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Breanna Stewart, WNBA raise awareness, money for Orlando victims

NEW YORK -- Breanna Stewart took the time before the Seattle Storm's game Friday night to write the names of the 49 victims of the Orlando shooting on her colorful shoes.

The No. 1 draft pick knows it's just a small gesture to remember those who were killed June 12 at a gay nightclub.

"I don't know how much it's going to do but to bring in more attention towards it and show people that we don't want to just forget about this," she said. "We can't just let this go because it's important."

Stewart will auction off the Nike "pride" shoes after the game, as well as the ones she wore last week that had "#Enough" and "Orlando United" written on them.

From financial donations to blood drives and silent auctions, the WNBA and its players have been lending their support to those affected by the massacre. All six teams playing Friday night were wearing warm-up shirts that said "#ORLANDO UNITED" under a rainbow-colored heart. Some of those shirts will be auctioned off after the games, with the money raised going to the OneOrlando fund set up to support the victims' families and survivors.

"It was a terrible incident in Orlando and the teams have really closed ranks as has the league in support of the Orlando market," WNBA president Lisa Borders said.

"We have a platform that is incredibly helpful in situations like this as sports is an international language. ... Sports is a sector that brings people together in today's environment where there is so much polarization. Our teams, all 12 of them, are doing wonderful things, from moments of silence to wearing shooting shirts. There is an array of activity across the league and country and we are very, very proud."

Orlando wasn't Stewart's first brush with mass shootings. She was playing at UConn when the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, occurred, but she still found the number of victims in Orlando to be overwhelming.

Much like gay nightclubs, women's sports have been considered safe spaces offering support and acceptance among women and the LGBT community. Stewart sees the responsibility for athletes to use that platform to make a difference in their communities.

"Speaking up for what you think is right or wrong, I think, is important. With the whole Orlando shooting, something has to change. It's not acceptable," Stewart said.

The national conversation about guns, violence and tolerance since the Orlando shooting shouldn't fade with feel-good gestures, Stewart said, adding that she wants to find a way to use her platform in sports to sustain the dialogue.

"The one-time gesture is nice, but what's going to happen beyond that? That's what we're trying to figure out," Stewart said. "You can't just wear a T-shirt one time and expect things to change."

New York Liberty guard Shavonte Zellous' younger sister was supposed to go to the Pulse nightclub the night of the shooting but opted against it at the last minute. Two of the sister's friends were among those killed.

Zellous said having her teammates' support has been key to working through her emotions in the shooting's aftermath, and that the league's support of the LBGT community has been just as important.

"To see that and to see people supporting what you may represent is key, not only for me but for everyone, especially now with those victims that have been lost and been injured in that tragedy back in Orlando," she said. "It plays a major role, and it's a good thing we have a league like the WNBA that supports it.

"Just having that support, that recognition, to know that you're not alone is a plus for not only me but every family that's in Orlando that lost someone or had someone that's been injured," Zellous added.

She has been wearing her rainbow-colored "pride" sneakers with the words "Orlando Strong," "Orlando United" and "LGBT" written on them. The city is her hometown, and she plans to wear the shoes for the rest of the Liberty's season, "just in dedication to everything that has happened in Orlando," she said.