Natasha Cloud, Washington Mystics hold ‘media blackout’

WASHINGTON – When the 2019 WNBA schedule was released, several Mystics players likely circled June 14: the date of their first game against the Storm, who had swept the Mystics in the 2018 WNBA Finals.

The Mystics even adopted the slogan “Run It Back” for the 2019 season to emphasize their hunger to get back to the finals and rewrite the ending. But for the fourth straight time against Seattle, Washington came up short, falling 74-71 on Friday.

In the postgame locker room, though, the scene was not one of Mystics players hanging their heads. Nor was it one of players letting off steam, frustrated at letting a game they had led by as many as 13 points slip away. When the media entered, Mystics star Elena Delle Donne deferred to guard Natasha Cloud, who rose from her locker, walked to the front of the room, and gave a brief statement. There would be no further questions, she announced.

Cloud was following through on a promise she had made the night before, with the full backing of her teammates. In the last month, three bullets have hit Hendley Elementary School, which sits just 1.7 miles from the Mystics’ arena in Washington D.C.’s Ward 8.

In an Instagram video on Thursday night, Cloud called on D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser and Councilman Trayon White, who represents Ward 8, to respond with solutions. They did not respond to Cloud’s satisfaction, so the team enforced a “media blackout” for Friday’s game. Cloud would be the sole voice of the team and would only answer questions about gun violence in the District.

In her initial video on Thursday night, Cloud painted the grim picture: “When you’re talking about empowering our youth and giving them opportunities, it starts with their education. And our kids can’t even feel safe to go to school right now! What are we doing? We gotta do better for our youth! We got to do better for our community!

“The fact that three bullets have gone through—the fact that one bullet has gone through that school’s window—but three in the month of June and nothing is being done. I’m calling everyone’s asses out. D.C., do better.”

Before Friday’s game, Cloud spent several minutes answering reporters’ questions about the shooting and the media blackout. The reason she felt compelled to act was simple: “We’re talking about five- and six-year-olds, and they’re in fear for their life. That was all that I needed. … Being in there, seeing the kids, hearing them talk about it as just something that happens—this shouldn’t be something that happens.”

Cloud also emphasized that her sense of personal responsibility goes much further than initiating a media blackout for a single night. “I’m not here for [empty] promises,” she said. “I want to give back to this community. D.C. is my second home. It’s a part of who I am, it’s helped me mature, it’s helped me grow. … It’s my turn to do my part.” And as a team, the Mystics “have a platform … that we need to utilize and we need to help this community.” Cloud added that lots of people in the community had already reached out to thank her for taking a stand.

Cloud’s statement after the game lasted less than a minute and echoed similar themes. Here it is in full:

“[The game] didn’t go as planned, but we’re talking about a game, the loss of a game. There’s a lot more losses going on within our community, especially within this community, Ward 8. So we as a team want to only bring light to the issues going on within this community. And that is the violence around kids going to school. We need to be able to ensure their safety. And that starts with raising awareness and bringing the attention that needs to be held on this community. You know, we would be doing a disservice if we didn’t bring light to the terrible things that are going on in this community. So there will be no statements made about the game. Again, it is just a game. We’re talking about people’s lives within this community. So we want to be a part of the solution. We are in 100% support. And again, we just want to make this community better. Thank you.”

Mystics head coach Mike Thibault said after the game that the blackout had to be players’ decision. Once the decision was made, he said he wanted his players to “follow up and be a part of the process. … we’re here in Ward 8 to be a part of the community and we’re having those kids from [Ward 8] schools come here, [participating in] clinics, coming to games, and doing awards for scholastic stuff. … that’s got to be an ongoing thing. It cannot be a one-off thing.”

Cloud seemed to be fully aware of her coach’s message, saying before the game, “This is a collective solution. We need to figure it out together. It’s not just gonna be one person, and we know that. And I know that [this issue] isn’t going to be solved overnight. That’s the reality. But I’m here to work, I’m here to help in any way that I can.”

In the visitors’ locker room postgame, several of the Storm players were unaware of the Mystics’ media blackout. After being filled in, every player involved in the discussion voiced support for her. “That’s crazy,” several players said in response to the violence. “Good for her,” another said, referencing Cloud. “Stuff like that is scary.”

Although the Storm players had not previously discussed the issue, Seattle’s interim head coach, Gary Kloppenburg, said he had heard about the blackout before the game. Afterward, Kloppenburg voiced full support for Cloud and her teammates: “We’re in a situation in our country [where] we have to step up. … Common-sense gun laws need to be instituted, and … I’m 100% behind players that step up and voice their concerns about it.”

Having won the backing of her teammates and the attention of the media, Cloud will continue to press DC officials for a response and, ultimately, a solution. She plans to meet with local policymakers as soon as the team completes its upcoming four-game road trip, which begins in Los Angeles on Tuesday and ends in Chicago on June 26.

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