Professional Basketball

Disruptive Innovators: Minnesota Lynx have positive message if people would listen

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In the world of business there are disruptive innovators, those companies that completely break down the existing paradigms and make everybody react to them since they rewrite the rules in an attempt at market dominance. A prime example of a disruptive innovator is Amazon, which rewrote the playbook by merging a wide merchandise mix, targeted consumer data and fast delivery into one company that has set out to dominate the market.

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Minnesota Lynx forward Rebekkah Brunson shares a story from her childhood during Saturday’s pre-game press conference at Target Center. Photo by Abe Booker III.

Another disruptive innovator is the Minnesota Lynx. Through a solid core built around some of the best talent at each position, supplemented by athletic bench players and mixed with great coaches who always seem to find an edge on their opponents, the Lynx have disrupted the WNBA for the past six seasons with three WNBA championships in four Finals appearances, appeared in the Western Conference Finals five consecutive times and began the 2016 season with a league record 13-0 start before dropping a June 24 contest against the Los Angeles Sparks.

The Lynx have proven they can lead on the court and now they are disrupting off the court and in the halls of public opinion.

Prior to Saturday’s game against the Dallas Wings, the team’s captains, Rebekkah Brunson, Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen, held a joint press conference calling for an end to the violence that is plaguing the country in the wake of the Alton Sterling and Philando Castile deaths and the police shooting in Dallas. At the end of the press conference, they revealed warmup t-shirts that they wore during pre-game warmups that read “Change Starts with Us, Justice and Accountability” on the front, with “Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, the Dallas Police Department badge and Black Lives Matter” written on the back.

“In the wake of the tragedies that have continued to plague our society, we have decided that it is important to take a stand to raise our voices,” said Brunson. “Racial profiling is a problem. Senseless violence is a problem. The divide is away too big between our communities and those who have vowed to protect and serve us.”

Brunson related a story about when she was eight years old living in an apartment complex in Oxen Hill, Maryland, when two police officers showed up at the complex and pulled their guns on Brunson and other children who were playing outside “for no apparent reason.”

Minnesota Lynx forward Rebekkah Brunson shares a story from her childhood during Saturday’s pre-game press conference at Target Center. Photo by Abe Booker III.

Minnesota Lynx forward Rebekkah Brunson shares a story from her childhood during Saturday’s pre-game press conference at Target Center. Photo by Abe Booker III.

“At that age, we didn’t understand. I can remember then the fear that I felt. The unease of having people who were supposed to protect us drawing their weapons on a group of children, for what?” asked Brunson. The deaths of Sterling and Castile at the hands of police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and St. Paul, Minnesota brought those feelings of fear back to the forefront.

The Alton Sterling death hit Augustus hard because it happened in the neighborhood that she grew up in, while the Castile death occurred in the Twin Cities area where they work and

participate in community events. Both incidents were recorded with the graphic videos shared on social media.

“That neighborhood, Fairfield, is where I spent twenty-something years of my life. I was still living in that house up to 2009, so I know that neighborhood all too well, in particular that corner store,” related Augustus. “I would go there all the time to get snacks. It got to the point where the owner knew me and let me leave out of the store with gum because I would come in and get the same thing.”

“To see something happen like that, it just makes me think about how that could have been a family member, a friend, a cousin, a neighbor or classmate. If I could be at home right now, I would want to be, in order to help support that neighborhood. We just want to provide some positive change,” Augustus added.

Despite fears of racial profiling and support of the black community, the Dallas Police Department wasn’t forgotten or ignored. They, too, were at the forefront of the players thoughts.

“It’s tragic that one of the departments that are actually leading the way in positive change, the Dallas PD, was a victim of such a senseless ambush,” said Moore. “The Dallas mayor and the police chief have led the way in implementing de-escalation training and other efforts that have led to a noticeable drop in the number of shootings by his officers in the last few years. We do not in any way condone violence against the men and women who serve in our police force. Senseless violence and retaliation will not bring us peace.”

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Minnesota Lynx captains Lindsay Whalen, Maya Moore, Rebekkah Brunson and Seimone Augustus show off the back of their warmup t-shirts during Saturday’s press conference. Photo by Abe Booker III.

Professional athletes standing up for people from the black community and law enforcement community in a positive effort to take the hurt and anger and turn it into something positive is something that normally would be lauded, and at first, it was. The Lynx management approved the shirts and the WNBA was notified in advance of the press conference.

Then something got lost in translation.

Upon seeing the warm up t-shirts, four Minneapolis police officers who were contracted by the Lynx walked out after reading “Black Lives Matter” on the back of the shirt. Lt. Bob Kroll, Minneapolis Police Federation president, praised the actions of the police officers and criticized the Lynx players for “rushing to judgement” and “citing false narratives.”

Perhaps it was Kroll who rushed to judgement by missing the representation of the Dallas Police Department in the press conference or on the shirt. Nonetheless, the story was picked up by national media outlets and spread like wildfire throughout and already inflamed country.

On social media, the Lynx were chastised for being “anti-cop” with some pro-police supporters saying that the Lynx should not have police protection at the Target Center. Others have commented that they didn’t know that the “WNBA still exists,” while Kroll himself said that the police department only has four officers working the event because “the Lynx have such a pathetic draw.” The attendance for Saturday’s game against Dallas was 7,613, and they drew 18,933 fans for Game 5 of the WNBA Finals on October 14, 2015.

Invoking the incident in 2003 when the Dixie Chicks strayed from entertainment and voiced their political opinions publicly and lost their base of support, others have said that the Lynx should just stick to playing basketball and not use their platform for political statements. However, most of these comments have come from people who have rarely, if ever, attended a WNBA game.

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Minnesota Lynx captains Lindsay Whalen, Maya Moore, Rebekkah Brunson and Seimone Augustus show off the front of their warmup t-shirts during Saturday’s press conference. Photo by Abe Booker III.

The Lynx organization responded with a public statement on the matter Monday night: “The Lynx organization was made aware about the concerns of the off duty Minneapolis police officers who had signed up to work Saturday night’s game vs. Dallas. While our players message mourned the loss of life due to last week’s shootings, we respect the right of those individual officers to express their own beliefs in their own way. At no time was the safety of our game in question as Target Center staffs extra personnel for each and every game. The Lynx and the entire WNBA have been saddened by the recent shootings in Dallas, Baton Rouge, and St. Paul. We continue to urge a constructive discussion about the issues raised by these tragedies.”

Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau released her statement on Tuesday: “While I do not condone the actions of the officers, I realize how every member of law enforcement throughout this country, including myself, is feeling right now. Everyone is hurting and we all need to find a way to come together. I am proud of our profession and the service our officers provide on a daily basis. Accountability is a must but police officers also deserve and need public support. Although these officers were working on behalf of the Lynx, when wearing a Minneapolis Police uniform I expect all officers to adhere to our core values and to honor their oath of office. Walking off the job and defaulting on their contractual obligation to provide a service to the Lynx does not conform to the expectations held by the public for the uniform these officers wear.”

Also on Tuesday, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges weighed in on Facebook in a statement against the police labor leader. “Bob Kroll’s remarks about the Lynx are jackass remarks. Let me be clear: labor leadership inherently does not speak on behalf of management. Bob Kroll sure as hell doesn’t speak for me about the Lynx or about anything else,” Hodges wrote.

Following the Board of Governor’s meeting on Tuesday, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was asked about the matter, saying, “I’m absolutely in favor of players speaking from the hearts on issues important to them. My preference would be players adhere to our uniforms. It’s a slippery slope.”

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Minnesota Lynx captains Lindsay Whalen, Maya Moore, Rebekkah Brunson and Seimone Augustus show off the front of their warmup t-shirts during Saturday’s press conference. Photo by Abe Booker III.

A lot of people have sounded off on the t-shirts since the story went viral this week, but the thing that is missing from the discussion is the intent behind the players actions.

“Can we as a community, especially our leaders, have accountability in owning our weaknesses and really humble ourselves to realize the conviction that we must improve the realities of justice, freedom and safety for all people?” asked Moore. “We as a nation can decide to stand up for what is right, no matter your race, background or social status. It is time that we take a deep look at our ability to be compassionate and empathetic to those suffering from the programs that are deep within our society. Again, this is a human issue and we need to speak out for change together.”

Augustus said, “Man, we just need peace. That’s all I can say. You cannot fight violence, racism or sexism with violence. We have to find some way to find some common ground and find some peace. Some kind of way we gotta bridge that gap. We need each other, so we just have to find a way.”

As more and more people are talking about the shirts, the Lynx have raised their profile. The team has succeeded in attaining a level of attention among non-WNBA fans that money can’t buy. They also set a goal of fostering a discussion on the issues plaguing our society, which apparently they accomplished. If only people would take the time to listen to their message, perhaps that gap can finally be bridged.

NOTE: Following Saturday’s 93-56 win over the Dallas Wings, Lynx forward Maya Moore addressed approximately 500 fans for the team’s annual Faith and Family Night. Local Christian artists Mark Alan Schoolmeesters and DeMarcus Green performed their new song “We Stand Together” for the first time to promote healing after last week’s shootings.

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1 Comment

  1. Rykki

    July 14, 2016 at 8:26 pm

    Not a fan any longer. Shirts were offensive in that the Dallas emblem wasn’t obvious. Very poor idea.