women.
Not much has changed.— Kelsey Trainor (@ktrain_11) December 6, 2020
I love Breanna Stewart but to name a white woman SI Sportsperson of the Year as an Athlete Activist after all of the work Black women of the WNBA did this year...
We are not doing it right still.
With their 30 Under 30 Class of 2021, Forbes honored three Black WNBA players who exemplify what it means to be an Athlete Activist: Cloud, Chiney Ogwumike and A’ja Wilson. So many other Black WNBA players also proved themselves to be activists worthy of recognition.
Thank you Ariel. Thank you Tash. Thank you Renee. Thank you Nneka. Thank you Nat. Thank you. Elizabeth. Thank you Lay. Thank you Satou. Thank you Alysha. Thank you A’ja.— Arielle (Ari) Chambers (@ariivory) December 6, 2020
Sports Illustrated’s selection of Stewart — a white woman from the majority-Black WNBA where examples of Black activism abounds — underscores that the fight for racial equality athlete activists are leading remains incomplete.