WNBA Star Breanna Stewart Joins the #MeToo Movement, Saying ‘Courage Is Contagious’

In sharing, I know that no matter how uncomfortable I typically am making things about myself, as a public survivor, I now assume a certain responsibility. So I’ll start by saying this: If you are being abused, tell somebody. If that person doesn’t believe you, tell somebody else. A parent, a family member, a teacher, a coach, a friend’s parent. Help is there.”

Breanna Stewart

The #MeToo movement, which has inspired thousands of people—mostly women—to go public about their experiences with sexual harassment and assault, has rocked numerous industries to their foundations. Those who have shared their stories have broken codes of silence that protect abusers and marginalize if not destroy survivors. While Hollywood is receiving the lion’s share of the scrutiny, #MeToo is also shaking the world of sports—and it could not have come soon enough. As Olympic gold-medalist Nancy Hogshead-Makar said, “Given the number of vulnerable youth in sports and the power dynamics at play of coaches, scholarships and advancement, abuse has been both inevitable and rampant for too long.” The first step to ending the abuse is ending the silence, and this week one of the most decorated athletes in the United States, basketball star Breanna Stewart, went public with her story, published Monday at The Player’s Tribune.

Breanna Stewart, who turned 23 this fall, is arguably the most accomplished young basketball player in history, winning four NCAA titles in her four years at UConn, which she followed up with a gold medal at the 2016 Olympics as well as winning the WNBA’s rookie-of-the-year award, playing for the Seattle Storm. Stewart, like so many survivors, considered staying silent, but, as she wrote, that came with its own cost: “Even though I play in front of thousands of people or talk to reporters all the time, I have quiet moments every day that no one sees. That’s often when I think about it. I could be surrounded by my teammates or friends or complete strangers, living life as I normally would, and memories like lightning will strike.”

Breanna Stewart was immediately bombarded with network-media requests, but for now has decided to let her piece speak for itself. We were able however to get comment here at The Nation and I’m so glad we did, because here words speak volumes about this moment at the intersection of sports and social justice. My one question to Stewart was: “Why go public now?”

She said:

Well, I think courage can be contagious. Hearing [Olympic Gymnast] McKayla Maroney’s story [of sexual abuse] and all the voices joining in #MeToo, dating back to [non-profit organizer] Tarana Burke, who really started it in 1997 and didn’t get a lot of credit for it. Even the momentum you feel around the NFL players’ organizing and forcing ownership to the table. Then there was my team, the Seattle Storm formally supporting Planned Parenthood. It’s inspiring to see other athletes using their voices. We are existing in what seems like a political pressure cooker right now, but I would like to believe that it’s worth being engaged because on the other side of all this, if we work hard enough, there is something better for everyone. I want to know that I stood up when it was hard, because that’s when it really counts. That’s when I can help push the conversation forward and maybe even save somebody’s life. I have this platform and as hard as it is to talk about, wouldn’t it be a shame not to use it? We don’t all have to do everything, but if we all did one thing true to us and then supported others doing the same, can you imagine where we all might get? I hope by sharing I can encourage others to be brave too. About whatever they care about and to have compassion for others. You never know what they might be going through.

What Stewart said about being inspired by the Storm’s commitment to Planned Parenthood and the protests of NFL players—in addition to the #MeToo sportspeople—is so important to our understanding. None of these sports struggles exists in a vacuum, and the way they reinforce and build the confidence of athletes across a host of issues is vital to recognize. It also must be noted that Stewart, who was not explicitly political in college, has come out of her activist shell as a pro, even attending the airport demonstrations in opposition to Trump’s Muslim ban. Her confidence to be open and honest about something so painful, is in part a confidence forged from empowering collective actions. She decided that her personal had became political.

As she writes, “Part of why I waited so long to tell so many people—even those very close to me—is because I don’t want to be defined by this any more than I want to be only defined by how well I play basketball. Both things are a part of me—they make me who I am. We are all a little more complicated than we might seem. And I can finally sleep.”

Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
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