NBA and WNBA players will need to decide this week if they plan to play in their respective league’s seasons that are set to begin next month in Florida. There are a range of factors to take into consideration, from concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic and injury fears after quarantining to stepping away to fight for racial justice reform on the frontlines.
NBA Players Association vice president Kyrie Irving led a call to discuss those pros and cons and said he was against the plan. In the 10 days since, he and others voicing concern over returning have been criticized by fans and occasionally other players.
Williams calls out ‘selfish’ fans
Williams was one of the WNBA players to speak with The Undefeated’s Sean Hurd about making the decision of whether to play in the league’s 22-game season at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
She delivered a strong rebuke to anyone attacking players who decide to sit out of the season.
Gabby Williams had a really strong response to the fans and players that criticized Kyrie Irving for proposing players sit out the NBA season in a stand for social justice.— Sean Hurd (@seanahurd) June 23, 2020
Part of the quote was shared in the story, but I wanted to share @gabbywilliams15's full quote: pic.twitter.com/DtVc61NNGe
“Sometimes fans, fans are too much. They’re too selfish. They’re too critical, they’re too selfish and they don’t treat these athletes like they’re people. It’s so sad to see the backlash that Kyrie got from that. Just because you’re selfish because you don’t have something to tune in to at 7 p.m. — you’re going to talk about this Black man this way? That really hurt me. I hope WNBA fans never treat us like that because I was so sad to see it. I was like, ‘These people in this world are disgusting.’ Like think about how selfish you have to be.
“People don’t understand, we’re not going on vacation when we’re going in these bubble seasons. This is not going to be easy and we’re risking a lot. We’re sacrificing a lot to be in this bubble. It’s going to be hard physically and on our mental health. For fans to sit there and have any kind of opinion about if a player wants to play or not — you’re not fans. You’re not a real fan. And what they’re standing up for is so, so important.
“I was especially disappointed to see how other NBA players responded to that too. They’re selfish too. You can play if you want to play, if you feel comfortable playing. But under these circumstances, I don’t see how you can judge somebody for not wanting to play. Any WNBA player who sits out for this season, I have no opinion about it. I completely understand if someone would want to sit out this season — whether it be to make a difference or for their health and safety. There are so many unknowns. The fact that NBA players didn’t have each other’s backs, either, it was really sad to see.”
Connecticut Sun star Jonquel Jones, a leading MVP candidate, announced Monday she would skip the season due to COVID-19-related health concerns. Later in the day, the Washington Mystics’ LaToya Sanders said the same.
Atlanta Dream veteran Renee Montgomery announced last week she would opt out to focus on social justice reform in Atlanta, and Mystics star Natasha Cloud, who has previously fought for gun violence reform, announced the same on Monday.
‘Not a vacation’: Players contemplate return
The CDC recommends wearing face masks when in public and keeping at least six feet of distance form others, both of which will be impossible when playing basketball. And while each league has developed a plan for a “bubble” to protect athletes, that isn’t impenetrable. COVID-19 cases are also spiking all over Florida and in Orlando, where the NBA will be at Disney World and the MLS will also compete.
Players also have to consider how much activity they were able to get in on their own since the sports world shut down on March 12 and many states issued strict stay-at-home orders. Many WNBA players haven’t touched a ball or been on a court in that time because gyms were closed and they don’t have luxurious indoor courts like some star NBA players. With only about two weeks of training camp, there are concerns about injuries. Las Vegas Aces star Kelsey Plum tore her Achilles tendon in quarantine.
Players also have family aspects to consider because they won’t be able to see them for most, if not all, of the seasons. Portland Trail Blazers forward Trevor Ariza is skipping the season, per a report from ESPN, so he can have his one-month visitation window with his son.
Then there is the desire to be on the frontlines to fight for societal change as the nation reckons with race relations after George Floyd’s death. There are those, such as LeBron James, who have a large platform and can do work for the cause from the bubble. Players are also trying to plan ways to work together to bring attention to the cause through the game.
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