LET’S KEEP IT REAL: WNBA Roundtable About Racism & Sexism, Half 1


Led by Visitor Editor Carmelo Anthony, SLAM’s new journal focuses on social justice and activism as seen by means of the lens of basketball. 100 p.c of proceeds shall be donated to charities supporting points impacting the Black neighborhood. Seize your copy right here.

Introduction by Ros Gold-Onwude:

This isn’t a second, it’s a motion.

Summer time protests demanding that “Black lives matter” have put a magnifying glass on a gaggle throughout the motion typically left most susceptible in society: Black ladies. In 1962, Malcolm X stated: “Probably the most disrespected particular person in America is the Black lady. Probably the most unprotected particular person in America is the Black lady. Probably the most uncared for particular person in America is the Black lady.”

Right here, we study the WNBA, an expert basketball league of fantastic, elite, predominantly Black ladies. Over the course of its 24 years of existence, the ladies of this league have time and time once more stepped as much as lead the decision for change.

With the WNBA’s inaugural season in 1997, there was a brand new American ladies’s skilled basketball league that younger women may aspire to. In 2014, the WNBA turned the primary professional sports activities league to air a nationally televised “Delight” recreation in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ neighborhood. In 2016, gamers accepted fines to put on “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts, protesting towards police brutality. In 2019, perennial celebrity Maya Moore left the WNBA within the prime of her profession to struggle for prison justice reform. In 2020, after an extended and grueling struggle, the gamers negotiated a brand new Collective Bargaining Settlement (CBA), granting them extra fairness, elevated salaries, higher way of life situations whereas touring on the street, new well being and psychological wellness initiatives and improved maternal care, together with paid maternity go away and help with childcare.

The WNBA’s true energy is within the collective voice of its gamers, who’ve more and more used their platforms to demand extra. WNBA gamers have lengthy been on the frontlines preventing towards racism, police brutality, sexism, sexuality discrimination, insufficient maternity insurance policies and extra.

The ladies of the WNBA have had everybody else’s again, who can have theirs?  Whereas they compete in essentially the most elite ladies’s basketball league on this planet, they’re nonetheless battling for respect and nonetheless working to discover a persistently profitable formulation to promote tickets and to market their dynamic assortment of ladies to the general public.

Let me ensure to not discredit the longstanding devoted followers of the league; they’re the life-blood of the WNBA’s success and their loyalty is each wanted and cherished. Nonetheless, given the excessive caliber of expertise, elevated high quality of play and elevated variety of televised and streamed video games, this league is deserving of extra. I hear you, agonizing over the numerous tragic murders of Black ladies like Breonna Taylor and Oluwatoyin Salau, crying out: “Defend and nourish Black ladies, #SayHerName!” I share this anguish and problem us to additionally say the names of our Black feminine heroes whereas they’re alive and crusading. Let’s maintain that very same power and present extra like to the WNBA, a league of predominately Black ladies who’re one of the best of one of the best at their craft.

In a latest roundtable dialogue, I spoke with three highly-decorated WNBA gamers of various eras:

Corridor of Famer Sheryl Swoopes, a 3x Olympic Gold Medalist and 4x WNBA champion with the Houston Comets.

Las Vegas Aces ahead Angel McCoughtry, a 2x Olympic Gold Medalist and 5x WNBA All-Star.

Minnesota Lynx guard Lexie Brown, a 2018 first-round select of Duke.

We talked concerning the realities of what Black ladies face in America on the subject of racism and sexism, and the way WNBA gamers have all the time led the cost for equality and respect.

Under is a component one of many roundtable. Keep tuned for the remainder of the dialogue.

Gold-Onwude: How did basketball have an effect on the trajectory of your lives?

Swoopes: For me, after I take into consideration my journey and the place basketball began, I began taking part in after I was seven years previous. I feel I knew at a really early age that basketball could be my ticket to not solely change my life however change my household’s life. And by no means did I understand simply how a lot it will change my life and I don’t simply imply the issues it did for me on the courtroom, I imply simply doorways it opened for me which allowed me to open doorways for Angel, for Lexie and for everybody who got here after me; however I don’t suppose we discuss concerning the individuals, the ladies who even got here earlier than me that paved the way in which for all of us to have these alternatives. And I’m so grateful and so blessed and grateful that we’re having this dialog right now, the place we are able to nonetheless discuss concerning the progress of the sport. I can truthfully say that with out this sport my life could be very completely different, completely.

McCoughtry: I simply suppose it’s opened so many doorways. , rising up in Baltimore taking part in with all the fellows, the one feminine on the market, I bear in mind all of them got here at some point exterior and stated, “Hey, you may play within the WNBA at some point.” And I used to be like, “What that’s? The WNBA?” They usually had been like, “It’s the NBA, however for the ladies.” That’s after I went residence and I began watching you, Sheryl, and watching them win championships and I used to be simply amazed that there have been ladies on the market that had been identical to me. I didn’t must be ashamed to be tall, I may stand proud and be who I’m. That was the primary time I watched a variety of ladies play sports activities on TV, I all the time simply noticed the lads. I by no means dreamed of being an Olympian, I by no means dreamed of having the ability to play in several nations. None of that ever crossed my thoughts. Simply taking part in the game has opened so many doorways. Now we are able to encourage, we are able to advocate for political justice by means of our sport. That’s what it’s all about.

Gold-Onwude: Lexie, how did ball have an effect on the trajectory of your life? It’s attention-grabbing as a result of Angel brings up one thing that I resonate with and we’re the identical age basically. I wasn’t essentially rising as much as be a professional, that concept got here later. You might be youthful and the league has skilled an entire lot extra success and longevity by the point that you just had been coming to the sport. How did you view the league and what was doable for you with basketball?

Brown: I needed to be a WNBA participant after I was little, in order that’s the superb factor that you just guys have been in a position to do for gamers like me. You had constructed a league that we had been in a position to look as much as and need to get to, however basketball is one thing that I simply love and like Sheryl and Angel stated, the doorways that it’s opened have been unbelievable and the voice that I’ve been given and different gamers within the league have been given to talk up on issues that usually we most likely wouldn’t be snug talking on. One as a result of we wouldn’t know a lot about it or two as a result of we wouldn’t suppose anyone could be listening. So to have the ability to communicate on issues, being [in this roundtable] for me is unbelievable. I’m honored. Basketball has positively modified my life.

Gold-Onwude: Sheryl, this one is for you. You performed within the inaugural WNBA season. 1997, the league begins up. The Houston Comets win the primary 4 championships within the league’s historical past. Earlier you stated that we don’t essentially discuss sufficient concerning the starting of the WNBA and even the gamers who performed earlier than the WNBA was began. So let’s take a second to relive that. What was the general public reception to the beginning of the WNBA?

Swoopes: First thought was if the NBA is behind the WNBA then it’s going to achieve success; and I simply bear in mind all of the advertising that the league put behind it and it was 12 months spherical, it wasn’t simply through the season. Folks had been enthusiastic about it and coming off of the success that the 1996 Olympic workforce had. I feel we had constructed a variety of followers and a variety of pleasure and a variety of curiosity about, Can these ladies actually play? And I feel in that second, Ros, we really gained the respect of individuals around the globe of how good these ladies actually might be.

Gold-Onwude: Has the expansion and the attain of the league since then met your expectations?

Swoopes: Once I have a look at the place the WNBA is right now, I’ll inform you a few issues. I feel the expertise degree from prime to backside is best than it was to start with. And what I imply by that’s, you’ve got groups that you just don’t know who’s going to win the championship from one 12 months to the subsequent. To not say the expertise wasn’t good then as a result of it was, however the factor I’d say that does disappoint me a bit of is I feel the league may and may do much more in advertising gamers.

Gold-Onwude: I do know gamers are speaking about how you can use their platform in a significant manner and the way the WNBA can help them in doing that. What are significant, non-superficial, non-performance ways in which the WNBA can use this 2020 season to have an effect on change going through racial inequalities and systemic racism in America?

McCoughtry: We will positively use this sport as a device. I didn’t agree with some NBA gamers who stated, Hey, it is a distraction, it’s leisure. No, we’re right here to unite. We use our basketball as a device. We encourage. That is the time now to play and struggle for the social justice. We’re positively going to have our shirts on. I feel we are able to use our interview platforms to talk up. Look, Breonna Taylor, she was in Louisville, that’s the place I went to highschool. Proper now we’re advocating for that. We will use this device to struggle towards the social injustice. That is the time now.

Brown: I agree with every little thing that Angel simply stated. I feel additionally I’m excited that, though the bubble is just not an excellent setting, we’re additionally going to be in there collectively so we’ll have the ability to bounce concepts off of one another, share tales, share experiences with one another. I feel that often groups type of do their very own factor one after the other by one as a result of we’re all in several cities, however I feel we’ll have the ability to have one united voice often because we’re all going to be in the identical place. I feel that us as gamers are going to have a variety of management over what’s stated and shared as a result of we’re going to be the one ones in there.

Swoopes: I feel it’s each participant’s particular person resolution. Should you suppose it’s good so that you can play then you definitely play. If it’s not then you definitely don’t. As a result of not solely do we’ve this coronavirus pandemic, we received the entire [problem of] systemic racism, all that stuff happening. There’s loads happening on this nation proper now. And I feel if gamers are going to play, then you definitely make that call and also you play, however you need to have a plan in place. So if the NBA and WNBA are going again to play, is {that a} distraction? It’s most likely a distraction for people who find themselves already distracted anyway, proper? And I agree with Angel, it’s a second for everyone to return collectively and say, All proper, we’ve an enormous platform. And it’s no secret that the NBA and WNBA are predominantly Black. So the factor I don’t need to occur is for gamers to begin taking part in once more and rapidly they’re again of their area and their setting and neglect about the true world, as a result of these points and these issues that we’ve right now are going to be round for a lot of extra years to return. If we in some unspecified time in the future, and I say we as all of us as Black individuals, don’t put our ft down and say pay attention, Listed below are a number of the adjustments that we wish, listed below are some issues that must occur, right here’s the place we’d like you to be on our facet. I don’t suppose gamers use their voice sufficient and if gamers are saying we need to play, I feel it’s an ideal time and excellent alternative for gamers to make the most of it and demand change.

McCoughtry: It’s been too lengthy. And I like what I see, you understand, we’ve to help the millennials, they’re those on the market preventing. The millennials. They weren’t there with Rodney King, they weren’t there with Martin Luther King, they weren’t there. They noticed George Floyd they usually had been pissed. Everyone received to see, Oh my God, America’s actually in a variety of bother proper now. You see in France, you see in London, they’re tearing down Accomplice statues. We see issues that we’ve by no means seen earlier than, so some type of change is occurring. However I feel that we have to proceed to make use of our platforms. Beyonce wrote a letter for Breonna Taylor. All of us want to make use of our celeb and our platforms to essentially get this achieved.

Gold-Onwude: I need to carry the dialog to a particular lady everyone knows—Maya Moore. She left hoops within the prime of her profession to struggle for prison justice reform. It positively felt prefer it occurred so abruptly, like rapidly Maya simply didn’t come again to hoops. This honorable trigger taken up by one of many greatest stars within the recreation has been lined by the media right here and there, however I feel we must be speaking about Maya Moore extra.

McCoughtry: I competed with no one like I did with Maya Moore…ever. It’s by no means going to be the identical. I want she was again, however I perceive the street she’s happening. It’s a street that wants extra consideration. I feel what she’s doing is superb. I don’t suppose sufficient individuals know the story of what she’s doing and I feel that Netflix or someone must do a documentary of what she’s doing off the courtroom.

Swoopes: Maya’s a champion, she all the time has been. What she’s doing now is just not going to be any completely different. The whole lot that she dropped at the courtroom, all the fervour, power, drive, dedication she had as a basketball participant, she now has that on this trigger. I agree with Angel. I feel someone, someplace must be doing extra protection, must be speaking extra about what Maya is doing now as a substitute of individuals speaking about, Oh my God, I can’t imagine Maya simply left the sport. That’s her resolution. I feel Maya gave every little thing she needed to give to the sport and possibly achieved if not every little thing virtually every little thing that she needed to perform as a basketball participant. I’ve all the time stated that I really feel like God places us on this earth and that all of us have a function and generally it takes us a few of us longer than others to seek out that function. Maya, loads like myself, I don’t suppose her function was to be a basketball participant. I feel it was to make use of basketball as a platform to do larger and higher issues. The fervour that she has proper now in her coronary heart is for one thing larger and higher than basketball. And the place we’re on this nation as African American women and men, I couldn’t consider a greater time for her to be doing what she’s doing. I received nothing however love for Maya, nothing however respect for her.

Brown: I feel the Lynx have all the time been on the forefront of these kind of points. Figuring out what I do know now, I see one of many major the explanation why—as a result of that they had somebody like Maya taking part in on the workforce and I’m certain she advocated for issues like that. Her final season was my first season, so up till that time I had simply been a fan, a spectator of hers. And clearly in my first season, I used to be nonetheless type of a fan and a spectator. I don’t suppose she’s getting almost sufficient consideration as she ought to. You see what a number of the NBA guys have been saying. They’re simply speaking about leaving the sport. They’re not really going to go away and go away all that cash. Maya really did it. She didn’t announce it, she simply did it. And no one’s saying something. All the eye the fellows have gotten for simply saying they shouldn’t play and go assist the neighborhood. OK, hear you, go do it.

Gold-Onwude: Positively. And to your level, Lexie, what Maya did was courageous. She didn’t talk about it, speak about it, she left behind one thing that was wildly profitable and cozy for her. I bear in mind these Stanford-UConn battles of our faculty days after which overlaying her within the execs. Maya’s a wonderful lady at every little thing. So after I see her as she steps into this subsequent section and fights for prison justice reform, I see a lady that’s nonetheless glorious. And Sheryl, you stated her campaign is on time. She was really a bit of early. The nation simply now’s like, OK, Let’s repair some issues. Maya’s been doing this. I agree that her story must be uplifted much more than it has been as a result of if somebody, a participant of her caliber on the lads’s facet, left to do such a noble trigger, it’d be all over the place.

Swoopes: It could be everywhere.

McCoughtry: It could be a film by now.

Gold-Onwude: It could be a film.

Brown: Like if an individual like LeBron simply stopped taking part in, it’d positively be a film already.

McCoughtry: Not even when it was a LeBron caliber participant, if it was only a regular participant that scored two factors a recreation on the bench within the NBA, it will be all over the place. 

100 p.c of proceeds from SLAM’s new concern shall be donated to charities supporting points impacting the Black neighborhood. Seize your copy right here.

Photographs by way of Getty.

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