Next to me at a stop sign in Minneapolis on Saturday I saw a guy on a bike. A white male with hair about as gray as mine. I don’t think I had ever seen him before, but I noticed he had on a Lynx T-shirt with “Augustus” across the back.
I yelled out the window that I liked his shirt; he smiled and said thanks. Then I asked, “Did you watch that?” His grin got bigger and he said “Yes — it was amazing! Fantastic!”
I was thinking about why this short conversation made me so happy, in the midst of a world and a country in trouble. Here are three reasons:
First, we were talking about something fun that we didn’t even need to name. The night before, the Minnesota Lynx set the all-time WNBA record for margin of victory with their 111-52 win over Indiana. For Lynx fans, the game was a relief and a pleasure — relief because they snapped their two-game losing streak and pleasure because the team played so well and with joy. With two starters injured, the group came together to accomplish something unexpected.
Bicycle guy and I knew what the other was talking about because the Lynx are part of our culture. It felt a little bit like the years the Twins were in the World Series; we didn’t need to explain.
This brings me to the second reason — a women’s pro team is part of the culture. Yes, they were still below the fold of the sports section that day, but they were on its front page. This year they average just over 10,000 fans per home game. The number should be higher, but it is not bad. It matters to have these highly skilled women providing great entertainment to the community. And it matters that the Lynx community has some of the diversity of the wider community. At a Lynx game, the crowd is integrated, racially and in many other ways. People are having fun together.
The third reason is connected to that togetherness. The Lynx are modeling for all of us what can happen when people who are different from each other come together in positive ways. Sportswriters have been publishing articles this year about what makes this team so good year after year. One conclusion is that their achievements are grounded in strong character as a group, unselfish play. Another is that the players, coaches, and others working with the Lynx support and care about each other across differences of race, sexual orientation, gender and religious background.
Their dedication to each other, I believe, has helped Lynx players to be leaders in caring about people in the wider society. The organization demonstrates its commitments in ways we might expect: The Lynx Foundation donates to a wide array of nonprofit causes, from breast cancer research to violence prevention to books for children. Players volunteer in the community, from cleaning up parks to delivering school supplies and mentoring youth. But Lynx players also have taken risks, stepping up last summer to wear warmup shirts memorializing Philando Castile, Alton Sterling and the slain Dallas police officers. That was controversial, but the players saw the need to call attention to problems in society, to get people thinking about how things can and should be different among us.
Friday night, before the great game, the Lynx and Indiana players, like other WNBA teams last week, linked arms and stood together in a moment of silence for those killed and injured in Charlottesville, Va. It is a difficult line to negotiate, being entertainers who take a stand. But this group is doing it, recognizing that because they are an increasingly important part of the community and the culture, it is good for them to notice others, to think and to act for the common good.
I don’t know what the guy on the bike is thinking about, beyond the joy of following an exciting team and the good sense to wear a shirt with the name of an unselfish basketball star. He and I might not agree about solutions to the problems facing the world. But we have that cultural connection, which offers a chance for hope.
Sharon Doherty is professor of women’s studies and director of the Abigail Quigley McCarthy Center for Women, St. Catherine University.