The WNBA Flexes its Newfound National Influence for a Cause

By Preston Bradsher

The WNBA kicked off its 2020 season in pandemic-era fashion with all players and staff quarantined in the kind of bubble-like environment that is becoming increasingly common as leagues return to play. All 12 teams will be living and playing at IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL for the entirety of the shortened season, which is slated to run from late July to early October including playoffs. The schedule so far has been challenging, with games happening more days of the week than not and players often getting only one day of rest between games. 

The intense structure of the season seems only appropriate for this high-octane moment in history, as the new stresses of a global pandemic combine with the long-standing struggle for racial justice in this country. The players of the WNBA are no strangers to the fight, however, and they have quickly proven that despite the difficult circumstances of this season they are going to use this moment for all it’s worth. This high-pressure season presents a unique opportunity for the WNBA to gain more visibility than ever, both for the game and for the social causes the players are fighting for, and these players aren’t about to let that opportunity pass by.

The WNBA in the National Eye

The lack of available sports programming due to the pandemic plus the rising excitement and interest around WNBA players has been a perfect storm to boost the league’s media footprint. ESPN is offering its largest selection ever of regular season games, with 13 additional contests added to the docket after the huge success of the first games of the season. Games are being aired on national television across networks including ESPN, ABC, and CBSSN. This season also marks the first time a WNBA game will air on the CBS Television Network. 

All this national attention has been bolstered by some smart marketing by the league in the form of the now-famous orange hoodie, and NBA players have been supporting the women’s game more vocally than ever before. Merch sales are off the charts, more people than ever have easy access to WNBA games, and the players are providing an incredibly entertaining product despite the challenges of this year. This 2020 season looks set to prove what leaders in women’s sports have known all along: If you put women on TV, the fans will come.

More than Athletes: WNBA Players in the Fight for Social Justice

From the very moment the 2020 season was announced, WNBA players made it clear that this season would be different. These women have been some of the most vocal activists among the entire athletic community long before national attention turned to things like racial justice, and they were not about to back down from that position of leadership at such a crucial moment in the country’s history. The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis launched a national reckoning over police brutality and racial inequality, and these players have done everything possible to put that reckoning at the center of their season. 

Players and coaches have been wearing Black Lives Matter shirts to warm ups and press appearances. They have Breonna Taylor’s name written on the backs of their jerseys to draw awareness to yet another victim of police violence. Even the floors of the courts where they play read Black Lives Matter. Players are quick to turn typical interview questions towards more pressing national issues of racism and inequality, and speak out on social media with more clarity and boldness than ever. The overall effect of these constant, unified efforts is that of a league that understands its power in society and has the guts to use it for good. These players have found a way to use their collective voice to drive this country towards real change, and this season is surely just the beginning.

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