An attempt by the WNBA’s Dallas Wings to honor female pilots who helped the U.S. military during World War II was called offensive after critics found blacks were not allowed to join the female flight group.
The Dallas team’s new ‘Rebel Edition’ jersey, which Nike launched earlier this month as part of a collection of new uniforms from the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), was intended to pay tribute to the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs). The WASPs supported the war effort amid a labor shortage by testing and delivering aircraft for the Army Air Force. However, Nike, the WNBA and the Wings said on Friday that the jersey would not be worn by the team or marketed to their fans as they had since learned that the WASP Corps had not accepted black pilots.
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The jersey “does not correspond to our shared values of diversity, justice and inclusion,” said a joint statement by the league, the team and Nike to Time Magazine. The Wings and Nike will now work together on a new ‘Rebel Edition’ jersey to replace the offensive design.
The jersey featured a star logo inspired by the signature motif of the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk – an aircraft built in the Lone Star State and flown by WASP pilots. As the Wings discovered prior to the controversy, WASP volunteer members were “heroes” as the first women to fly US military aircraft.
📸 | Dallas Wings Rebel Edition. It is inspired by the P-40 Warhawk, a World War II fighter aircraft made in Texas and tested by the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots), the first women to fly American fighter jets – @ DallasWingspic.twitter.com / 29dmlfCIyf
– Planet Basketball ♀️ (in 🏠) (@pbasquetefem) April 8, 2021
Almost 1,100 women joined the WASP, and each had to pay their own way for flight time and licenses to qualify. Even while training in Sweetwater, Texas, they had to pay for room and board. Their service freed male pilots to be sent overseas for combat missions. The women had expected to join the fighting themselves until the controversial program ended in 1944. At this point, 38 had died in accidents. Ex-President Jimmy Carter signed a bill in 1977 that eventually gave them veteran status.
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The WASP troop had some Asian and Hispanic members, as described in a 2017 Teen Vogue article, but blacks were not allowed to join. On the other hand, black male pilots were also banned from flying for the US military until a special group called the Tuskegee Airmen was formed during World War II. They entered combat in 1943 and their successes resulted in the desegregation of the military in 1948.
Journalist Jasmine Baker, a self-described “sports culture-cultural scientist”, was one of those who brought the WNBA’s attention to the alleged aggressiveness of the new Dallas jersey. “Those of us who understand American history understand how it affected our armed forces,” she said. “I knew that nobody, especially in the Wings organization, had done their homework on WASP.”
People keep asking me why I hate the Wings rebel jersey so much. Those of us who understand American history also understand how it affected our armed forces. I knew that no one, especially within the Wings organization, had done their homework on WASP. A simple google search. Https://t.co/3O2mmLDFxYpic. twitter.com/L1WwzLMq9D
– wnba nike jersey ~ jasmin baker (@ WeGotGame2) April 14, 2021
Baker complained on Friday night that the Wings hadn’t deleted a Facebook post for the new design even after the jersey was canceled. However, the team’s Facebook and Twitter messages revealing the new kit were removed from Saturday morning.
I’ll say that and then I’ll go to bed because I’m spent and that’s why … As of 9:45 p.m. cst today, after all the statements have been released, the Wings still have this on their FB page. Sister deserve better, fans deserve better … Like I said. Night. pic.twitter.com/h3RxEmBi69
– wnba nike jersey ~ jasmin baker (@ WeGotGame2) April 17, 2021
There was a relatively recent period in America when the WASP pilots were being honored for their heroism – despite racist army policies that they themselves did not establish – that were viewed as both socially and politically acceptable. Indeed, then-President Barack Obama awarded the WASPs a gold medal for Congress in 2009.
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