Natasha Cloud did not step onto the court this season. The 2019 WNBA champion opted out of the league’s bubble to focus her efforts on the nationwide fight for racial justice, leaving an indelible mark on athlete activism.
She is the 2020 Outsports Female Hero of the Year.
Cloud traces her social awakening back to 2016, when the Washington Mystics wore “Black Lives Matter” shirts one day after the league fined the New York Liberty, Indiana Fever and Phoenix Mercury for donning the black attire following a litany of police shootings. She was the team’s union representative at the time.
“That was kind of the first moment I realized, oh, what we do has impact,” she told the Washington Post last year.
Since then, Cloud has only amplified her voice. With the support of her teammates, she instituted a “media blackout” last season, in which she only spoke to reporters about the epidemic of gun violence in D.C. After reading to a kindergarten class, she found out three bullets struck the school over the past month.
From that moment on, she dedicated her platform to pushing for gun control measures — vowing to only stop the “blackout” when appropriate action was taken. She wore a t-shirt promoting gun safety before every game.
All the while, the Mystics kept on winning, and Cloud kept on improving. The veteran guard averaged 9 points and 5.6 assists per game last season, both career-bests. Washington beat the Connecticut Sun in six games to win the championship.
In the immediate aftermath of George Floyd’s killing, Cloud attended protests in her home city of Philadelphia, and published a poignant essay in the Players’ Tribune calling out athletes who don’t speak out against police brutality: “Your silence is a knee on my neck.”
After weeks of conversations with her coaches and teammates, Cloud decided not to play basketball this summer.
“I’m so, so proud to call myself an athlete during this time because it is much more than the game of basketball, much more than any sport,” Cloud told Forbes in a recent interview. “I’m really proud of all the athletes including myself that stepped out of those lines and those boundaries that the court or field sometimes hold us in, and we did something greater for our community.”
Cloud’s outspokenness has not cost her endorsement opportunities. In fact, it’s boosted her profile. This summer, she signed a new shoe deal with Converse. When the deal was finalized, the apparel giant linked to Cloud’s viral Players’ Tribune essay from its Instagram account.
At 28 years old, Cloud is just entering the prime of her career, and has already grown into one of the most socially active athletes of her generation. Her endorsement deal with Converse changes the game.
It’s one thing for LeBron James to maintain his brand when he speaks out; it’s another thing for a Black bisexual woman to do it.
Bravery is rewarded. We can’t wait to see what Cloud has in store for 2021.
Our Other Honoree:
Dr. Michelle Tom: The former Arizona State basketball standout returned last year to her native Navajo Nation as a licensed physician. This year, she’s found herself on the front lines of the pandemic, working at the Winslow Indian Health Care Center and Little Colorado Medical Center, both of which serve Navajo Nation. Covid mortality is twice as high among Native Americans, many of whom are detached from healthcare services.
Follow Natasha Cloud (@t_cloud9) on Instagram by clicking here. Dr. Michelle Tom (@dr.michelletom) is also on Instagram. Click here to follow her.
Outsports is unveiling the 2020 honorees every day through Wednesday, Dec. 30.
Prior Female Hero honorees:
2018: Sam Rapoport
Outsports has divided year-end Athlete and Hero awards to highlight accomplishments of people across genders. We understand that not everyone fits into the binary gender world currently established in sports, and we honor that identity with the Non-Binary Award.