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The Organizers: WNBA players and their unrelenting activism

WNBA players dedicated their 2020 bubble season to Breonna Taylor, who was fatally shot by police earlier that year. (Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

Leading up to the 1968 Olympics, where Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their black-gloved fists and Wyomia Tyus protested by wearing dark shorts, the Olympic Project For Human Rights held meetings to discuss plans for a unified initiative advocating for human rights. The group organized a boycott of the Mexico City Games, but after several athletes backed out, the plan fell through.

Collective activism is hard to orchestrate. Getting groups of people to act in concert is challenging enough, even when participants aren’t asked to risk their livelihood. In the aftermath of the podium protest, Smith and Carlos lost everything.

One group of sportswomen have continued to overcome the challenges of collective action: members of the Women’s National Basketball Association. The predominantly Black and significantly queer sports league has repeatedly taken stands in political and cultural battles over gender pay equity, racism, policing, LGBTQIA rights, reproductive rights and voting rights.

In the final installment of our Black History Month series, Just Women’s Sports recognizes the women of the WNBA for their unified acts of resistance and unrelenting commitment to bettering the world around them.

The catalysts

Months before Colin Kaepernick took a knee, on July 9, 2016, four members of the Minnesota Lynx donned black T-shirts that read “Change Starts with Us: Justice and Accountability,” ushering in a wave of activism in professional sports. Their protest came days after Philando Castile was shot and killed by an officer during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, Minn., and Alton Sterling was killed by the police outside of a convenience store in Baton Rouge, La.

The next day, New York Liberty players also wore black T-shirts, this time with the phrases “#Black Lives Matter,” “#Dallas5” (in honor of the five Dallas police officers shot during protests on July 7, 2016), and “#_____” (representing future deaths at the hands of police). Players on the Indiana Fever and the Phoenix Mercury joined in protest by wearing plain black tees during pregame warmups.

While NBA players may have more money to lose, WNBA players have more at risk when deciding to protest. These women knew they would likely face retaliation and condemnation by police, fans and the league, and they still decided to take a stand.

The women were right. In response to the Lynx’s actions, Minnesota police officers walked off their security posts during their game and the WNBA issued fines to the teams and players involved in the protest. Meanwhile, NBA players were being applauded for their activism at the ESPYs.

The women of the WNBA, however, “refused to be silent.” While accepting her award for Player of the Month, Tina Charles of the Liberty turned her warmup shirt inside out to protest the fines. Charles and others voiced their opposition to the fines on social media and initiated a media blackout, only answering questions related to police brutality and systemic racism. Due to the resulting media attention, the league rescinded the fines.

Activism continues

In August 2017, a white nationalist rally over the removal of a confederate statue, prefaced by a torchlit vigil, turned fatal in Charlottesville, Va. Shortly after, WNBA players took action. Five teams stood with their arms interlocked during the national anthem in a show of unity against bigotry, hate and racism. The Liberty also hosted a town hall to discuss community solutions to racism and policing.

The following month, after President Trump declared that NFL owners should fire athletes who take a knee and called protestors “sons of b—es,” the Lynx knelt and linked arms as the national anthem played during the 2017 WNBA Finals. Their opponent, the Los Angeles Sparks, walked off the court entirely, opting to stay in their locker room during the anthem in a show of protest.

Apex of activism

In 2020, COVID-19 hit. Sports ceased. George Floyd died under the knee of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin over an alleged counterfeit $20 bill. As multiple officers held Floyd down in the street, Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds.

When the WNBA commenced their condensed, 22-game season later that summer at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., players wore shirts bearing the name “Breonna Taylor” and played on courts adorned with the phrase “Black Lives Matter.” Before opening tipoffs, a 26-second moment of silence was held in memory of Taylor, the 26-year-old certified EMT who was fatally shot by police on March 13, 2020 during a raid on her Louisville apartment. The players dedicated the season to Taylor, and in honor of the #SayHerName campaign, each week they shared the story of a Black woman who was killed by law enforcement.

​​That season, the league also formed a Social Justice Council that has since spearheaded initiatives around anti-transgender legislation, public health and voting rights.

Not all were happy with the league’s focus on social justice. Atlanta Dream co-owner and Georgia Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler vocally opposed the players’ dedication to advancing the Black Lives Matter movement and called for a depoliticization of sports. When calls for Loeffler to sell her shares of the team went unanswered, the players took an innovative approach. The entirety of the Atlanta Dream, along with players from other teams, sported “Vote Warnock” shirts in support of Loeffler’s Democratic challenger, Rev. Raphael Warnock, a campaign that proved to be instrumental in flipping the Georgia Senate seat.

Less than a month later, Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black father, was shot by Wisconsin police while his children watched from a nearby car. Players on four WNBA teams scheduled to play that night postponed their games, as did most professional sports teams nationwide. When the Mystics, Dream, Sparks and Lynx met on the court to kneel in solidarity later that evening, the Washington team appeared in shirts that spelled out Jacob Blake’s name, each with seven bullet holes, representing the number of shots fired at Blake from close range.

(Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)


While George Floyd’s death initiated protests across the globe and propelled a moment of racial reckoning unseen in American history, a year following his death, white support for the Black Lives Matter movement had waned significantly. The women of the WNBA, however, remained committed to social justice.

On the one-year anniversary of Floyd’s murder, the WNBA and WNBA Players Association (WNBPA) released statements honoring Floyd’s life. Teams and players from around the league advocated for continued criminal justice reform, encouraging the public to call on their senators to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. Ariel Atkins and Natasha Cloud of the Washington Mystics even declined to answer basketball-related questions during a postgame press conference, opting to raise awareness for the bill instead.

The WNBA players’ activism has never been contingent upon the public’s appetite or confined to one issue. Last October, WNBA players took out a full-page ad in The New York Times denouncing a Texas anti-abortion law. From the league’s inception, its players have fought for what they deemed important, starting with equality. The very presence of women, Black Americans, queer people and non-binary folks lining the court and insisting that they have the right to play and make a living is a political act in and of itself.

Mariah Lee is a professional athlete and freelance writer who specializes in the intersection of race and sports. She holds a B.A. from Stanford University and a M.S. from the Wake Forest School of Business. Follow her on Instagram @merdashewrote.

Barcelona Beat Lyon to Win Back-to-Back Champions League Titles

Barcelona's Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas celebrating after beating Lyon at the 2024 Champions League final
Ballon d'Or winners Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas helped Barcelona to a second-straight UWCL title on Saturday. (Ramsey Cardy - Sportsfile/UEFA via Getty Images)

Barcelona was crowned champion of the Champions League on Saturday with a 2-0 win over Lyon in Bilbao.

Alexia "La Reina" Putellas, who recently re-signed with Barcelona, came off the bench to score the team's second goal. Fellow Ballon d’Or winner Aitana Bonmatí provided the team’s first. After the game, defender Lucy Bronze said Putellas was nicknamed "the queen" for a reason.

"Alexia is the captain of the team and she's the queen of Barcelona for a reason,"  defender Lucy Bronze told DAZN. "She's got the quality to do that in the last minute of the Champions League final when we were up against it at the end and it just sealed the win for us. It was amazing."

The victory marked Barcelona's first win over Lyon in a UWCL final, having previously gone up against the French side at both the 2019 and 2022 Champions League finals. It's also Barcelona's second Champions League title in a row.

"It's hard to win it once, but to do it back-to-back, Lyon showed how difficult it is and this team has finally done that," Bronze said. "I think we go down in history as one of the best teams in Europe."

This season, the team also secured a quadruple for the first time in club history, having already won Liga F, the Copa de la Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. The win ensures that coach Jonatan Giráldez — who has officially departed the team to join the NWSL's Washington Spirit — leaves Europe a champion.

"It was an incredible game. I am really happy, it's one of the best days of my life for sure," Giráldez told broadcaster DAZN after the game. "We did an amazing job. I am very proud of all of them."

Following the win, Putellas said her team "can't ask for anything else."

"Our objective was to win four out of four," the Spain international told reporters. "We have achieved everything we wanted. Every minute of sacrifice has been worth the effort — and I'd say that not after the game, but before, just entering in the stadium, with all the support we had here, it was worth it."

2024 Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Aitana Bonmatí said that the crowd support made it "feel like Camp Nou."

"I am on cloud nine right now," she said. "It is an historic day which we will remember forever."

Sun’s Alyssa Thomas Ejected After Flagrant 2 on Sky Rookie Angel Reese

Angel Reese said there were "no hard feelings" stemming from Alyssa Thomas's flagrant foul. (Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Angel Reese might have gotten knocked down on Saturday, but she got right back up again. 

Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas was ejected from the Sun’s 86-82 win over Chicago following a flagrant foul 2 on Reese — the first of her career. While the two were battling for a rebound, Reese took a clothesline hold around the neck courtesy of Thomas before hitting the ground.

After the game, Reese told reporters that there were "no hard feelings" and she appreciated Thomas for playing her hard beneath the basket.

"I know she purposely probably didn’t do it towards me," Reese said. "But just being able to come out there and just be strong and stand on two feet, it was going to be a tough game and that’s what I’m built for. And my teammates had my back throughout the whole game. So I was prepared for it."

She also didn’t buy into the idea that it was a "Welcome to the WNBA" moment, but thanked Thomas "sending a message" because it helped her get back up and "keep pushing."

"It’s not just because I’m a rookie. I’m a player. I’m a basketball player. They don’t give a damn if I’m a rookie. I mean, I want them to come at me every day. I want them to come at everybody," she added. "I mean, they’re not supposed to be nice to me. I hope y’all know that. They’re not supposed to be nice to me or lay down because I’m Angel Reese or because I’m a rookie."

Reese finished the game with 13 points, five rebounds, and two assists over 33 minutes.

Barcelona to Face Lyon in Champions League Rematch This Weekend

UEFA Women's Champions League Final"Barcelona FC - Olympique Lyonnais"
Saturday's game will be the third UWCL final meeting for Barcelona and Lyon, having previously gone up against each other in 2019 and 2022. (ANP via Getty Images)

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off in Bilbao on Saturday, with a couple of familiar foes set to face off for the trophy.

Olympique Lyonnais Féminin, making its 11th final appearance since 2010, will go head to head with a Barcelona side making its fourth final appearance in a row.

This will be the third time these two teams meet in the UWCL title game, having previously appeared in the 2019 and 2022 finals. Lyon won both of those prior games against Barcelona, alongside a total of eight Champions League trophies. That’s double that of any other club, with Eintracht Frankfurt coming in a distant second with four. 

Should Barcelona win, this would be the team's third title — breaking a tie for the third in the UWCL total titles race. 

But as these teams return to the UWCL final, it also marks the end of an era for both clubs. The game will be the last for both club managers, as Barcelona’s Jonatan Giráldez and Lyon’s Sonia Bompastor depart for new jobs after the season's end.

Giráldez is set to leave for the NWSL's Washington Spirit, while Bompastor will take over for incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes at Chelsea. Both coaches have earned one UWCL trophy during their tenures, while Bompastor also brought two Champions League trophies to Lyon as a player. She was the first coach to win a UWCL trophy as both a coach and player.

This season, Barcelona is looking for its first quadruple, having won a fifth Liga F title alongside the Copa de La Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. 

"We hope he can go out with the four trophies because we know how competitive and ambitious he is," Barcelona midfielder Patri Guijarro told ESPN. "It has been a winning era with him in charge and for him to go out with all four trophies would be historic and incredible."

But Lyon's Damaris Egurrola is excited about her team's chances of overcoming Barcelona once again — and to do it in front of family and friends.

"Lyon have something special," she told Forbes ahead of the weekend's final. "We have a great team and we have the players with enough talent to win any match."

The game will be a homecoming for Egurrola, who began her professional career with Athletic Bilbao.

"I’ve been thinking of this day and night," she said. "I’ve been dreaming of playing this match. Having the opportunity to play in San Mames is amazing. This is where it all started for me."

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off Saturday, May 25th at 12 PM ET and is free to stream on DAZN.

World No. 1 Iga Swiatek Headlines a Stacked 2024 French Open

Iga Swiatek serves against Coco Gauff during the group stage of the 2023 WTA Finals in Cancun, Mexico
Iga Swiatek serves against Coco Gauff during the group stage of the 2023 WTA Finals in Cancun, Mexico. (Robert Prange/Getty Images)

The 2024 French Open starts on Sunday, with a match schedule that promises to wrap the short clay court season up in style.

Looking for her fourth title at the major is three-time Roland Garros champion and World No. 1 Iga Swiatek, considered the favorite to win the whole Slam. Three of her four major titles have come at the French tournament. 

Swiatek's career record at the French Open is a dominating 28-2, and she's currently on a 16-game winning streak fueled by victories at tune-up tournaments in Madrid and Rome.

But that doesn't mean she won't face some serious challengers along the way. Get to know some of the Polish tennis champ's strongest competitors.

Aryna Sabalenka

Sabalenka is ranked No. 2 in the world and faced Swiatek in the finals at both Madrid and Rome. She lost in three sets in Madrid, which included a close third-set tiebreak, before losing in straight sets at the Italian Open. 

She enters the French Open having won the Australian Open in January, successfully defending her title in the first Slam of the season. At last year’s French Open, Sabalenka reached the semifinals — a career best — before being ousted by Karolina Muchová in three sets.

Season record: 25-7

Coco Gauff

Currently sitting at No. 3 in the world, the highest-ranked American on the schedule is none other than Coco Gauff. Gauff won her first major at the US Open last year, and reached the semifinals of this year’s Australian Open. She faced Swiatek in the semifinals of the Italian Open last week, losing in straight sets. 

But her first major final came at the French Open in 2022, before being ousted by Swiatek in the quarterfinals at last year’s French Open. The two are on a crash course for a meeting before the finals, as Gauff anchors the other quadrant on Swiatek’s side of the draw, should they both advance deep into the competition.

Season record: 25-8

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