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Protests a chance “to do more,” Gonzaga women’s coach Lisa Fortier says

UPDATED: Wed., June 10, 2020

From left: Gonzaga women’s basketball coach Lisa Fortier, GU director of women’s basketball operations Shannon Donegan and friend Jessica Clarke at the Black Lives Matter protest in Spokane on Sunday  (COURTESY PHOTO FROM LISA FORTIER)
From left: Gonzaga women’s basketball coach Lisa Fortier, GU director of women’s basketball operations Shannon Donegan and friend Jessica Clarke at the Black Lives Matter protest in Spokane on Sunday (COURTESY PHOTO FROM LISA FORTIER)

The recent protests in Riverfront Park sent a powerful, humbling message to Gonzaga women’s basketball coach Lisa Fortier.

“It told me that what I’ve done to be supportive hasn’t been enough to move the needle to support Black athletes, their families and their dreams,” Fortier said Tuesday.

Fortier has spent almost two decades as an assistant and head coach at Gonzaga, where she has helped build a culture of inclusion in addition a winning tradition on the court.

In Fortier’s mind, however, those efforts seemed to fall short as protests spread around the nation in the wake of a George Floyd’s death during an arrest by Minneapolis police.

On May 30, five days after Floyd’s death, downtown Spokane was filled with protesters. Fortier was there, too, “trying to be part of the solution.”

“That’s something I can do to show support, to peacefully protest the racism that exists in our society,” Fortier said.

“And to figure out how I can make changes. This is a way to be part of the solution.”

Until now, that was an internal affair. Fortier and her staff have made a point of discussing social issues with the GU players – “just continuing the conversation as part of their education,” she said.

“I love that we have players from different cultures and races on our team, and we have conversations,” Fortier said.

“However, there’s a lot we don’t know.”

At 39, Fortier admits this year’s protests are the first she’s seen in person.

“College athletes are certainly a very diverse group of people, and there’s a lot to be learned for everyone,” Fortier said. “We just want to be sure that we are listening, and creating an environment where we can share.”

Fortier was back on Sunday along with Shannon Donegan, the director of operations for women’s basketball at GU, and their friend, Jessica Clarke.

In a photo Fortier shared with almost 3,000 followers on Twitter, the trio held a sign that proclaimed “Enough is Enough – Black Lives Matter.”

Later Sunday, she told followers, “I’m All In, I will stand up against racism and hate,” and forwarded that message via Twitter to five other coaches, including her husband, GU assistant Craig Fortier.

On Monday, Fortier was on a Zoom conference call with her colleagues in the West Coast Conference. It was on the schedule anyway, but served as another way to spread awareness and share experiences.

“I think a lot of the coaches in our conference feel the same way,” Fortier said.

Based on a virtual conference held Wednesday afternoon, many of the nation’s women’s basketball coaches feel the same way.

In a virtual forum sponsored by the Women’s Basketball Coaches’ Association, racial issues were discussed by UConn coach Geno Auriemma, retired Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw, South Carolina coach Dawn Staley and former Purdue coach and current ESPN sportscaster Carolyn Peck.

Jim Allen can be reached at (509) 459-5437 or by email at jima@spokesman.com

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