The Minnesota Lynx made it clear they were “not losing sleep” while waiting on an invitation from the White House to honor their 2017 WNBA championship win. Thus without the bother of the presidency and ignoring the reality of the week — the constant bashings of black athletes from the government’s king — one of the most successful dynasties in the decade chose philanthropy over decorum and celebration over presidential discourse.
At Payne Elementary, two miles away from the White House in Southeast Washington, Maya Moore and her teammates washed the feet of giggling toddlers. Their faces lit up with glee as they received new Jordan brand kicks. Their flex was apparent as they stood tall alongside basketball’s elite.
“This is patriotism,” head coach Cheryl Reeve declared at the beginning of the event.
The arguments over patriotism are strained at this point. They’re also mostly unwelcome for a few hours in front of the smiling young ones. Tom Emmer, a Republican from Minnesota, said this week on the House floor, “[The Lynx] take their commitment to service even beyond our state’s lines.”
Moore and Seimone Augustus dribbled with boys on a nearby court. Sylvia Fowles laughed with kids on another far basket. Lois Frankel, a Democrat from Florida, shot bricks with some kids. Lindsay Whalen launched triples as toddlers ran for rebounds. Peace had seeped into this court, far from the parodied version of patriotism clouding the presidency in recent days.
“We’re just focused on today and the positivity we are spreading to this community,” Whalen said. “We really want to be bringing people together.”
“Do you think that your not being invited has something to do with that?” someone asked Whalen, noting the Lynx have been one of the more outspoken teams regarding racial inequality and social justice since 2016 when Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were murdered by police.
“We just want to be out here and be positive and bring people together,” she reiterated.
I asked her if she was certain she didn’t want to talk about how the presidency was attacking black athletes, and families of color, like the majorly black students they were serving today.
“All we can do is have as much of an impact as we can,” she said.
This became the vibe of what players would discuss for the rest of the day. Moore chose her words carefully. The Lynx wanted to show compassion for what was happening, to be better neighbors and citizens, to hold those committing crimes attacking black life accountable. Moore said “we can’t control what we can’t control” and tread lightly addressing the attacks from the White House.
“The decisions we make to try and empower these kids, to celebrate what we’re doing, we need more conversation... especially by athletes. We have so much going on and a lot of responsibilities and hard things we are trying to do in our profession. We hope it means that much more to these kids and our community when we take the time to invest and connect and that it sparks more positive things.”
Seimone Augustus echoed the sentiment.
“It really doesn’t matter. I don’t even know if we got an invite,” she said. “As far as everything else, it is what it is. We deal with it as we can, as a human race.”
I asked her if what the president was doing — targeting black athletes and protestors as he’s done this week — bothered her.
“Obviously it does,” she said. “We are going to continue to do our part. We’ve been doing it since last year with the anthem and all that stuff. Today was a day where we felt, as a team, as a unit, that was way more special than the chaos of the White House.”
Augustus walked away and told a Lynx staffer that she hated “talking about the White House.” The disgust is understandable. Much of what the team has done is a respected attempt. Bringing joy and Jordans to underserved communities and having unprivileged kids feel joyous is what we often ask in terms of philanthropy from athletes. Having a stated commitment not to care about the reactions of the presidency, the whims of white supremacy and the attacks of Donald Trump and his supporters, is admirable. This truth is especially clear given the reality that these athletes shall continue to be attacked by this administration.
For as much as the Lynx and their staff wanted this day to not be about traditional celebrations and what champions do in the White House, the presentation was nearly identical as those seen on Pennsylvania Avenue. The WNBA championship was on display. Politicians were handed jerseys with their names on the backs. Risers grew from the stage, and kids were grouped into a makeshift audience in an auditorium.
Ann Rodriguez, the CEO of the WNBA, brought up Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith from Minnesota.
“You’ve signed honorary contracts with kids that face heartbreaking challenges, boys and girls who have always wanted to play basketball and can say, for at least one day, that they got to play with the champions,” Klobuchar said.
“There’s so much strength in this room, I look out at you guys and I’m just blown away,” Smith said, before speaking about the team’s talent and the kids in the room. “The fact that they came to be with you today, when they could’ve been in a lot of different places, some places they chose not to be. The fact that they chose to be with you, to me, speaks loads, not only about them but about you.”
Before the event ended Reeve was hesitant to discuss anything outside of the day, the specialness of epitomizing, to her, what champions were supposed to look like. Reeve said the nation should be proud of the example the team was setting. She was pushed on the optics of it all. That whiter teams than them are being invited to the White House, that male teams were coming unlike the, mostly, black women under her helm.
“As long as I can remember, from the beginning of the league, WNBA champions have been celebrated at the White House by the president,” Reeve said, noting sharing rooms with the Obamas. “It’s a confusing message... It’s plain for people to see. For us, we say that we’re not going to let anybody steal our joy. At the end of the day, we don’t need the White House to celebrate our championship.”
Nothing more needed to be understood. Philanthropic days as these are needed and the joy it created was infectious, as proven by the smiles illuminating 14th and C on a spring afternoon. The unwillingness to empower a white supremacist’s sentiment from the nation’s highest office was evidenced here. That much bears importance.
“Today was a celebration of so many things, including the WNBA,” Reeve concluded. “[The president] had no bearing on our decision to be here. This was, literally, our players being thoughtful in ways that we can use sport as a vehicle for change.”