Their pink socks fit snugly inside of their pink sneakers, which accompanied their pink shorts, pink and black jersey, and pink headband covering their sweaty foreheads. Believe it or not, but that was the actual the appearance of the New York Liberty during their most recent home game against the Chicago Sky at Madison Square Garden.
The Liberty’s attire — however abnormal — was donned for a good cause: the celebration of the WNBA’s 2015 Breast Health Awareness Week from August 4-9. It’s an annual program run by the league that, as stated by the WNBA website, “focuses on generating awareness and educating women about breast cancer in addition to raising funds for the initiative.”
To put the program’s mission statement into action, every WNBA team will hold Breast Health Awareness game nights throughout August; ten of which will be nationally televised. The evenings of awareness consist of fundraising, special programming, education, honoring and more.
For the Liberty, that night took place Tuesday, August 11, when the Liberty took on the Chicago Sky and won 84-63. The double-digit score discrepancy did not, however, alleviate the evening’s reinforced message of breast health awareness.
Besides their colorful new uniform, the Liberty found time to highlight the evening’s true meaning through a plethora of interactive activities that served as educational, reflective, and proactive. After all, nights like Tuesday are the ones that put sports into true perspective.
“[Breast cancer] is in my family, so we’re playing [the game] for something bigger,” Liberty center Tina Charles said. “It’s not just about a win. It’s definitely something bigger for both teams.”
As Charles alluded to, the gravity of the disease is obvious. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women (no matter race or ethnicity), with 122.0 per 100,000 women having the disease. Those numbers, shared by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, is part of the reason that Breast Health Awareness Night is a personal one for everyone involved.
“It’s a great campaign. There are a lot of people who are affected either directly or indirectly by breast cancer,” Carolyn Swords, a Liberty starter, mentioned after the Sky victory. “It’s a wonderful initiative and it’s exciting to be a part of.”
The fans also were able to join in on the evening’s actions through several forms of interaction.
At halftime, a group of season ticket holders who were also breast cancer survivors took to the court. Aided by a standing ovation from the 9,987 in MSG, the women then received plaques from Liberty alum Sue Bird, who played with the team from 1997 to 2002. Capping the ceremony, the Liberty’s PA Announcer asked breast cancer survivors from the audience to stand. Another ovation was doled as figures from the crowd rose.
The Liberty then featured a short video on their scoreboard during the second half, which featured several players sharing their recollections of breast cancer in their family. Another applause emerged from the crowd.
“It’s really emotional for the players,” said Liberty head coach Bill Laimbeer post game. “They take it very much to heart and they look forward to it.”
Even more activities were held off of the court to continue the evening’s theme. Silent and live auctions, featuring signed memorabilia and trip packages as items, took place during the game, with funds going towards the fight against breast cancer. Meanwhile, through a mobile unit provided by the Italian Cancer Foundation, free mammogram testing was also available for fans throughout the game. The Liberty provided fans with a complete evening experience, one that undoubtedly touched many in attendance.
“Breast cancer affects so many people, so it’s an initiative I’ve always supported,” Liberty veteran Swin Cash said. “I’m just happy to be able to help the cause and be able to fight.”
Cash’s message is one that aligns with the WNBA’s goal of improving quality of life for people through programs like Breast Health Awareness. The league is invested in creating meaningful relationships between athletes and community; relationships that carry lots of relevance with Liberty rookie Kiah Stokes.
“We [players] can do more than just play basketball,” Stokes said. “We can help everyone.”