The WNBA is returning during a critical time in the United States. Given the COVID-19 pandemic and recent social unrest, the 2020 WNBA season offers opportunity beyond basketball.
Massachusetts natives Carolyn Swords, Shey Peddy, and Blake Dietrick, along with the rest of the league look to bring social justice initiatives to the forefront of conversation when the league returns later this month at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
Swords, a graduate of Lincoln-Sudbury High School and Boston College, plays for the Las Vegas Aces. Peddy, of Roxbury, attended Melrose High School, graduated from Temple, and plays for the reigning WNBA champion Washington Mystics. Dietrick, a Wellesley High and Princeton alumna, is on the Atlanta Dream.
“We’ve seen a really exciting wave of awareness in and around social justice,” said Swords, an eight-year WNBA veteran. “I’m just really proud of these players in ‘The W’ making these hard decisions whether to play or not. I think that it’s a very personal choice.
“I have a lot of admiration for everyone’s goals. Whether they choose to stay in their communities and work really hard to bring awareness and serve the people around them, or if they want to use their platforms on the court, both deserve incredible admiration.”
A handful of WNBA players opted out of the season to pursue social justice initiatives, including two of Dietrick’s teammates in Atlanta — Renee Montgomery and Tiffany Hayes — as well as one of Peddy’s teammates, Natasha Cloud. Minnesota’s Maya Moore, a four-time WNBA champion and former league MVP, is sitting out her second straight season advocating for prosecutorial reform in the American justice system.
On the court, players will use their platform in myriad ways. The courts will have “Black Lives Matter” painted on them, an idea that Seattle’s Breanna Stewart proposed in June.
Peddy and Swords are especially active on social media. Swords often encourages citizens to participate in primary elections. Two of her brothers have worked on Capitol Hill. The WNBA Players Association partnered with “Rock the Vote” in 2018, and Swords is also involved with Michelle Obama’s “When We All Vote” initiative.
NY, KY, VA: you’re up! May the force be with you 💪🤘🗳 https://t.co/Shm8Y9Hyqk— Carolyn Swords (@CarolynSwords) June 22, 2020
“Our league, and really our players, have a history of being aware and caring deeply about their communities,” Swords said. “Despite some of the other issues in and around voter suppression that are outside of our immediate control, the start is with casting the vote.”
Peddy looks forward to learning from her WNBA peers this summer.
“I’m able to surround myself this summer with other players who are familiar and can educate me on what’s going on,” Peddy said. “That way I can educate my followers as well.
“It’s bigger than basketball, and not everybody can afford or choose to sit out. For me, I don’t think I have the biggest platform, but I do have a platform.
“I have a great résumé for basketball, but I don’t want to be remembered for my actions on the court. I want to make a difference off of it.”
Dietrick, 26, also anticipates returning to an enriching environment.
“I’m definitely in the learning process, trying to learn and be as much of an ally as I can,” Dietrick said. “And at the same time, be someone who is elevating the voices of Black women, because at this point in time, I don’t feel like my voice is the one that necessarily needs to be heard as loudly as my amazing, incredible teammates.”
Swords, 30, briefly retired — from late February until mid May — before announcing a comeback. She had planned to stick with the Aces as a marketing specialist after interning with the department last season, but came back to fill a need in the frontcourt when center Ji-Su Park opted not to come to the United States from Korea for the season.
“COVID has kind of changed everything,” Swords said. “The team had a need for a center and asked if I was available, and I was.”
Peddy, 31, played in 15 games for the Mystics in her WNBA debut last season. After getting cut, Peddy stuck with the team as a video and analytics assistant coach, and the 5-foot-10-inch guard found her way back on the roster this week and “still has something to prove.”
Dietrick, a 5-10 guard, has played parts of three seasons in the WNBA.
While some players are sitting out for social justice and health reasons, for all three Massachusetts natives, making the choice to play was not difficult.
“It was pretty much a no-brainer for me for several reasons,” Dietrick said. “I think we can do so much with our platform, even in the bubble. I think that there’s just an opportunity there to create and affect social justice.
“The second thing is, I just want to play, I just want to ball.”
WNBA teams will have a two-week training camp beginning next week and will play a 22-game schedule starting in late July, followed by a traditional playoff format.
Swords’s professional career included stints in Turkey, Italy, and Australia. Dietrick has played in Greece and Australia. Peddy has suited up for teams in Austria, Israel, Germany, and Latvia. Their overseas experiences will help them adjust for this summer.
“When you go overseas to some of these countries, you’re pretty much confined to just your city,” Peddy said. “It reminds me too of AAU or going to camp back in the day, being on campus.”
The WNBA ratified a new eight-year collective bargaining agreement in January, raising average player salaries to above six figures, in addition to improved travel accommodations, expanded offseason career development opportunities, and paid maternity leave. Players will receive full salaries for the slightly shortened 2020 season.
“I’m really proud that the CBA is really showcasing how hard players across the whole history of the league have worked, showcasing how awesome the women of the WNBA are on and off the court,” Swords said.