NEW YORK — Tina Charles and her New York Liberty teammates have never shied away from speaking out against social injustices.
The Liberty players, along with many others across the WNBA, were vocal last summer in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
On Sunday, the Liberty hosted the first “Unity Game” in the WNBA with the Minnesota Lynx. The two teams and members of the NYPD and Covenant House locked arms during the playing of the national anthem.
“The fact that the organization has allowed us to speak up and use our platform especially means the world to us,” Charles said. “I’m thankful to be part of this organization.”
Off the court, New York partnered with the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE) to host a pregame 90-minute panel that brought together community activists, law enforcement officials, fans and former players.
“It was continuing of what we started last year,” Liberty president Isiah Thomas said. “We were hoping for everyone to understand the universal voice that sport has bringing people together to discuss hard issues.”
The panel was planned well in advance of the racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, that saw the death of a counter-protester and two Virginia state police officers last weekend. But the events of the past week were part of the conversation.
“Last week brought attention to the need for the work,” said the CEO of RISE Jocelyn Benson. “We’re focusing on these issues to address racial inequality and to make change.”
With the panel taking place before the game, neither team’s players were able to attend. Ambassador Attalah Shabazz, the oldest daughter of Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz, spoke on the panel and said she had conversations with the Liberty players earlier in the week after practice.
“They said they are going to do a playback of the panel for answers,” Shabazz said. “There’s a beginning, now what are we going to pull from it that’s not just news, but is actionable?”
Liberty player Tanisha Wright took part in last year’s protest and is taking this season off to rest. She thinks in some ways it’s easier for WNBA players to speak out then their counterparts in the NBA and NFL because there is less of a financial risk.
“It’s different because of their brand and they’re worth millions of dollars and one wrong step can cost them millions and millions of dollars,” Wright said. “At the same time, we all do have social responsibilities.”
Injured Liberty guard Brittany Boyd attended the event and asked heartfelt questions of the panelists.
After the Liberty beat the Lynx 70-61, officers from the NYPD’s 10th precinct scrimmaged with members of the Covenant House, which serves homeless youth. Charles met with Eric Garner’s family members. Garner died in 2014 after he was put in a chokehold by a police officer.
“It meant the world to me. Ms. Emerald Garner, what her family had to endure and at the same time, that downfall brought the world together,” Charles said. “I was very thankful to donate my Black History Month shoes to her. At the bottom of them it says ‘Living with Love.’ She was very receptive, very warm.”
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