‘I kneel for the lives lost’: Women’s sports continue to lead the charge in fighting social injustice


Eric Henry/The DePaulia

Six DePaul players took a knee during the national anthem on Saturday at Wintrust Arena.

2020 has seen men’s sports begin to embrace social justice movements and try to bring attention to issues like police brutality and racial inequality in America. Following the killing of George Floyd by a policeman in May and the shooting of Jacob Blake in August, sports leagues began to spread messages that raise awareness and call for an end to these issues. 

But women’s sports have long been leading the charge in protesting social injustice and police brutality. Women’s sports and athletes have been at the forefront in making sure their voices are heard, and have been undeterred in their quest for equality. 

The WNBA has always seen its athletes put social justice issues above wins and losses on the court. Maya Moore took a break from professional basketball and instead turned her focus to criminal justice reform. Natasha Cloud also didn’t play in the 2020 season because she was focusing on addressing racism and gun violence. 

The league also dedicated its 2020 season to the “Say Her Name” campaign and to Breonna Taylor, who was shot and killed by Louisville police while sleeping in her apartment.

While on the court and with the eyes of the public on them, WNBA players continue to use their platform for the purpose of bringing attention to important issues in the country. Players have been unified in wearing Black Lives Matter shirts, and have been ahead of every other league in kneeling during the national anthem.

Last Friday, nine out of the 11 players in the starting lineup for the U.S. women’s soccer team took a knee during the national anthem and everyone wore BLM warm-up jackets. 

One day later, nine players from the DePaul women’s basketball team took a knee while the entire Texas A&M squad stayed in its locker room. In the Blue Demons’ second game of the season on Monday, nine players again knelt during the anthem. 

According to head coach Doug Bruno and several players, the team had a discussion last week and each player was allowed to make their own decision, with the team and the university respecting their choice. 

My choice, athletic director DeWayne Peevy’s choice, is to let the players make their choice,” Bruno said after the game on Saturday. “We are going to back our players, we are going to back all of our players. And if our players choose to take a knee, we are going to support them. What I’m proud of is the respect that each player has for the other player — respecting each other’s individual decisions. My players know I’m standing for the anthem, I’ve told them explicitly why and there’s different people. That’s what makes a team great — individual differences coming together as one and the respect we all have to have for one another’s decisions.”

While Bruno decided to stand, he explained his decision to his players and then they had a discussion among themselves. For junior guard Sonya Morris, her decision to kneel is about protesting systemic racism and all of the injustices in the country, but is also a sign of respect and remembrance for all the lives lost. 

DePaul junior guard Sonya Morris looks for a pass against the Aggies on Saturday. (Eric Henry)

“I really appreciate the fact that we had a choice to stand or kneel, so that was very appreciated not just by me but by the whole team,” Morris said. “[There is] just a lot of systemic racism going on, a lot of injustices going on. I’m really against it and I’m going to do whatever I can to spread awareness and to let my word, my opinion and my fight be known. I kneel for the lives lost. I kneel for Black people and minorities in our country today.”

In DePaul’s first two games of the season, the team has had to wear masks while on the bench and on the court in an effort to limit any possible spread and exposure to Covid-19. Morris has been wearing a mask that has Black Lives Matter written on it. 

This summer saw more sports leagues embrace the Black Lives Matter movement, but the WNBA continued to lead the charge. That drew criticism from Atlanta Dream co-owner and incumbent Republican senator Kelly Loeffler, who didn’t like that the league was supporting BLM. 

Instead of the league removing her as owner of the Dream, the players came together to support Loeffler’s opponent: Rev. Raphael Warnock. Then, in August, players across the league wore “Vote Warnock” T-shirts on television. In the November election, Warnock was able to force a runoff in January and a Washington Post analysis found that the decision to wear those shirts helped Warnock against Loeffler. 

The decision by some athletes tokneel has also been widely criticized by conservatives, including President Donald Trump, and the topic has transformed into a debate of whether it’s disrespectful to the flag. But the issue has always been bigger than the flag — it has always been about expressing one’s freedom to protest police brutality and social injustice.

Even throughout that criticism, WNBA players and athletes like USWNT star Megan Rapinoe have been allies in the fight for equality. And that is the reason why DePaul senior Dee Bekelja has decided to kneel.

“We had the option to kneel or stand, it was a personal preference,” Bekelja said. “We did talk about it as a team and we are everybody’s [decision] to why they stood or why they kneel, so it was a group discussion and I’m glad we were able to make our own decision. I kneel just because I want to be an ally to my teammates, and I thought that would be a great way for them to know that I have their back.”