MINNEAPOLIS -- The four Minnesota Lynx captains awoke Thursday in Connecticut to disturbing news back home: the shooting death of Philando Castile, a black man, during a traffic stop in the Twin Cities suburb of Falcon Heights, Minnesota.
Two days earlier, the death of another black man, Alton Sterling, in an encounter with police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, deeply shook Lynx star Seimone Augustus, a Baton Rouge native familiar with the gas station where it occurred. At Minnesota's shootaround Thursday before their game at the Connecticut Sun, the captains -- Augustus, Maya Moore and Rebekkah Brunson, who are black, plus Lindsay Whalen -- initiated a long, thoughtful discussion with coach Cheryl Reeve.
They shared stories with Reeve, who is white, about their experiences growing up black in America. Later that day and the next, they shared horror over the slayings of five white police officers by a black sniper in Dallas.
So Saturday, before Minnesota's home game with the Dallas Wings at the Target Center, the Lynx captains used their public platform to call for healing, compassion and dialogue.
"The only appropriate step now is to talk about the things that are needing to be talked about. That's one thing we can do. ... It just didn't sit right with us to not do something more than feel sorry and sad." Maya Moore
The entire team wore black warm-up shirts with the message "Change Starts With Us -- Justice and Accountability" on the front. (Accountability is a Lynx team mantra.) The back featured the names of Castile and Sterling, the Dallas Police Department shield and, at the bottom, Black Lives Matter.
"In the wake of the tragedies that have continued to plague our society, we have decided it is important to take a stand and raise our voices," said Brunson, reading from a statement at a pregame news conference. "Racial profiling is a problem. Senseless violence is a problem. The divide is way too big between our community and those who have vowed to protect and serve us."
Brunson and Moore spoke for the group while Whalen and Augustus sat alongside. Moore noted the tragic irony of the attack in Dallas, where de-escalation training has dramatically reduced the number of police shootings and complaints about excessive use of force since 2009.
"We do not in any way condone violence against the men and women who serve in our police force," Moore said. "Senseless violence and retaliation do not bring us peace."
Moore added: "We as a nation can decide to stand up for what is right, no matter your race, background or social status. It is time we take a deep look at our ability to be compassionate and empathetic to those suffering from the problems that are deep within our society."
On Sunday the New York Liberty added their own statement, black warm-up shirts with #BlackLivesMatter and #Dallas5 on the front and a haunting #___________ on the back.
"Being on the platform we have [we should] definitely use our voice," Liberty star Tina Charles said. "We have family, we have close friends, relatives that are affected by everything that is going on, and we relate to it as well."
Reeve said the Lynx told the league its players planned to make a statement of support.
"The overriding thing for me is, I feel incredibly proud of our group, and particularly our captains," Reeve said after the Lynx routed Dallas 93-56. "Everything we do, we're led by those four.
"This is a group that is incredibly compassionate, intelligent, measured, responsible. They were very affected. We're people. We also understand that what we do is more than sport, and we're blessed to have an opportunity to be a part of opening minds, changing minds, making the world a better place."
Tonight's shirts honor #PhilandoCastile #AltonSterling & #DallasPD. pic.twitter.com/I7Trb6QT4j— Lynx PR (@Lynx_PR) July 9, 2016
The conversation between the players and Reeve was at times emotional. Brunson, for the first time, told her teammates about a scary encounter with police as an 8-year-old in Oxon Hills, Maryland. Brunson said she and some friends were playing in the bottom level hallway connecting their three apartment buildings when police arrived, weapons drawn.
"I think we've all been touched deeply by the things that are happening," Brunson said. "The memory just kind of came back to me, and I started thinking about it and said this is something I should share at this time.
"I don't know why they were there. I don't know who they were looking for. But I feel like when you're approaching children, there's no reason and no place for that. The fact that they felt like it was OK then was an issue, and the fact that they feel like it's OK now is an issue. It's something everybody has to start thinking about."
Speaking out against injustice was ingrained in Brunson by her grandmother, Helma Brunson, who grew up in Nazi Germany and was sentenced to hang for treason in the final days of World War II before the Allies liberated her village.
"Then she came to the U.S., married a black guy, had a mixed kid, and had to stand up to a whole 'nother set of issues," said Brunson, a Georgetown graduate. "I've never been taught to just be silent."
The Lynx held a pregame moment of silence Saturday honoring all the victims. Two Lynx tweets about the shirts drew more than 1,800 likes, far outnumbering critical responses from tweeps who appeared to overlook the Dallas police shield or objected to the inclusion of Black Lives Matter.
"Many Americans feel the same way we do, as far as the heartbreak -- all of it," Moore said after the game. "The only appropriate step now is to talk about the things that are needing to be talked about. That's one thing we can do. We have a platform to use our voice. Especially having players who have experienced some of the similar experiences some of the victims had, it just didn't sit right with us to not do something more than feel sorry and sad.
"Hopefully, the response we're showing will encourage positive change."
Reeve, in her postgame news conference, paused for about 15 seconds and tried to fight back tears as she recalled the discussion with her players.
"First and foremost, I wanted them to know as a white person, how sorry I was for what they experienced in racial profiling," she said. "It's very painful. Every black person has experienced it on some level. So I went to them and let them know how painful it was for me to know that's what goes on, and as a white person, I wanted to help. Let's create a dialogue to be able to get something out.
"I just thought the whole thing was moving for me, to experience the courage of this group, knowing that it wasn't necessarily going to be popular, maybe. ... It's about both sides working together. It's not, 'We're right and you're wrong.' Clearly, it's been a problem for a long time, and everybody can and needs to be better."