WNBA Star Candace Parker Says League Protests Against Racial Injustice Are ‘Bigger Than a Sport’

Power Women Summit 2020: Parker discusses breaking barriers with actress and model Isis King, fashion designer Elle B. Mambetov, classical-fusion violinist Ezinma and international DJ Michelle Pesce

Two years ago, as Colin Kaepernick faced heavy backlash from the NFL and President Trump for kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice, players for the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks decided they would stay off the court during the national anthem during its biggest games of the season as a show of support.

The backlash would be swift — and loud.

“We were booed because we didn’t come out for the anthem by an entire crowd in a Finals game. So that was kind of the moment where I was like, this is bigger than basketball. It’s bigger than a sport,” Sparks power forward and center Candace Parker said during a panel at TheWrap’s Power Women Summit.

Even before Kaepernick, WNBA players have long been fighting against police brutality and racial injustice. But this year, after the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the police shooting of Jacob Blake, it wasn’t just a select few players across pro sports who were speaking out.

“This year, it was nice to stand in solidarity with our brothers in the NBA and across the leagues and to have support, because, in years past, in generations past, it was a couple of athletes who would stand up and say, ‘This isn’t right.’ You think of Muhammad Ali, you think of Bill Russell. But there’s never been entire leagues that have done this,” Parker said. “So for this year, in 2020, to be a part of this historical season, to be able to have 144 people in the WNBA be a part of something so great and standing with the NBA, it was really special to be able to have that impact and to be able to use our platform in that way.”

Later in the panel, actress and model Isis King (HBO’s “Equal,” “America’s Next Top Model”) — who joined Parker, fashion designer Elle B. Mambetov, classical-fusion violinist Ezinma and international DJ Michelle Pesce to discuss breaking barriers — said that while her life story and career has been a rollercoaster of ups and downs, discovering the extent of her impact on others has encouraged her to keep working toward her dreams.

King said there was a message she received from a young gay man after finishing her run on “America’s Next Top Model” that made clear how big of an impact she was having on others.

“He reached out to me through MySpace and he said, ‘I was about to commit suicide but I saw your story and it helped me realize there was a light at the end of the tunnel.’ So at that moment, it made me realize that even though I was just living my life and I wanted to succeed, the impact that it had was so big for so many people,” King said.

The moment certainly made her “feel pressured,” King said — especially since she was beginning her transition at the time.

“I still had to figure out who I was, on top of having no money, on top of now having this pressure to make the right decisions because it was going to impact so many people and inspire so many people,” King said.

But speaking with another woman in New York who had moved from Asia, transitioned and pursued her career as a model after seeing King’s story was yet another encouraging reminder of the paths she was creating for others.

“It’s moments like that that keep me going, when I say, ‘Oh snap, I inspired this person to do this? I can’t give up,'” King said.

Mambetov discussed what it was like to return to the fashion industry after being wrongly imprisoned, Ezinma shared how she ventured out by posting classical-fusion videos on social media and earned the attention of Beyoncé’s team, and Pesce talked about her fight to getting equal pay for female performers.

To hear their stories about breaking barriers, check out the full conversation above.

The Power Women Summit, presented by the WrapWomen Foundation, is the largest annual gathering of the most influential women in entertainment, media and technology. The Summit aims to inspire and empower women across the landscape of their professional careers and personal lives. This year’s all-virtual PWS provides three days of education, mentorship, workshops and networking around the globe to promote “Inclusion 360,” this year’s theme.