In celebration of Women’s History Month, WSLAM is highlighting different women around the game who are breaking barriers, elevating the game and continuing to empower others.
It’s June, and Brianna Turner is hovering near the elbow, lurking behind the entire LA Sparks defense. Late in the third quarter, teammate Skylar Diggins-Smith hoists the ball up in mid-air on a slight angle, as it clacks from the right side of the rim and hops over to the left. Turner is now in the paint behind three defenders, and as the ball bounces back to the left side of the rim, she lunges and leaps to scoop it up above the defense and into the basket.
The play she makes isn’t all that swanky, a putback. But she saw something: Diggins-Smith’s off-balance layup. And because of her laser-eyed focus, she sprung into action. For Turner, action is productive and pragmatic. It isn’t because she knows she must entertain or perform but rather because she cares about the progress of her team and understands how her abilities and passion can lend a hand.
Take the two-time WNBA All-Defensive First Team standout off the court and that same energy remains. She is one of the most outspoken voices in the WNBA, but she’s also one of the most private. Turner springs into action advocating for equality in a different way than her peers, including Lynx point guard Layshia Clarendon or Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike. She’s usually not the player with the microphone or the face that’s most visible. But at 25 years old, she’s achieved a different reputation that’s just as vital in the W’s advocacy portfolio.
“So I’m always scrolling, always seeing stuff, always learning new stuff,” Turner tells WSLAM. “So yeah, I just kind of speak my mind on Twitter and see politicians and politics. So when I see a bill I don’t like, I’m like this bill is crazy or just highlighting different issues or stuff that I like or don’t like.”
Turner’s presence on Twitter has earned her a distinct reputation as a young activist who speaks, or Tweets, on her own terms and engages productively rather than to try to win an argument. For Turner it’s not about moral superiority or the clout that comes with it, but rather about making the world around her just as informed as she is. It’s a method she believes has a direct line to effecting positive change.
Turner garnered national attention almost two years ago right around the tragic murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd when she spoke out about how police brutality in America affects her. She was raised by parents who built careers as law enforcement officers and she wanted the online world around her to try to see the issue of policing in the United States through a grayer lens rather than in shades of strictly black or white. This or that. Right or Wrong.
Turner has a mastery of why nuanced conversation matters in a world and on a platform where it’s often lost. Her key to maintaining composure while also being a compassionate voice in the direction of progress is how prepared she is before releasing another Tweet out into the world. She also understands that not everyone she interacts with online is as diligent as she is.
“I try to really provide accurate information in my opinions and come across very civilly and not like I’m attacking someone..” she says. “I do attack sometimes well, it’s mostly just like senators from Texas. But other than that, I really try to be civil in my engagement, so that people will see that I’m coming from a good place.”
No matter if she’s playing for the Phoenix Mercury in the states or in Italy playing for Bologna in the offseason, Turner is online all the time. She scours the BBC website every single day and uses Twitter as a guide and an entry point into the news. “I want to know what’s relevant, like, what’s going on,?” She says. “I’m looking at what’s trending on Twitter. I open up my Apple news app, what’s going on today?”
At the time of her tweet about her parents almost two years ago, she had around 6K followers and now she has almost 12K. Discourse communities inside and outside of the sports world have realized that they vibe with how Turner expresses herself. They appreciate her earnesty and due diligence.
So where did this all come from? When we caught up with her recently, it was hard for the Mercury forward to place an exact origin story, but Turner has always been interested in the sociology that’s around her. At the University of Notre Dame, the desire to engage in social justice and socio- political issues came across in her course work as a graphic design major with almost a minor in gender studies. One of her artistic projects was a portrayal of the gun violence epidemic in America. She used cast molds and water guns to create a piece that featured a shattered American flag, illustrating how gun violence has impacted the United States.
Long before her Twitter account was as high profile as it is now, she remembers tweeting about how Notre Dame, a huge catholic private school, was right in the middle of one of the poorest cities in Indiana. Her peers questioned why she was so critical of her alma mater, but her response was: “I’m just being aware.”
Since her viral tweets about her own experience growing up with parents in law enforcement and the 2020 Wubble season, Turner began to hear from organizations that recognized what she was doing and how she could make an even larger difference. A group that she advocates for in particular is trans youth. She began learning about trans issues during her freshman year of college, and hasn’t stopped.
Another viral tweet of hers got her connected to Athlete Ally, the most prominent non profit LGBTQ+ athletic advocacy organization in the United States. Turner currently serves as one of their athlete ambassadors, which includes pro, Olympic and Paralympic athletes who speak out against “potential legislation and policies that discriminate against LGBTQI+ people.” Turner is a part of a group that signs open letters and lobbies members of congress.
Her work with Athlete Ally led her to another organization closer to home in Equality Texas. As a board member, she meets once every few months with the group that aims to counter discriminatory laws for LGBTQ+ people in Turner’s home state of Texas.
Most recently, she spoke out about swimmer Lia Thomas and the irony of the arguments against Thomas’ ability to swim against other women as a transwoman. Turner debunked the argument that Thomas’ participation in the NCAAs was ruining women’s sports.
Turner’s passion toward advocating for trans rights proves her deep understanding of what allyship really means and how we can all do our part. Turner believes that it takes allyship to create the change we want to see all around us.
“The oppressed group cannot be the problem solvers,” she says. “The people that are not in the oppressed situation have to speak up and be allies with them and be open and be vocal for their support.”
And while Turner knows how difficult allyship can be, she believes that if people want change, they ought to start somewhere. “So I feel like if you’re able to teach one person and that one person teaches just one person, it’s a domino effect and it can really create some change,” she says.
She recently was on a panel that included a soccer coach from Boston College. He didn’t put one and two together about who Turner was initially, but then it finally clicked. She’s the athlete who tweeted about trans rights that then spread to his athletes and was all over their social media accounts. In his email to her, he noted how much of an impression she’s made on them.
Turner didn’t go down this road initially to inspire people directly. It stemmed from an all-consuming desire to learn everything she can about what she cares about. It stemmed from a belief in the spirit of equality. She’s become more relentless in how she uses her platform, just like how she is fighting on the offensive glass for the Phoenix Mercury.
“Some people like video games, and I like google,” Turner laughed. “It’s just kind of my thing.”
Photos via Getty Images.