COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - As the head coach of South Carolina women’s basketball team and the U.S. Women’s National Team, Dawn Staley uses her platform to create dialogue for equity and change.
Staley stood with current and former student-athletes recently as they rallied and demanded that the university change the name of the Strom Thurmond Fitness and Wellness Center, but she didn’t stop there. Staley has also taken to social media voicing her concerns and demanding change following the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
“It’s frustrating,” Staley said. “It’s tiresome and it’s unnecessary, but I don’t know how many more we’re all going to have to witness in order for us to move past this, but we have to have stamina.”
“Some people see it as racism. Some people see it as a need to comply. Some people see it as a number of things. I see it as wrong,” she added. “No matter how you look at it, it’s wrong. I read so much and reading, sometimes, is almost like you get diagnosed with a disease. The moment you get a break, you go and Google everything about the disease and it causes you to see more than you want to see and digest more than you should, but in this case, it’s like a disease. It’s another pandemic that’s been happening for 400 years and we have yet to find the vaccine for it. Well, we shouldn’t stop.”
With the stoppage of games in professional leagues across the country, Staley had stood alongside the athletes supporting protests in an effort to invoke change. Among those that she has staunchly supported are the players in the WNBA.
“The WNBA has been incredible,” Staley said. “They’ve been leaders for social justice for a very long time. I think we just have a better sense of organization and wanting change and we know how to go about doing it and we lean on each other. I think Nneka (Ogwumike) has been tremendous in her organization of getting players to come together and talk. They just look so unified.
“It’s not surprising to hear that some of the players in the NBA are leaning on our leaders in the WNBA to see which way to go and I do think we’ll need them. They’re the millionaires. They’re the people that can get in some rooms that women can’t and, hopefully, change some things and have that trickle-down effect to the WNBA. The WNBA is doing great with the things that they’ve implemented. They’ve held strong. Their voice is getting stronger and this is just years of doing this.”
But Staley believes the work stoppage doesn’t just affect the pro leagues. She believes it could impact the Olympics as well.
“It could be very similar to the NBA players and the Milwaukee Bucks not playing,” she said. “You have to understand, too, the players that will make up our Olympic team are the same players that play in the WNBA. I don’t think just because it’s the Olympics, they’ll change their views on how they feel. That’s just my opinion.”
Speaking of opinions, Staley said she has been careful not to impress hers on her student-athletes in light of recent events. Instead, she hopes they’re able to come up with their own.
“I want them to be able to digest what’s happening,” she said. “I want them to feel whatever it is that they’re feeling. I did it purposefully for the last few days. I didn’t say anything because I wanted them to say something to me, but then I sat and thought last night, I’m here to help them navigate and, maybe, they’re not comfortable in sharing how their feeling or maybe they don’t want to disrupt the flow of what we have going on.
“Then, I just reached out to them last night. I’m hesitant to bring these things up because I’m so afraid of them taking on my views of how I see things and I don’t want them to do that because I want them to be individuals and I want them to feel how they feel on a personal level.”
Staley said she keeps in touch with A’ja Wilson and other former Gamecocks in the WNBA to see what’s going on in order to tell her current players what’s happening at the next level. In fact, Staley said she will meeting with her players via Zoom, but she has already gauged how they feel about the recent events that have transpired in the U.S.
“A lot of them just have a sentiment of sadness. They don’t have any words. So, I just decided after texting them in our group thread that it would be a great idea for us to just talk about it in that space and then, we’ll go from there.”
In order to create the change that so many are seeking, Staley believes it will be up to young people, such as her student-athletes, to speak up for social justice. Staley said she wouldn’t be surprised if her players opted not to play if a similar instance occurs during their season. If it did happen, she added that she wouldn’t stand in their way to express their demand for social justice.
“They’re going to have to put their feelings out there. They’re going to have to use their voices in order for change to happen,” Staley said. “It’s an exhausting process, an exhausting cycle that continues. I hope in my lifetime we will see it and I don’t want to put a damper on it, but it doesn’t seem to be getting better.”
Staley was recently named as a member of the SEC’s newly created Council on Racial Equity and Social Justice. The council brings coaches, administrators, and student-athletes together to promote racial equality and social reform.
“I’m looking forward to just the dialogue in order for us to make change,” Staley said. “I do believe that the SEC prides itself on being the leader in all things. So, I’m hoping that social justice is one of the things that the commissioner prides himself on changing and being a model for conferences all over the country.”
Staley understands that her responses on social media can sometimes seem confrontational when approached about these issues, but she said her responses come from her heart.
“I do think about what I’m saying and I put it out there using my 280 characters,” Staley said. “What I do know is I have a responsibility to know that there could be some resistance and there could be some ugliness that comes from it, but I’ve got thick skin. I’m willing to put myself out there to hear it, to see it, to block, to mute, to do all of those things, but you really see our country is divided, incredibly divided.”
While Staley is calling for social justice, she’s also encouraging fans and followers alike to vote in the upcoming election.
“Exercise your right to vote,” she said, “and I hope I’m reaching the people who aren’t registered to vote so they can vote and figure out who they want to vote for, what changes they want to see in the country that impacts them directly. Once you figure that out, vote for who you need to vote for. I stand by that. Vote for who you think can help you personally, you individually, and help your family.”