commentary + critique

from tamryn spruill

Layshia Clarendon Leads the Fight in the War Being Waged on Transgender Americans

Layshia Clarendon Leads the Fight in the War Being Waged on Transgender Americans

By Evan Cooper Emerging as a force to be reckoned with against gender identity discrimination, Layshia Clarendon, the WNBA’s first openly trans and non-binary player, is “at the forefront of the league’s groundbreaking social justice efforts and is tasked with engaging community conversations, advocacy and education on important topics surrounding social justice.” For all of their grassroots efforts in challenging policy and culture around gender in sports, Clarendon has been nominated for the Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award. Yet, in the same breath that we celebrate the joy of gender euphoria for countless people challenging the gender binary, we must band together and fight the intentional harms caused to our transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming siblings.  There is no federal law that classifies transgender people as a protected class, requiring protections from very real discrimination and the dangers it provokes. We are left to our own resources to maneuver discriminatory practices that jeopardize physical and emotional safety and overall quality of life of transgender Americans. Transgender and non-binary people often struggle to get their basic needs like housing, public accommodations and employment met due to a particularly cruel amalgam of discrimination and negligence from all levels of public policy.  With necessities being systematically withheld from people based on gender identity, we can infer that similar dynamics take place in favorite pastimes like sports, affecting people of all ages. For example, Clarendon’s Sports Illustrated cover story about their gender identity in the WNBA argues that being asked to “compartmentalize their gender and their job was impossible.” Further, the piece features a moving argument from Quinn, a non-binary Canadian soccer player who plays in the National Women’s Soccer League, that “People—maybe especially nonbinary people—play sports because we love connecting with our bodies.”  Within a binary...

Black Women in the WNBA Know No Bounds When It Comes to Pursuing Financial Wellness

Black Women in the WNBA Know No Bounds When It Comes to Pursuing Financial Wellness

By Evan Cooper Like many exceptional Black women, Candace Parker has her hands in many pots. Most recently, she sat down with Trevor Noah for a virtual discussion of her many endeavors, including her latest: “Moments with Candace Parker,” a parenting-focused podcast. But Parker is not alone.  Many WNBA players opt to pursue an array of entrepreneurial endeavors in addition to being full-time athletes performing at the highest level. Renee Montgomery easily transitioned into sports broadcasting during her career; after retiring, she bought an ownership stake in the Atlanta Dream and is now the team’s vice president.  The Los Angeles Sparks’ Chiney Ogwumike is the first Black woman and WNBA player to host a nationally broadcasted ESPN radio show, and she produced the critically acclaimed “144,” a documentary that follows the WNBA’s 2020 bubble season that took place during a global pandemic and a national reckoning on racism and police violence. Two-time Olympic gold medalist Angel McCoughtry opened an Atlanta-based, community-favorite ice cream shop called McCoughtry’s in 2017, and Marissa Coleman and Alana Beard often speak on Black women’s entrepreneurship after they became co-owners of a Mellow Mushroom franchise in Atlanta.  Rebekkah Brunson, a five-time champion and current assistant coach with the Minnesota Lynx, founded and manages her own women’s basketball foundation and owns and operates a waffle truck called Sweet Gypsy Waffles.   The list continues, but the theme remains the same: Black women in the WNBA, pursuing financial wellness, know no bounds.  So, why do so many players have their hands in so many pots? In short, they have to. It is no secret that athletes in women’s leagues do not get a fraction of the salaries or brand endorsements that their male counterparts do.  Watch: CP3 in conversation with Trevor Noah   Las Vegas Aces center Liz Cambage drew attention to these pay inequities when she tweeted in June of 2018: “Today, I learnt NBA...

Any Expansion Should Be by Measured Approach, WNBA History Reveals

Any Expansion Should Be by Measured Approach, WNBA History Reveals

By Tamryn Spruill On this day in WNBA history (June 7, 1999), the league announced its decision to expand the league to 16 teams for the 2000 season, adding the Indiana Fever, the Portland Fire, the Miami Sol and the Seattle Storm. The addition of the four teams exceeded the more modest expansion in 1998, which brought the Detroit Shock and the Washington Mystics into the league, and 1999, which added the Minnesota Lynx and the Orlando Miracle. Of the four teams added in 2000, only the Fever and Storm exist, but the conundrum of WNBA teams going defunct is not limited to those that came after the original eight.   A review of the teams that have come and gone in the WNBA's 25-year history underscores the point. Of the WNBA's original eight teams, just three remain active today. And a total of eight teams that once existed no longer do. Active teams are presented in bold italics. 1997 WNBA teams EASTERN CONFERENCE  Charlotte Sting (1997-2007) Cleveland Rockers (1997-2003) Houston Comets (1997-2008) New York Liberty (1997-present) WESTERN CONFERENCE Los Angeles Sparks (1997-present) Phoenix Mercury (1997-present) Sacramento Monarchs (1997-2009) Utah Starzz (1997-2002) The league added two Eastern Conference teams in time for the 1998 season, the Mystics and the Shock, allowing the Houston Comets to move to their rightful place in the Western Conference. 1998 WNBA teams EASTERN CONFERENCE  Charlotte Sting Cleveland Rockers Detroit Shock (1998-present)* New York Liberty Washington Mystics (1998-present) WESTERN CONFERENCE Houston Comets Los Angeles Sparks  Phoenix Mercury  Sacramento Monarchs Utah Starzz 1999 WNBA teams EASTERN CONFERENCE  Charlotte Sting Cleveland Rockers Detroit Shock* New York Liberty Orlando Miracle (1999-present)* Washington Mystics WESTERN CONFERENCE Houston Comets Los Angeles Sparks Minnesota Lynx (1999-present)  Phoenix Mercury  Sacramento Monarchs Utah Starzz 2000 WNBA teams EASTERN CONFERENCE  Charlotte Sting Cleveland Rockers Detroit...

Seimone Augustus Deserved the Honor of Retiring a Lynx

Seimone Augustus Deserved the Honor of Retiring a Lynx

“Minnesota knows that they have a piece of my heart,” Seimone Augustus said, a tapestry featuring the logo of the Los Angeles Sparks undulating gently behind her. It was late into last week’s retirement press conference when a question by Charles Hallman, a longtime reporter for the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, brought her to tears. Six days before, Augustus -- the No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 draft, a four-time champion with the Minnesota Lynx, an eight-time All-Star and top-10 all-time WNBA scorer -- announced her retirement, for reasons familiar to any athlete lucky enough to experience career longevity: the body. To prepare for training camp in her second season in L.A., Augustus worked with a trainer on cardio and conditioning. Asked to run 48 sprints, the Baton Rouge, La. native obliged, but not because it was easy. “My ego got me through the 48 sprints,” Augustus said. “But then when I got to my car, I couldn’t even crank my car because I was just, like, exhausted. I was just, like, so tired. And I was, like, ‘What are you doing?’ And then I constantly had that battle -- that day until the day I decided (to retire).” “As athletes, that’s the amazing thing -- we’re able to have our minds command our bodies and have us do amazing things,” she added. “But once my mind could not tell my body to do what I wanted it to do … It really starts to tug on your heartstrings about where you’re at with the game.” At age 37, Augustus had amassed an illustrious career that also includes three Olympic gold medals. Her perspective had shifted; she began weighing the pursuit of extra gravy and cherries on top against the risk of long-term injury. And, in a twist uncommon to competitive athletes, Augustus was thinking of her younger peers, considering the ramifications of clinging to one of the league’s 144 roster spots for another year. “If I’m not able to give what I’m used to giving, then I have to allow someone else to carry the torch so they can live out their dreams,”...

Review: Chiney Ogwumike’s “144” is a revolutionary work of journalistic art

Review: Chiney Ogwumike’s “144” is a revolutionary work of journalistic art

By Tamryn Spruill Tealight candles flicker dragonfly-like light in the Florida night sky, the plastic cups holding them clink gentle, yet somber hellos. It is Aug. 26, 2020, three days after a police officer in Wisconsin emptied seven bullets into the back of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old African-American man, leaving him without his colon or small intestines and paralyzed from the waist down. “Of course, today’s been quite an eventful day,” WNBPA president Nneka Ogwumike said before a crowd of her peers. As she spoke, the players, donning masks that left uncovered only their sober eyes, accepted candles one-by-one. “This moment is a reminder of the non-negotiables that we had going into the season.” The 144 players of the WNBA had arrived to the IMG Academy campus in Bradenton, Fla., months before, for a pandemic-condensed and -shortened season — unsure they could be kept safe inside the environment that would come to be known as the “wubble.” Yet, the season had played out inside confinement that left the likes of Jewell Loyd and other players feeling “trapped,” tasked with shoring up mental strength to match the physical strength they were known for on the court. Calling the latest act of police violence against a Black body “a tragic, disgusting act against human rights,” WNBPA vice-president Layshia Clarendon said. “And we’re exhausted, but we’re in this together.” And, thus, begins “144,” a documentary from ESPN Films about the WNBA’s season 2020 season of social justice amid pandemic. It was created by four female filmmakers: WNBA player and ESPN broadcaster Chiney Ogwumike, co-directors Lauren Stowell and Jenna Contreras and producer Allison Galer, C. Ogwumike’s agent. Debuting Thursday May 13 (9 p.m. ET on ESPN), “144” welcomes viewers into their world, the women of the 2020 WNBA season who entered the wubble in Florida, a coronavirus hotspot, as a unified front in the fight against racism, police brutality and injustice. When the players entered the wubble,...

Jennifer Rizzotti’s Journey from the Blizzard of New England to the Mohegan Tribe’s Sun

Jennifer Rizzotti’s Journey from the Blizzard of New England to the Mohegan Tribe’s Sun

By Tamryn Spruill Jennifer Rizzotti, currently an assistant coach with the USA Basketball women's Olympic team, is celebrated for her accomplishments at all levels of the game. last week, she added another esteemed role to her already-impressive resume: president of the Connecticut Sun. But Rizzotti's climb in pro hoops to top decision-maker of the Mohegan Tribe-owned Sun had chillier beginnings, in New England. Rizzotti graduated from the University of Connecticut with career averages of 11.4 points, 4.7 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 2.6 steals per game. As a junior, she helped the Huskies to a perfect 35-0 season en route to a national championship. As a senior in 1995-96, Rizzotti collected the best and biggest individual honors: AP National Player of the Year, Wade Trophy and Naismith Award. But Rizzotti did not get her professional playing start in the WNBA; the league did not exist yet. The NBA announced its plans to form a professional basketball league for women in April 1996, but the WNBA's inaugural season would not tip off until June 1997, after the national team's gold medal run at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Thus, it was the American Basketball League (ABL) in its inaugural season that provided Rizzotti and her NCAA counterparts a professional home. Capitalizing on her notoriety as a star at UConn, Rizzotti signed to play for the New England Blizzard.                                                       Her run in the ABL was short-lived. The fledgling league folded in the middle of its third season amid competition from the NBA-backed upstart WNBA. Rizzotti continued her playing career in the WNBA, where she helped the Houston Comets to their third and fourth consecutive championships in 1999 and 2000. She played three more seasons in the WNBA, all with the now-defunct Cleveland Rockers. “I am so honored to rejoin the...

Rick Welts Career Retrospectives Omit the WNBA from His Resume

Rick Welts Career Retrospectives Omit the WNBA from His Resume

By Tamryn Spruill When long-time sports executive Rick Welts announced his decision last week to step down as president and chief operating officer of the Golden State Warriors, media entities were quick to publish retrospectives of his illustrious career. And they appropriately praised his efforts to foster inclusion of LGBTQ+ individuals by coming out as gay and being visible in a powerful position in the world of sports, with one of the most successful NBA franchises of the last decade, no less. His work in the late-90s to help launch the WNBA? Never mentioned, at least not by ESPN's The Undefeated. The Associated Press, meanwhile, went so far as to mention Welts' humble beginnings 46 years ago as a locker room attendant for the Seattle SuperSonics. No harsh feelings toward the writers or media outlets that omitted Welts' contributions to the WNBA's early success, but it is unacceptable that his award-winning efforts were not deemed important enough to write about. We resoundingly reject this persistent and normalized exclusion of the WNBA from conversations in which it belongs. Rejection! Surely, the fact that Welts and first-ever WNBA president Val Ackerman were awarded the top honor of Grand Marketer in 1997 by Brand Week magazine for steering the newfound league to a successful inaugural season -- one that exceeded all expectations -- is worthy of a mention if Welts' professional start as a locker room is.                 The award was presented at a conference hosted by the Association of National Advertisers, themed "Branding the Future."

A’ja Wilson’s Self-mastery Defies Expectations Placed on Black Women and Professional Athletes

A’ja Wilson’s Self-mastery Defies Expectations Placed on Black Women and Professional Athletes

By Evan Cooper Curating a support system that holds her accountable and practicing self-discipline on and off the court, A’ja Wilson, the WNBA’s Most Valuable Player in 2020, is wise beyond her years and hungry to better herself and those around her. Before being selected as the No. 1 overall pick by the Las Vegas Aces in the 2018 WNBA Draft, Wilson blazed trails so wide at the University of South Carolina that a statue to honor her legacy was erected in January outside of Colonial Life Arena, where the Gamecocks play. In a recent sit-down interview with CBS News, Wilson discussed the great respect she has for her community, absorbing knowledge from WNBA trailblazers, understanding the value of collective effort (both professionally and politically) and investing in the younger generation. She knows the value of representation, as much as she did when she was a kid, and respects her role as an increasingly visible public figure. But her journey of self-mastery defies many of the stereotypes and expectations placed on Black women and professional athletes.  She lives by the emotionally-intelligent actions of: Honoring those who paved the way for her success To implement sustainable changes in life, it is imperative to study and learn from our predecessors. A’ja Wilson is no stranger to the idea, often citing immense admiration for players like Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes, Dawn Staley and Lauren Jackson. In some cases, such as Wilson’s, the WNBA has created a unique experience for its players as they can develop under the league’s trailblazers from earlier generations. We can see the value in this from Wilson’s testimony alone, routinely mentioning her desire to “play for a woman that looked like me, that did everything that I wanted to do.” Hopefully, in the future, WNBA leadership of this nature will become the standard.  Valuing collective efforts It is no secret that the WNBA player proudly advocates for the causes in which she believes. Most impressive is her...

2: S2E2: All We Needed Was The Chance

2: S2E2: All We Needed Was The Chance

Gabby Williams spoke with The Hard Screen in January during a break between the EuroLeague Women regular and postseasons where she plays for Sopron Basket in Hungary. The forward with the WNBA's Chicago Sky spoke about her new partnership for Ford, the silliness of gendering objects like cars, advertisers' renewed interest in the league's players, the toxic culture of the NCAA and much more. Get the latest "screen" and sign up for the HARD SCREEN Newsletter at: https://thehardscreen.net/.

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