Betnijah Laney Earns Dawn Staley Community Leadership Award

On Friday, November 18, 2022, the WNBA named Betnijah Laney of the New York Liberty as the recipient with the Dawn Staley Community Leadership Award, an accolade earned for outstanding leadership and commitment to the community.

Per the league, the award—which is named in honor of WNBA legend and Hall of Famer Dawn Staley—was created to recognize a WNBA player who best exemplifies the characteristics of a leader in the community where she works or lives. The award and its winner reflect Staley’s spirit, leadership, charitable efforts, love for the game and inspirational presence in the community.

This recognition won’t come as a surprise to Liberty loyals. Since joining the Liberty ahead of the 2021 season, Laney has been a consistent presence around New York City, using her platform both to raise the profile of the league and positively interact with the fans through community outreach, with her primary focuses being child development and youth education.

She has participated in numerous panel discussions, including with The Players’ Tribune at Derek Jeter’s Turn 2 Foundation annual gala, a Her Time to Play clinic hosted by the New York Liberty and Brooklyn Nets, and Discussion on Title IX moderated by WNBA legend Taj McWilliams-Franklin, alongside Napheesa Collier.

“It’s an honor to receive the Dawn Staley Community Leadership Award,” said Laney. “Community service is something that my mother instilled in me at a young age. She taught me the importance of giving back and serving the community to make a positive change for those around me. It’s something I’ve strived to do up to this day. I will continue to use my platform to make a difference and exemplify what the Dawn Staley Community Leadership Award stands for.”

Throughout her career, Laney has often discussed the influence of her mother, Yolanda, aware of the opportunities basketball has provided that were not available to women a generation prior. Now, Laney has committed herself to improving things for the kids that are to follow in her footsteps. This included volunteering at the Liberty’s food pantry at P.S. 398 Walter Weaver Elementary in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where she helped address local food insecurity and spoke to the school’s students. Laney also participated in a virtual Q&A assembly where she spoke with youth members of the Osborn Association, an organization based in Brooklyn that works directly with people affected by the criminal justice system and advocates for policies and practices that promote dignity, justice, and liberation.

“Betnijah’s passion for and time spent volunteering with young people exemplifies how WNBA players are dedicated to making a positive impact on the next generation,” said WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert. “The WNBA is proud to see Betnijah be recognized for her work.”

Despite missing a majority of the 2022 season with a knee injury, Laney was a consistent presence, patrolling the sideline on game days or sitting at midcourt absorbing plays during practices. The leadership she exudes amongst her peers translates to her commitment to the city she represents. 

At the red carpet premiere of Unfinished Business, I asked Laney about the intersection of sports, social justice, and building a legacy that could move the needle going forward. “I love being a part of a league where we’re not just basketball players,” she told The Local W. “We’re able to use our platform and that we have people on each and every team who advocate for things that are important to the league as a whole but also individuals and I’m just happy to be a part of that.”

A designated committee selected Laney as the winner of the Dawn Staley Community Leadership Award from a group of nominated WNBA players. On behalf of Laney, the WNBA will make a $10,000 donation to The Coalition for Change, an organization whose mission is to help families with educational support, mental health services, financial literacy, and career placement. Earlier in the year, Laney was a keynote speaker and guest of honor at the Coalition for Change’s Community Impact Event in Atlantic City, NJ, where she spoke with youth about her journey in the WNBA, emphasized the importance of mental health, and provided insight on how to overcome challenges.

The award’s namesake, Dawn Staley, gave this year’s recipient a strong endorsement. “Betnijah’s impact in the New York City community has been trailblazing,” said Staley. “Her efforts showcase social responsibility and leadership through volunteer service. The commitment to improving and impacting the lives of individuals in the community personify her passion to inspire others.”