As 2020 season begins without her, Mystics’ Natasha Cloud fights for social reform

By Demetrius Dillard/The Sports Pulse Contributor
Courtesy Photo

WASHINGTON – Over the past two months, Washington Mystics guard Natasha Cloud has emerged as one of the leading sports figures advocating for social justice amid growing national unrest.

As part of her ongoing commitment to social reform, Cloud said she would forego the 2020 WNBA season. The team’s all-time assists leader will instead add her name to a growing number of professional athletes who will sit out their respective seasons over either health concerns or pursue activist efforts.

The 6-footer said on her social media platforms that her decision to opt-out was for a cause that is bigger than basketball.

“This has been one of the toughest decisions of my career, but I will be foregoing the 2020 WNBA season,” Cloud said. “There are a lot of factors that led to this decision, but the biggest one is that I am more than an athlete.

Without Cloud and several other key players, the Mystics will start their season on Saturday with 10 players. In response to her decision, Mystics head coach and General Manager Mike Thibault said that the team supports Cloud’s decision. 

“Her commitment to social justice issues is of utmost importance to her and, therefore, to the Mystics organization,” Thibault said. “We will continue to be partners with her and all of our players on their commitment to social justice reform as we go forward into this season and beyond.”

On Juneteenth (June 19), Cloud protested alongside several of her teammates and Washington Wizards players in a march from Capitol One Arena to Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. She said in multiple interviews, social media posts and in marches in D.C. and Philadelphia that she values her platform as an athlete-activist during this time in U.S. history.

Also, Cloud made history as the first female ever to sign a shoe deal with Converse. The company acknowledged Cloud’s story on The Players’ Tribune, published shortly after the death of George Floyd, and her social justice advocacy as the primary reason the company decided to sign her. 

“Cloud is known for extending her influence through leadership efforts that place emphasis on being a voice for the voiceless, specifically using her platform to speak out against the racial injustices that are killing Black people in America, while also advocating for equality for women and the LGBTQ+ community and working to guide youth in her communities,” Converse said in a statement.

“As with all members of the Converse family, our goal is to serve as both a canvas for their creative vision and to spark progress in their communities. We look forward to amplifying her voice for the causes she believes in and will keep you updated on our community efforts following our recent commitment.”

All the acclaim for Cloud, a native of Broomall, Pennsylvania, is coming after she averaged a career-best 9 points and 5.6 assists in 2019 to help the Mystics to their first WNBA title.

Despite her career progressing forward, Cloud said there is more critical now than ever before to get involved in social causes.

“I have a responsibility to myself, to my community, and to my future children to fight for something that is much bigger than myself and the game of basketball,” Cloud said. “I will instead continue the fight on the front lines for social reform because, until black lives matter, all lives can’t matter.”

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Beal, Cloud, lead march against police brutality and social injustice

Washington Wizards and Washington Mystics stand up for equality

By Brooks Warren/The Sports Pulse Contributor

WASHINGTON – The Washington Mystics and Washington Wizards basketball teams banded together for a march that spanned two-miles in protest of racial injustice and police brutality and to celebrate Juneteenth. 

Juneteenth commemorated the emancipation of the remaining enslaved Americans 155 years ago.

The march, organized by the Wizards guard Bradley Beal and the Mystics star Natasha Cloud, joined the group of protesters following the highly publicized deaths of multiple Black Americans, notably George Floyd, at the hands of police officers.

“Juneteenth is a day of celebration,” Cloud said. “It’s a day of liberation. It’s a day that we were finally freed from our bondage. We couldn’t think of a better day than today to come out here and come together, collectively, and unified in solidarity with one another for a greater cause.”

The march also followed up on sparked interest by Americans to learn about the history of Juneteenth. 

On June 19, 1865, the last American slaves living in Texas were given their independence and freedom two years after signing the Emancipation Proclamation. 

For Beal, not only is Juneteenth a day of celebration, but it’s a day to reflect on one’s actual freedoms.

“By definition, it is the ability to act and speak whenever you want, (about) whatever you want without any restraint,” Beal said. “Prejudices are normalized and condoned, where these things are taught and passed down generation to generation, encouraged and oftentimes celebrated? How does the black community grow when lives are taken from them without justice and without any consequences?”

Cloud said it’s vital for players on both teams to embrace the city during this moment. While Beal has been the face for the Wizards during the protests, leading his teammates posted a collective statement following Floyd’s death, Friday’s match was Cloud and the Mystics’ idea. 

“She actually hit me up a couple of weeks ago, wanting to march, and I was all in,” Beal said. “We pitched it to the rest of our teams, and we all agreed that it was something that was going to be powerful and meaningful to us.” 

Using her platform to speak up as an activist, Cloud recently penned an essay to The Players Tribune addressing systemic racism and calling for an end of the silence from all individuals, especially professional athletes. Cloud announced that she would not compete in the upcoming WNBA season to dedicate more time for social reform

“We can’t ignore this anymore,” Cloud said to the crowd of protesters. “That’s been our message to everyone in America. You can’t ignore this anymore. Your silence is a knee on our neck.” 

Before the march started, Cloud and Beal, wearing “Black Lives Matter” shirts, spoke about the movement and how meaningful and recent emotional protests made them feel. When asked about any past run-ins with police, both players flashed pained grins before speaking on past experiences. 

Beal, the Wizards leading scorer, first recounted being profiled by police while driving with four basketball players in a predominantly white neighborhood. He then recalled being stopped on Interstate 495, the main highway that circles across the metropolitan region, with his fiance and a friend. 

“It happened here, two years ago,” Beal said, “The officer asked me to step out of the vehicle, I’m literally on the side of the highway-the median of the highway on the side, and he comes up to me and says, ‘What if I f*** you up Monday and put you on a headline and arrest you right now?’”

The experience did not lead to an arrest but still affects Beal to this day, causing him to hang his hat below his eyes and change his voice tone. The star guard said he is aware that his tale is not an outlier and that it is time for Americans not to be ignorant about racism. 

Following more than two weeks of protests, which included looting and peaceful gatherings in downtown Washington, D.C., it was their turn as athletes to join the cause. Some players spoke about their experiences dealing with police, while others said it was time to hold everybody accountable, including those who had yet to talk about the topic. 

“Your neutrality is taking the side of the oppressor,” Cloud said. “With Black Lives Matter Plaza, you have to see it. You have to wake up to it every single day. You have to go by it every day. It’s a subtle reminder that we’re here, and we still matter. Our lives have always mattered, and until black lives matter, not all lives matter.”

Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the ownership group who controls the Wizards and Mystics, said it would continue building momentum from the march with several initiatives. It includes selecting two nonprofits each season, one dedicated to addressing police brutality and the other to voting, and organizing specialized programming with players and fans.

As he listened to his peers, read off a list of names who dealt with police brutality at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Beal said he felt that with the support of the people and his teammates, meaningful change is coming in the future. 

“This march was just a stepping stone,” Beal said. “Now our real action and our real trials begin. Together we stand.”

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Local teen helps organize iRacing event honoring George Floyd while garnering support for BLM movement

By Demetrius Dillard/The Sports Pulse Contributor

WASHINGTON — Two young gentlemen, one of whom is a local teen, joined forces to organize an event honoring the memory of George Floyd and countless other Black Americans who have lost their lives due to police brutality and racial injustice.

Rajah Caruth, a Washington, D.C. native, is an aspiring race car driver who collaborated with his friend, Monon Rahman, to coordinate the #GeorgeFloyd100 – an iRacing event designed to raise awareness of some of the social issues that have sparked worldwide protests over the past few weeks.

Caruth’s interest in NASCAR dates back to his adolescent days. Today, the 17-year-old is using his lifelong passion for not only enlightening the motorsports community but also gather support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Rahman, a motorsports engineer, recently approached Caruth with the initial idea of coordinating the iRacing event after noticing the motorsports community had been relatively silent following the death of George Floyd.

“Approached @rajahcaruth_ with this a few days ago – we want to shed more light on George’s death from the motorsports/iracing community since not much has been done for him in the industry,” Rahman wrote in a June 1 Twitter post.

“I had actually been wondering how something can be done really in the motorsports community just because nobody had really said anything yet,” Caruth said, adding that the outcome of the event exceeded expectations.

Rajah Caruth puts on his racing gloves as he gets ready to compete. Photo by Daniel Kucin Jr./The Sports Pulse

The two were able to get more than 100 entries for the race and wound up raising more than $1,200 for the George Floyd Memorial Fund along with additional funds for related causes such as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

“It wasn’t only to raise money, but to bring awareness and to hopefully have people from the motorsports community speak up and not ignore everything, you know,” said Caruth, who competed in the race as well.

“It was overall very fun to compete in, and it was cool to organize as well.”

Deemed an “ultimate global racing portal,” iRacing is an online racing simulation game that consists of a growing global community of global racers. Contestants in the race donated to the Floyd Memorial Fund and had paint schemes on their cars that paid tribute to victims of racial injustice, such as Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery.

“I feel like the people that competed in it felt like they were a part of something bigger than themselves,” said Caruth, an incoming freshman at Winston-Salem State University (N.C.) who will major in motorsports management. “That was very cool just to see them not so pressed about the result of the race, but why the race was happening.”

Caruth, a recent graduate of the School Without Walls in Northwest Washington, is a second-year member of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program. He has finished top 10 in the Bojangles’ Summer Shootout race and will participate in the Summer Shootout again fairly soon along with the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series.

The race, broadcasted live by STN Racing on the evening of June 5, was action-packed and won by eSports driver Jake Nichols. Shortly after the event, Caruth extended his gratitude to participants and acknowledgments to his partners with a heartfelt tweet.

“HUGE congrats to @JakeNichols73 on the win! My race was one to forget, but the event is one to be remembered forever. Thank you to everyone that registered, donated, competed, and supported this event,” expressed Caruth, also a development driver for Richmond Raceway eSports with aspirations of entering the professional NASCAR ranks one day.

“It means a lot to people of color not only in the sim racing community but in the motorsports community as well, to see such love and support in these hurtful times. I want to give @MononInc (Monon Rahman) the biggest thank you of all. Thank you for calling me last weekend with this idea and allowing me to pitch in and spread it around. 

“In addition, thank you to the broadcast team @STNRacing for broadcasting this event, and giving people a chance to watch it. Thank you to @steveluvender, @SimSeats, @RReSports, and every single person that aided this event’s completion. Thank you all. #BlackLivesMatter.”

Washington, D.C. Protests (Photos)