‘This is our moment’: Mercury, WNBA brace for complications as they prepare to return

Members of the WNBA’s Washington Mystics, along with the NBA’s Washington Wizards, were among those marching to the MLK Memorial in Washington D.C. to support Black Lives Matter and mark the Juneteenth holiday, Many WNBA players, including some from the Mercury, have been vocal recently about social injustice. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – Much has changed from four years ago, when the Phoenix Mercury were fined for wearing Black Lives Matter T-shirts over their warmups.

These days the WNBA is encouraging its players to find their voices, one piece of a complicated puzzle the league faces as it prepares to return to play.

“This is our moment to get back on the court and use basketball as the vehicle to measurable social change,” Mercury Chief Operating Officer Vince Kozar said.

It’s been a busy few weeks for the WNBA.

At the forefront, the WNBA recently announced its return-to-play plans and will start training camp in mid-July.

The league will play its 22-game season at IMG Academy in Florida, where COVID-19 cases have spiked. Multiple players, including All-Star Jonquel Jones, have dropped out of the upcoming season due to coronavirus concerns.

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Jones decided to forego this upcoming season to focus on her personal and social growth, she said in a statement released by her team, the Connecticut Sun. She also said that the “resurgence and unknown aspects of COVID-19 have raised serious health concerns that I do not feel comfortable competing in.”

Others players have expressed their concern of living at IMG Academy and some don’t believe the bubble concept will work the way the league envisions. The WNBA has said it has full faith in its planning.

Although Jones, who finished third in MVP voting last year, is the biggest name to forego the season, many believe other players will follow suit.

The league, meanwhile, “will continue to consult with medical experts and public health officials as well as players, team owners and other stakeholders as we move forward with our execution plan,” commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a release.

Players have until Thursday to make their decision.

Additionally, WNBA players have been some of the most vocal when it comes to issues of social justice.

Many players have been outspoken, including the Mercury’s Skylar Diggins-Smith, whose Twitter account is filled with support for the Black Lives Matter movement. She is one of the league’s loudest voices against injustice.

Mercury teammate Brianna Turner has also been vocal about the issue and wrote on Twitter, “It literally feels like we have a lifetime to go to reconstruct our broken systems.”

In 2016, the Mercury were one of three teams that wore Black Lives Matter T-shirts during warmups. The WNBA fined the team, along with the Minnesota Lynx and New York Liberty, $5,000 and each player an additional $500 as the shirts violated the league’s rules against altering uniforms.

The fines were eventually rescinded.

Since then, the league has started to not only support its players who call to end racial injustice but encourages them to fight for what they believe is right.

WNBA president Nneka Ogwumike said that this is an important time for the league when it comes to players using their voices because they have a greater platform now more than they ever have before.

For the Mercury, it’s Diggins-Smith and Diana Taurasi who have been the most visible. Taurasi was spotted at a protest against police brutality and racial injustice, donning a mask to protect from COVID-19 and wearing all black.

The video was posted on Twitter by another protestor.

As the Thursday deadline for players to choose whether or not they want to play this year approaches, more are expected to drop out to either protect their families from COVID-19 or to continue the fight against racial injustice.

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Zachary Spiecker, an Arizona native, works as a digital sports reporter.