PITTSBURGH– Upon entering the Petersen Events Center, it was clear that the entire court was spaced out in accordance with COVID-19 protocols and indeed seats were spread apart where cheer, dance, media and photographers normally congregate, but the biggest statement was made before the game.
During the National Anthem, every Pitt player and coach took a knee with some players also raising a fist.
“It is bigger than us,” freshman guard Liatu King said. “We’re standing in solidarity with all of the people who are victims of police brutality. We just want a better future, that’s all.”
— NCAA Women’s Basketball (@ncaawbb) November 25, 2020
Wednesday, Pitt posted that it had added the word equality to the back of its jerseys and continued that message prior to Thursday’s contest with its shooting shirts which have one simple word on them. Equality.
“It was a word our players chose that they really want as women, as a lot of them young black women, they want equity,” Pitt coach Lance White said. “They want to have a platform where there is nothing but equality and equity. What do they need to have the same opportunities everyone has? They wanted to be broad in that delivery. So much of it has been them talking and sharing.”
Both the WNBA and NBA have had players and teams who were unafraid of sending a message, vocal or not, concerning their feelings on social injustice.
Strictly speaking from a WNBA perspective, players kneeled during the National Anthem have walked off the court and have postponed games. T-shirts were worn with the message “arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor” as players locked arms.
The Washington Mystics went as far as wearing shirts with seven dots on the back to signify the amount of gunshots fired by police at Jacob Blake. In that instance, guard Ariel Atkins gave a passionate speech on ESPN explaining the decision not to play.
As Pitt proceeds through educating itself and others, White explained, that his team has student-athletes that hail from five different countries.
“Things happening in Nigeria for example affect two-to-three of our players,” he said. “Here in the States, all of the unrest with race relations affects them every day. Any allyship I can bring as their coach, we’ve brought to them. We get to live in this awesome country and there are certain things that need to change. They will use their platforms to bring awareness and equality that they so desperately desire and want.”
Speaking for himself, White stated he has learned a lot both on his end and his teams. It is clear to him how much courage his team displays on a daily basis in handling these and other challenges.
He is proud that some of his student-athletes were able to vote in November’s Presidential Election for the first time as he views the best way for things to change is being part of the political system and then seeking to change it.
White described his background growing up in West Texas and how he has been challenged to learn and grow every day.
“Things I’ve thought aren’t truths and so we’ve been educating as much as we can together and then taking action to bring awareness and dive into our community,” said White. “Those in power have to make choices and I think the election was a huge part of that. To see (our players) actively involved in that is a huge step. Now it is taking the next step as things keep going. We find out we are more similar than we are different. To see the dialogue and embracing those concepts and thoughts are what the game of college basketball is all about.”
Thursday was the first game in a regular season which is likely to have ups and downs but Pitt clearly believes that its message of equality is one which will extend beyond the 2020-21 basketball season.
As she tried to summarize her feelings, junior guard Jayla Everett had a difficult time putting her feelings into words, another clear sign of just how difficult daily life with these injustices has been.
“It’s bigger than us and bigger than basketball,” Everett stated. “I really don’t know how to explain myself when it comes to equality. It is something we lack in as a whole and we all should be treated equality.”
Photo credit: Pitt Athletics