Cal Grad Layshia Clarendon An Agent of Change with WNBA's New York Liberty

Point Guard and Social Activist Has Complex Feelings About the Derek Chauvin Verdict
Author:
Publish date:

To suggest that Layshia Clarendon has a full plate these days is a significant understatement. The former Cal basketball star, who turns 30 on Sunday, is in training camp, preparing for a ninth season in the WNBA.

The New York Liberty opens its schedule May 14 against the Indiana Fever at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

But there’s more. Much more. Clarendon also is a passionate activist for racial justice and a voice for transgender and nonbinary people. Both of those must seem like full-time jobs in a changing world.

We will start with the latter because it involves an adjustment the rest of us can make on the most basic level.

Just as it was disrespectful to refer to Muhammad Ali as Cassius Clay after he announced he had changed his name, it’s appropriate to recalibrate the use of pronouns when referring to trans or nonbinary people.

As opposed to gender-specific pronouns, Clarendon uses all pronouns, a spokesperson for the Liberty explained to me via email. “We typically use they/them when referring to Layshia,” said Alesia Howard, director of communications and public relations for the team. “Grammatically, it’s sometimes challenging but it’s important that we are inclusive.”

Agreed. Clarendon and others who identify as nonbinary — not male or female — struggle for inclusion. Clarendon made the decision to have top surgery this offseason — removal of their breasts — and worried more about the reaction from others than the procedure itself.

That’s because this has become a contentious issue. Twenty-five states have laws or policies that are hurdles for transgender high school athletes, according to the website transathlete.com. Here’s an except from their site:

A requirement for medical “proof” and/or invasive disclosures are in place in guidance in 14 states. There are 10 states that did not issue statewide guidance on best practices that should be implemented in schools, allow schools to create policies on their own, or rely on a single person to make decisions on a case-by-case basis. Discriminatory policies that create additional barriers inclusion of trans/nonbinary/GNC students are in place in 11 states.

“It’s really sad and heartbreaking that people are attacking kids,” Clarendon says in the video below. “That’s the most disgusting, gross part about it. These are young kids that just want to play sports.”

Asked what advice they would give young transgender athletes facing this pushback, Clarendon says:

I would say you have the audacity to show up in your fullest self and I’m so proud of you. And you are loved and belong in the world, regardless of these people who will always try and stop you and take away your power. I would say just keep standing strong and know that we’re fighting for you. There’s a lot of people that are fighting for you out there and you’re not alone.

Here's more on Clarendon's life as a nonbinary athlete in a recent SI.com story.

The battle against racial injustice is much more on the front pages, and perhaps no story in America — other than the COVID-19 pandemic and the presidential election —  received more attention over the past year than the police shooting of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May 25.

It was a month later that Clarendon penned an essay for The Players Tribune that carried the headline: It’s Time to Think Bigger.

“Thinking BIG is really what we need at this moment,” Clarendon wrote. “Can we dare to imagine a world where racism doesn’t pervade everything? I have to, in order to have hope. Because if not, what else am I fighting for? I believe in the possibility of change.”

In a media Zoom session this week, I asked Clarendon whether that change is beginning to happen. They acknowledged there has been some cultural and societal shift and policy changes from the Biden administration.

Clarendon’s response specific to former police officer Derek Chauvin ’s guilty verdict last week is complicated.

“I have really mixed feelings about that verdict. Obviously, it was almost like, `Thank God,’ but the fact that we had to wait and maybe wait and see if this person got justice,” Clarendon says in the video at the top of this story.

“When I say bigger change, I think a lot differently about policing and public safety. Like, I don’t want prisons to exist. I want to abolish prisons. But at the same time, it’s the only form of justice we have right now. So I say, `Lock him up,' but I don’t want prisons to exist, so there’s a lot of mixed feelings there.”

Clarendon is grateful some justice was served, but cannot celebrate it.

“We know the ultimate justice would be George Floyd having his life and his daughter having her father,” Clarendon says. “Him still breathing air . . . and so many other victims. It’s hard. There’s a lot to hold there.”

Layshia Clarendon averaged a career-best 11.5 points last season for the New York Liberty.

Layshia Clarendon averaged a career-best 11.5 points last season for the Liberty.

Cover photo of Layshia Clarendon by Ned Dishman, NBAE via Getty Images

Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo