That was the only thought running through Hannah Barnes’ head when she saw many professional leagues follow the WNBA’s lead on outspoken stands against racial injustice. The junior guard had seen the activism in the WNBA for years and not get recognition. Now, the world has seen the impact of professional athletes speaking out.
For senior guard Adrienne Anderson, athletes using their platforms is not only respectable, but necessary at this point.
“The people in those leagues are role models to so many people, young and old,” Anderson said. “If we’re being honest, people are like, if Maya Moore does it, I want to do it. If Lebron James does it, I want to do it. They’re just very influential people.”
The WNBA’s bold stances against racial injustice date all the way back to 2016, a year which saw teams wearing shirts supporting Black lives, media blackouts and kneeling during the national anthem. Yet it was not until this year that many people became aware of the WNBA’s social justice movement. Ferris women’s basketball players know this, and believe the league does not get the recognition they deserve.
“Not at all, honestly,” Anderson said in regard to the WNBA getting recognition. “I will acknowledge that they have gotten more publicity when it comes to their outspokenness about the situation. They’ve gotten commercials and of course when their games are on there will be a shout out here and there. But there are so many things that the organization does along with individual players that don’t get the recognition that is needed.”
Barnes went even further to say the league and its players don’t get enough credit for anything, including equal pay. However, as they gain more attention for speaking up and as they continue to shed light on the matter, Barnes believes they will get closer to equaling the playing field.
As more and more teams began to take stands this summer and fall, critics fired back, saying that the leagues will lose viewers and that athletes shouldn’t get political. Sophomore guard Mallory McCartney disagreed with the sentiments, and said she would personally use her platform to support her Black teammates.
“I don’t think anyone has the right to tell you that you are not allowed to voice your opinion,” McCartney said. “With that being said, you have to be able to listen to others’ opinions, but no one ever has the right to tell you that you can’t voice yours. People look to athletes and if that’s my way to spread awareness, then that’s exactly what I’m going to do and no one is really going to stop me.”
For Barnes, the opposing voices are the reason why players will keep speaking out.
“People want to keep shutting us into our little box of ‘You’re just an athlete, you don’t know what you’re talking about,’” Barnes said. “They just keep hiding the fact that we’re actually real people. I would tell those people that ignorance is ignorance and we’re just going to keep fighting on.”
Anderson has been the target of racism throughout her life. Not all of it was blatant, but it’s happened in Big Rapids and it’s happened back in her hometown of Romulus and Ann Arbor.
“It is a part of daily life,” Anderson said. “I’ve experienced it, I’ve been a victim to it, but I’ve learned how to go about stuff like that.”
Former women’s head basketball coach Kendra Faustin said you can’t talk to a person of color who hasn’t experienced racism.
“I think that’s the point,” she said. “Whether it’s malice, if it’s intended or not. You cannot speak to a person of color who has not encountered racism.”
For Anderson, education is the most impactful way to combat racism. Having the open-mindedness to educate others is her way of choice to change others’ perspectives.
“I feel personally feel that racism—of course, I think it’s totally wrong and it’s not fair, it’s nothing that anybody can help. You can’t judge someone based on something they can’t control,” Anderson said. “Education is really the way to go about changing people’s mindsets and it’s not going to happen overnight. Clearly, we’re in a time where things need a change and it’s not going to happen overnight.”
For all the injustices Anderson has seen this year, she feels strongly that strides have been made in educating others. From heightened media coverage of the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, to players across all leagues taking stands in response.
“It’s education at its finest in order to make a change systematically,” Anderson said.
One player who made an impact on Anderson this season was Los Angeles Lakers’ Lebron James, who made a pointed effort to bring justice to Breonna Taylor.
“Yes, I do feel as though—being a Black woman myself—that we are very disrespected,” Anderson said. “And that is not to take away from any other race or sex, because everybody has their own problems. But to focus on Black women, I really do appreciate people like Lebron James taking a stance because, let’s be honest, he is more listened to then just the average person.
“For him to take a stance and speak his mind, it really just drives momentum behind saving our Black women, protecting our Black women, appreciating them and loving them and adoring them. Because there is a special sense to us, as there is for any other race or any other sex. But there is a special sense to us, so having people stand up for people like us is inspiring and encouraging, so we can keep going and doing what we do. I really appreciate that from Lebron James.”
The one player that all three Ferris players kept coming back to was Moore, though. The Minnesota Lynx forward opted out of the season for the second straight year in 2020, according to the New York Times. Moore made the decision to sit out in order to advocate for criminal justice reform and the release of Jonathan Irons, whose 50-year sentence was overturned in March by Judge Daniel Green, according to Bleacher Report. According to Green, the prosecution’s case against the 16-year-old Irons from 1998 was “very weak and circumstantial at best.” Moore gave him the resources he didn’t previously have to get the sentence overturned.
“She was the figure behind all of it who brought awareness to others and now look at already what she’s done,” McCartney said. “Not just for the game of basketball, but in life itself. You have younger people looking up to her not just for what she can do on the court, but for being a strong woman who stands up for what she believes in.”
For McCartney, The Washington Mystics walked out for their game in August with Jacob Blake spelled out on the front of their shirts with seven bullet holes on the backs was the most impactful stance. The Mystics also walked off the court, refusing to play the game, which had a domino effect that led to the NBA postponing all playoff games as well.
“Basketball, they might be getting paid for it, but it’s not their whole lives,” McCartney said. “They realize that if it means not playing for there to be a change, that’s what they’ll do.”
All three Ferris players said they would get involved in a public demonstration of their own if and when they have a season. Faustin, who would without question support them, knows them to be women who are willing to have the difficult conversations and stand up for what they believe in.
“It’s at a point where silence is condoning,” Faustin said. “And we’re not doing that and I know that these particular athletes, that’s who they are. They’re not doing that.”