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Storm and Liberty players walk off court before national anthem in WNBA season opener

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that the players left the court before the national anthem was played, not while it was being played.


The WNBA season kicked off Saturday with a statement against racial injustice. Prior to the national anthem being played before tip-off, Seattle Storm and New York Liberty players dropped their basketballs, walked off the court and headed back to their respective locker rooms. 

Earlier this month, the league announced that the 2020 season will be dedicated to raising awareness about social justice issues. The effort includes warm-up uniforms with the messages "Say her name" and "Black Lives Matter" and the creation of a player-led Social Justice Council.

Before the season opener began, Liberty guard Layshia Clarendon and Storm forward Breanna Stewart addressed the Black Lives Matter movement and dedicated the season to Breonna Taylor, a Black emergency technician who was killed by police in her home in March.

"Breonna Taylor was dedicated and committed to uplifting everyone around her," Clarendon said. "We're also dedicating this season to Say Her Name campaign, a campaign committed to saying the names and fighting for justice for Black women, Black women who are so often forgotten in this fight for justice, who do not have people marching in the streets for them."

"We will say her name: Sandra Bland, Atatiana Jefferson, Dominique Remy Fells, and Breonna Taylor," Clarendon said. "We will be a voice for the voiceless."

The teams held a moment of silence for 26 seconds to represent the age Taylor was when she died. 

Taylor was asleep in her bed on the night of March 13 in Louisville when police used a no-knock warrant to enter her and her boyfriend's home and opened fire. The police have said they were searching for narcotics as part of a drug investigation, but according to a lawsuit from her family, no drugs were ever found.

Police said they opened fire because her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, had shot at them first. In the lawsuit, Taylor's family says the officers never announced or identified themselves prior to entering the home, and Walker had shot at them because he thought it was somebody breaking in.

None of the three officers involved in Taylor's death have been charged. One of the officers was fired from the Louisville police department. 

Prior to Saturday's game, the Liberty posted a video message with players demanding justice for Taylor: "A Black woman, daughter, sister, beloved," they said before recounting the details of Taylor's case. "It's our turn to fight for justice." 

Many other sports leagues and players have followed similar actions in recent months. 

During the MLB season opener on Thursday night, players on the Washington Nationals and New York Yankees knelt during a moment of silence and held a long piece of black fabric in support of the ongoing protests. The Tampa Bay Rays on Friday tweeted that opening day was "a great day to arrest the killers of Breonna Taylor." 

The matchup between the Storm and Liberty, which was broadcast on ESPN, featured the highly-anticipated professional debut of Sabrina Ionescu, who the Liberty selected with the first-overall pick of this year's WNBA draft. Ionescu scored 12 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists in the loss to the Storm. This year's season was shortened by the coronavirus pandemic and will be played in a bubble at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. 

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