WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson of the Las Vegas Aces had an emotional reaction when asked about the grand jury decision Wednesday not to charge any of the Louisville police officers in Breonna Taylor’s death. One officer, Brett Hankison, was charged with wanton endangerment for shooting into neighboring apartments in the March raid that killed Taylor.
Calling it a “slap on the wrist,” Wilson vowed to continue the battle for social justice while also playing at the highest level.
“I can’t even express it enough, how tough it is, and just how disgusted that I am,” Wilson said in a media Zoom call Thursday before the Aces’ semifinal matchup against Connecticut (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2). “But this has not stopped the fight; this will never stop my fight. This is making me want to push through even more, because Black women deserve so much better than what is going on right now.
“It just lights a fire in my ass to continue to do what I need to get done and to push through this, and then work from outside the bubble once these couple of weeks are up.”
Social justice has been a major emphasis of the WNBA in its bubble in Bradenton, Florida, and the players have worn Breonna Taylor’s name on the backs of their jerseys all season.
Wilson admitted it can be hard to also focus on basketball but said it’s her job. Her Aces are the No. 1 seed and are tied 1-1 with Connecticut in their series.
“I’m locked into what needs to be done with this team, but also I’m locked into the fact of my communities and the things that are going on around me in this world,” she said. “I am drained in some cases. But at the same time, I just have to be a professional athlete and do what I need to get done for my team. But also [for] the people that look up to me, also the little Black girls that are watching me on TV always.
“Emotionally, I am heartbroken. I am angry. But then at the same time, you know, I can’t be angry at this because I saw it coming. There’s no surprise. The element of surprise is out of my mind at this point. I’m disgusted. And I hate that Breonna Taylor didn’t get justice.”
Wilson took a question from 9-year-old journalist Pepper Persley, who writes and does podcasts for The Next website. Persley asked Wilson what message she would give to children who are confused, sad and angry.
“Pepper, you got me tearing up,” Wilson said. “My message is to keep fighting. We can’t stop fighting. It gets harder as you get older. I hate that you even have to think about going through it. I’m going to make sure that you don’t have to live through this as hard as we’ve lived through it right now.
“When you get older, I hope that there’s a change, that you don’t have to continue to write about it. Dream big and don’t let anyone tell you that you cannot do something, that you are incapable or unqualified, just because of the color of your skin.”
Wilson said after she heard the Taylor news Wednesday, she texted her mother, Eva Wilson, in South Carolina. A native of Columbia, South Carolina, Wilson led her hometown Gamecocks to the 2017 NCAA championship and then was the WNBA’s No. 1 pick and Rookie of the Year in 2018.
“My mom sees me in these women. I see myself in these women. I don’t want to become a hashtag or a T-shirt,” Wilson said. “People remember exactly where they were when 9/11 happened or when other things happened. This is my 9/11. … I was too young [for that]; I was in preschool [in 2001]. But this here is going to be something I remember all the time. I have to fear for my life as a Black woman, whether I’m asleep, I’m awake, whether I am walking down the street. Justice was not served, and that just really broke my heart.”
Wilson is one of the players on the WNBA’s social justice council, which was launched in conjunction with the players’ union on July 6. Wilson said the WNBA players are committed to doing the long-haul work to bring about reform.
“The system doesn’t work for us, and I say ‘us’ as people of color,” Wilson said. “It’s not written up to work for us; it never was. Now is our time to try to change it. It’s so tough. … Change does not happen overnight, but it’s up to us to have to plant the seeds.
“Now this is the time when people are going to decompress and say, ‘Well, we tried it, and then this is what happens.’ No, we cannot let up. We’re going to continue to say Breonna Taylor’s name, Sandra Bland’s name and countless others that didn’t go viral, that’s not on a T-shirt. I’m going to use my platform in any way, shape or form to say these Black women’s names. It’s time for us to use our voices, to let our voices be heard for the women that are voiceless.”