I was able to speak with New York Liberty guard, Layshia Clarendon, to get their perspective on the WNBA’s social justice and the New York Liberty’s 2020 season.
Q. We saw something that has never happened before in sports history on Wednesday, August 26. And you’re a part of both the executive committee and the Social Justice Council. What can you tell us about the WNBA’s decision not to play that night and the league’s decision to take such a unified stand?
A. I can tell you that we were standing in solidarity with the NBA. Our league, full of Black women, has been affected and our white allies, too, were really affected by the shooting of Jacob Blake and everything going on in our country recently. So, we are just exhausted and really hurt and heartbroken and upset about everything that is going on; from the names you do hear and then there are so many women and people you don’t hear about. Diana (Taurasi) said it well that it’s not a day to play basketball. It’s really simple. It was a day to take off. And then, we just decided to take the next day off . . . for a day of rest and reflection to try to heal from all of the trauma that is going on right now.
Q. You are a leader on and off the court. What does it mean to you to be a part of the WNBA’s Social Justice Council?
A. It means a lot, I mean sometimes I stretch myself too thin, and need to find some balance. Social Justice work is who I am. It’s in my blood, a part of my lifelong work, more than just basketball. It means a lot that I’ve been able to lead. Leadership, it’s humbling as it’s a lot of service actually. Not quite as glamorous as people might think . . . It takes a lot of work, and I take it really seriously and put a lot of intention, reflection and dedication behind it. To be trusted by people to stand up there and speak means a lot to me, means the people around me trust me and listen to what i have to say.
Q. The voices of WNBA players are so powerful, yet often overlooked, but when NBA players speak up about racial injustice, they go viral. Why are Black WNBA voices so often disrespected?
A. The men have been given a bigger platform than we have, so sexism is one of the things you have to name and call out. The NBA players have a bigger platform, a lot do to with culturally how we view men. We view them as better leaders and basketball players, and ‘we’ means our society and a bigger platform then us so automatically. I often say LeBron sneezes and people pay attention, and we literally change the world and people are like, “Oh! Good job.” Inherent sexism. People still don’t quite believe women deserve to be equal and have the same platform as men. The racial aspect that you have to add on . . . We have to deal with that in addition to being women we have Black women, and the racism we deal with and just being being forgotten or viewed as too angry or not being viewed as the “American girl next door” because that is not what traditionally people think of. They maybe think of the white girl or the soccer type of girl. They don’t typically think of the WNBA as those types of players. We face the double whammy factor. A league full of women and a league full of Black women, who are often forgotten in society.
Q. Changing gears, let’s chat about the Liberty this season and your play. As one of the only veterans on the Liberty, what advice are you giving Liberty rookies to help them through a tough season?
A. They are doing a good job, because I really believe they are. Trying to give them perspective. In the grand scheme of your career, this will feel small, is small, and you are growing from it even though it may not feel like it in the moment because it’s really hard. When things are the toughest, you are growing the most. We aren’t getting the outcomes we want and continue to grow and get better every single day at practice. Even though we don’t get a lot of practice, we can use games as practice. Last night, for example, we were losing and the game was probably out of reach. We were down 6 with a few seconds, we were calling timeouts to practice end of game situations we don’t normally get to do. They are really fortunate to get the opportunity to play because many rookies don’t get this type of minutes.
Q. What do you bring to the Liberty with your style of play?
A. Speed and tenaciousness. Ability to fly around the court. Energy and spark to the team. I’m not afraid to get into the paint, even if you are a lot bigger than me, even if you are A’ja Wilson. I’m not afraid to challenge anyone even if I’m going to get blocked.
It will be intriguing to see the continued direction of the WNBA’s social justice initiatives along with watching the Liberty and Layshia play in 2021.