WASHINGTON — Nearly four years ago to the day Natasha Cloud walked into a Washington Mystics practice feeling it was her responsibility to make a statement. Not one in her play but one in her voice and in her off-court actions.
Over the previous two weeks, there were two separate shootings outside of Hendley Elementary School — a school less than two miles away from the team’s practice facility and arena. In both shootings, no one was hurt but bullets shattered windows and forced the school into lockdowns.
At the very next game, the Mystics, led by Cloud, held a monumental media blackout. No players spoke about basketball. The point guard did all the speaking and in her media time, the only discussion was about gun violence.
It was a significant moment for Cloud as she was blossoming as a leader of the franchise. Not only was she a point guard directing flow on the court but at the moment she began directing action off of it as well. She found an additional voice, not one of just volume and projection but, one as an athlete with a large platform with the power to enact societal change.
“I didn’t truly know how powerful my platform was at the time,” Cloud told NBC Sports Washington this week. “How powerful my voice was because I was in college, and then even early on in my career in the W, just I knew it was the blueprint that we spoke on social issues. But it was like, ‘How do I utilize my platform in order to do that?’… So I feel like [the shootings] triggered me, that I don’t have to know what the right thing to do is. The right thing to do is speak up and use this platform.”
Four years have gone by and the charge Cloud put forward that Friday night in June has now become an annual recognition by the organization. This Friday night, the Mystics are hosting their third straight Wear Orange game when they play the Dallas Wings at the Entertainment and Sports Arena.
The event coincides with the ninth annual Gun Violence Awareness Day. Washington will honor Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts at halftime of the contest. She will be one of several ‘women trailblazers’ the organization will recognize with their Rebel jerseys throughout the 2023 season.
“It’s important. Everyone knows the state of our country is horrible in terms of gun awareness and gun availability,” Tianna Hawkins said. “We want to continue to bring focus and use our voice to make laws change because it’s just going to have to happen. It’s not safe to do anything, it’s not safe to send your kids to school, it’s not safe to go to church, not safe to go to the movies, it’s not safe to live at this point. It’s good to have a game like that to continue to spread awareness.”
“We know when you wear orange, you know what it represents,” Brittney Sykes added in a joint availability. “So you’re still paying homage to those who have lost their lives to gun violence as well. So it’s both, you want to stop it and still represent those people in some shape or form.”
It was that night in 2019 that then-head coach and now-general manager Mike Thibault said they can’t just speak on the issues. They had to “follow up and be a part of the process,” taking a stand had “to be an ongoing thing, that cannot be a one-off thing.”
Certainly, the organization has followed through since. They connected Cloud with the organization ‘Everytown for Gun Safety’ – the game partner for Friday’s festivities – to help her turn her passion into more actionable pursuits. There have been several media blackouts in the time following, some for gun violence awareness and some for other forms of advocacy.
Her action snowballed and opened the door for other Washington Mystics to find their own voices in the causes they support. Remember, this organization initiated a boycott of a game during the 2020 bubble season and prompted the league to suspend play.
Last season was their most recent media blackout, which came after the school shooting at Uvalde Elementary School in Texas.
“Yeah, for me at the moment (in 2019), I know I put a lot of pressure on me, this team and this organization. And still now, years later, I’ll tell you, I don’t care because it was the right thing to do, right? And so again, that sentiment of I’m very thankful to be where I am,” Cloud said. “They provide me with meetings with lawmakers, with gun violence organizations that I would align with and my values and my core of who I am, which is Everytown, and they are doing a phenomenal job. But this organization just presented me with a lot of different opportunities to use my voice and to use this platform, my platform, our platform,”
Following Friday’s game, Cloud – a legal gun owner – will speak with the Moms Demand Action group. She’ll listen to their stories and vulnerabilities. She’ll also ask what more she can do for them to continue their fight for gun violence awareness.
As members of Ward 8, the organization feels an even greater responsibility to champion the efforts initiated by Cloud four years ago. Her efforts back then have directly led to nights like this one, which occur on an annual basis. Her teammates and coaches give all the credit to Cloud who’s been leading the charge. It’s led to closer relationships with their local community and shows how this team represents them.
“I think we’ve done a really good job of utilizing our resources and providing them back to the community,” Cloud said. “Whatever you need, we’re willing to do whatever you ask for, yeah, we’re gonna try to make it happen. And so even with this game on Friday night, we want not only the people that care about it and want to change. Come to our games, right? Embrace it with us. We also want victims and their families to have a safe space to come and know that they’re heard, that they’re seen, that they’re loved and valued and we are trying with what we can do with the power that we have, we are trying to create change to utilize our voices, our platform to really just push the agenda”
Prior to the game, the team will host a private Mystics clinic for local youth and survivors of gun violence in partnership with Everytown, the TraRon Center, and the DC, Maryland and Virginia Chapters of Moms Demand Action. Fans attending the game will be able to purchase a t-shirt commemorating Wear Orange and have the opportunity to write an inspirational message to share why they Wear Orange. These messages will be used during a special in-game moment to demonstrate the collective power committed to the eradication of gun violence.