A Level Playing Field
For the Connecticut Sun, Social Justice “Change Can’t Wait”
By Andrew Kelsey
Connecticut Sun Director of Player Development Awvee Storey, whose career included several seasons in the NBA, has a 12-year-old daughter, Averi. Naturally, she follows in dad’s footsteps; she plays basketball and looks up to the professionals.
Averi got to spend some time around the Sun when the team played in the bubble in Florida during last year’s coronavirus-impacted season. The Sun players were among those who spoke out about racial injustice during their time in the bubble. Players wore jerseys that included Breonna Taylor’s name, in memory of the woman who was shot to death by police in her Kentucky home.
“Seeing the impact they’ve had on my daughter has been absolutely amazing,” Storey says of the players.
Now, Storey is working with the Sun players to help the organization not only win games but have an impact on the community, including Sun fans, through its “Change Can’t Wait” social justice reform platform this coming season.
The Sun’s social justice reform mission, according to its website, is ”to create year-round programming, messaging and activation via team and player outlets to eradicate racism and reverse systemic oppression in black and brown communities in Connecticut and throughout New England.”
It is supported by four pillars – voting, education, community outreach, and amplification. The pillars guide the Sun in efforts for the platform and help create year-round programming based on each topic. This helps the team get involved in the community, create in-game programming, and educate its fans and the public on current events and topics. Details are available at sun.wnba.com/change.
Storey is not only coaching team members for their in-game performance but also their off-the-court lives. This season, a big part of that piece is the Sun’s Change Can’t Wait initiative.
Raising Awareness, Taking Action
“My player development holistic approach is not just on the court,” says Storey, noting that while the on-the-court element of his coaching is significant, there is a lot of consideration for the players’ lives off the court – as well as in what the future holds once their playing careers end.
“It makes it that much more important for them, not just playing the game they love and how important it is to them but having an impact on the fans and the community,” the coach says of these off-the-court efforts.
“These events are important because they help educate people on the world around them,” says player Kaila Charles. “A lot of times, we are stuck in our bubble, but these events help raise awareness of issues that may not get much attention or are overlooked. Also, the money that is fundraised is used to help others in need or even help fund programs and bills that can help create a positive and real change in our communities as well as our country.”
Storey believes all races should be able to come together and have dialogue to find equality, and notes that Connecticut has a large Hispanic population.
“We don’t want to exclude anybody but want to bring minorities to the forefront to have a voice,” Storey says.
“Social justice to me means that regardless of your race, class ethnicity, etcetera, everyone is treated equally; everyone has the same rights and opportunities in life,” Charles adds.
Amber Cox, vice president of sports at Mohegan Sun, notes the WNBA has always been at the forefront of social change.
“On many occasions, WNBA players have taken action against racial inequality. However, I think because all the WNBA teams and players were in the bubble this season together in Florida, coupled with the nationwide uprising against racism after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others, what you saw was an incredibly organized effort by our players, which garnered national attention. It was amazing to witness,” Cox says.
The season may still be ahead, but the Sun has already taken action – from educational components to amplifying Black-owned businesses, most of which has been virtual, Cox notes.
“I think once we return to some sense of normalcy and our players are back in our community, we’ll be able to do even more around games and in person. We’ll be able to not only educate ourselves through this process, but our fans as well, on how to get involved and support our efforts, along with those in our community who are promoting racial equality.”
“Bigger Than Basketball”
While scoring baskets and winning games are on-court goals for the Sun, the efforts in the Change Can’t Wait platform are significant.
“The importance can’t be overstated,” Cox says. “And really, our players drove the development of the Change Can’t Wait platform. It was our job to listen to them share their own experiences and work with them to define ways to take action in our community. That was the main takeaway. It can’t just be a team statement. We wanted to create sustainable pillars that we can activate as long as it takes to finally end racism once and for all.”
Kaila Charles agrees. “I think it’s very important to prioritize the Change Can’t Wait mission because change can’t wait. Racial injustice has been plaguing our country since the beginning and if we want a real change, we can’t keep sweeping these issues under the rug,” she says.
“We can’t waste any more time! And the only way for us to achieve real change is to come together as one team. Not as an individual, but as one team, fighting together towards one common goal. This is bigger than basketball. This is reality for me and some of my teammates, a reality where we don’t feel safe in our own country and that must change. That is why we must make a decision to come together and fight for injustice today.”
Following the season, Connecticut’s WNBA team (and all other WNBA teams) auctioned off game-worn and individually signed jerseys. All game jerseys featured Breonna Taylor’s name under each respective Sun player name. The recognition of Taylor, who on March 13, 2020 was shot and killed by police in her Kentucky home, is part of an overall effort by WNBA players to recognize women who have died due to alleged police brutality or racial injustice.
Free throws were worth more than just a point last summer, with money for each made foul shot going toward the team’s efforts via the Connecticut Sun Foundation.
“One of the amazing things about our fan base is that they always are behind us – win or lose, home or on the road, on or off the court,” Cox says. “It’s unlike anything else in our league. It was no surprise that when we launched the T-shirts for sale to benefit a local nonprofit, they got online and bought them. They supported our free throw effort. Again, these were very quick turnarounds this season and no games with our great fans, but it didn’t matter. They jumped on board and got behind their team per usual. The outpouring from the local community to get involved with Change Can’t Wait has been more than we could have ever imagined.”
The Sun is hopeful of playing in front of its fans at Mohegan Sun Arena this summer, depending on coronavirus protocol.
“The health and safety of our fans, players, coaches, staff remains our top priority,” Cox says. “That will guide our decisions, but certainly we are hopeful and look forward to the day when we can all return to Mohegan Sun Arena for a home game.”