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Say Her Name’: WNBA Dedicates 2020 Season To Social Justice Initiatives

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Photo by Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The WNBA announced it launched a Social Justice Council with a mission of raising awareness on issues concerning race, voting rights and LGBTQ+ advocacy.

The WNBA season is schedule to tip off later this month, and players hope fans marvel at their precision passes, shooting accuracy and speed during a fast break. But the league also hopes to shine a spotlight on another type of movement: the call for social justice reform.

The league announced it is dedicating the 2020 season to address the nation's "long history of inequality, implicit bias and racism" that disproportionately impacts communities of color.

The season will highlight the Black Lives Matter movement and the Say Her Name campaign.

For the first weekend of the season, players may wear special uniforms honoring Breonna Taylor, a Black woman who was shot and killed by Louisville police executing a no-knock search warrant in March.

League officials say that players can choose to wear Taylor's name on their uniforms throughout the season.

The league and the players association are also in talks about how to honor other women and girls of color who are "the forgotten victims of police brutality and violence." A WNBA statement also names Sandra Bland and Vanessa Guillen, in addition to Taylor.

Guillen, an Army specialist, was last seen in April at Fort Hood in Texas. Last week, her remains were found near where she went missing. Bland died in 2015 police custody in Texas.

For the entire season, the WNBA says players will don warmup shirts with "Black Lives Matter" on the front and "Say Her Name" on the back. "Black Lives Matter" will also be displayed on the court during games.

"We are incredibly proud of WNBA players who continue to lead with their inspiring voices and effective actions in the league's dedicated fight against systemic racism and violence," WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a statement.

Nneka Ogwumike, the president of the league's players' association and a forward for the Los Angeles Sparks, called the effort "a pivotal moment" in modern sports history.

"With 140-plus voices all together for the first time ever, we can be a powerful force connecting to our sisters across the country and in other parts of the world," Ogwumike said.

The WNBA also announced the formation of the WNBA/WNBPA Social Justice Council, which plans to hold a series of conversations centered around race, LGBTQ+ advocacy, gun control and voting rights.

Las Vegas Aces forward Angel McCoughtry tweeted, "We have yet to scratch the surface into making a better America !"

"People have asked , what is putting the names on a jersey gonna do ? Well we plant seed for a better tomorrow. Yes , it takes time to grow but in due time amazing things will bloom," McCoughtry said.

Because of the ongoing concerns with the coronavirus, the WNBA season will be shortened and played at a "bubble" location in Florida. The NBA has similar plans.

The IMG Academy in Bradenton, about 45 miles south of Tampa, will host all 12 WNBA franchises for a 22-game regular season, followed by a traditional playoff format.

On Monday, the league announced seven out of 137 WNBA players tested positive for the coronavirus. The league said the tests were conducted between June 28 and July 5.

As NPR reported last week, the NBA has confirmed at least 25 of its players have tested positive for the virus. They are scheduled to resume their season in the Orlando area later this month.

All but one of the WNBA teams were scheduled to arrive early this week at the IMG Academy facilities.

The league said the Indiana Fever delayed their travel "at least five days in an abundance of caution," citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's self-quarantine guidelines.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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