While her Washington Mystics teammates played overseas, coached in the NBA, or generally kept a low public profile during the off-season, Natasha Cloud bounced around the D.C. area, lending her voice and growing influence to a variety of organizations and causes. She visited local schools for their career days, shared her story during a Girls on the Run NOVA fundraiser, chatted with journalism students at the University of Maryland, and spoke about the future of coaching at The Aspen Institute.
And those are just a few of the engagements she remembers.
“It’s really hard to to name [them all], because it felt like I was doing something every other day,” Cloud says.
Today, she’ll be at the Entertainment and Sports Arena for another speaking engagement. The Atlantic will host a panel about athletes and activism, where she’ll be among Olympians, community activists, sports owners, educators, and media members who have used their voice to push for social change.
Cloud’s photo on the event website sits directly next to author and activist John Carlos, who famously raised his black-gloved fist in the air at a medal ceremony during the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. He was protesting human rights abuses, both abroad and in the U.S. Other panelists include former NFL player Martellus Bennett, Olympians Chamique Holdsclaw, Hilary Knight, Ibtihaj Muhammad, and Briana Scurry, Monumental Sports & Entertainment chief executive Ted Leonsis, Athlete Ally founder and executive director Hudson Taylor, and Damion Thomas, the curator of sports at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
One of Cloud’s personal heroes, Atlantic staff writer and former ESPN anchor Jemele Hill, will moderate the event.
“I want to be a part of the bigger conversation, so I’m excited,” Cloud says. “But I’m [also] nervous just because these people are role models for me. Jemele is one of my favorite people … I think she’s a badass black woman who’s powerful and not scared to use her voice and not scared of consequences, and what she’s done in social justice situations has proven that very thing. This is where I want to be. I want to help make a difference and that starts with having big conversations like this.”
During a recent Mystics practice, Cloud’s voice echoed off the walls. She shouted instructions and offered encouragement to her teammates. She can’t help it. Cloud has always been loud.
“My mom will tell you that,” she laughs.
Now Cloud wants to use her voice and platform to promote social change. The 27-year-old grew up as the only mixed-race person in an all-white family, and while her relatives never treated her differently, Cloud says she realized early on that people perceive her differently because of the color of her skin.
“Because I’m of mixed race, I’m a gray area kid,” she says. “I’m not black enough, I’m not white enough, I’m kind of that gray area, so for me it’s just finding who I am, what I am, what I stand for and embracing that and sharing my story with others, because there are a million other people in this world that feel what I feel. And there’s a million other people in this world that walk out and are scared to be in society because of the color of their skin, and for that I will never, ever shut my mouth.”
Cloud credits Mystics coach Mike Thibault for establishing a team culture that allows athletes to voice their opinions. The team wore “Black Lives Matter” T-shirts prior to a game in 2016 and, unlike teams in the NFL, does not try to stifle its players’ political opinions.
“We are blessed to be playing and having a platform at the WNBA, blessed to play for a coach that backs us when we do speak up and feel strongly about stuff and supports us in it,” Cloud says. “Also we’re in the most powerful city in the world, in D.C., so there’s a lot of controversy always here that we can speak on. I feel like if I don’t use my platform, and don’t use my voice, then I’m doing a [disservice] to a lot of people out here in the world.”
Thibault says he tells his athletes that they only have “a dozen years or so” in professional basketball, and so it’s important for them to learn about the world around them.
“You need to know what’s going on, you need to engage yourself, and because you’re a public figure, you have the ability to positively or negatively influence everybody, not just little kids,” Thibault says. “So if you have that ability and have that forum, make sure you’re well informed. Make sure you understand what’s going on and be your own individual thinker. I don’t want a bunch of robots.”
Thibault commends Cloud for her willingness to open up about her experiences and beliefs. “I think that she’s growing up a lot right in front of us,” he says.
Just this year, Cloud called out the NCAA for not promoting the women’s tournament the same way it does for the men and she recently told ThinkProgress that anti-abortion laws are “asinine.” Cloud is not quiet about her feelings toward the current Commander in Chief, either. “He brought out some of the worst in our country,” she says. If the Mystics had won the WNBA Finals last year, Cloud says they would have declined to visit the White House.
“Natasha is very bright and smart, but most importantly, she’s intentional with her activism,” Hill says in an email. “Sometimes, athletes are all over the place when they start learning how to use her voice. She does what works for her, and that’s important to do. She’s also fearless. Abortion is one of the most divisive issues in the country. For her to use her voice to speak for women who want to be able to choose for themselves, is amazing.”
Moving forward, Cloud says she wants to start an organization that focuses on empowering young people, in particular women and minority women. “I would love to start a safe place,” she says.
Cloud adds that women like Angela Rye, a CNN political analyst whose on-air arguments with right-wing politicians and personalities have gone viral, inspire her. But that doesn’t mean she wants to enter politics or the political commentary world.
“They would have to for sure cut my mic,” Cloud says, laughing. “They would have to cut the segment.”