When I was growing up, my best friend and I dreamed of being ballers — a dream largely ignited by a woman named Sheryl Swoopes. We came of age in the ‘90s, when the WNBA was first formed and its first player was signed. That player was Swoopes and, make no mistake, she was a total badass. As young athletes, it was undeniably inspiring to see a woman step into her power in a way that was historically unseen on the national sports stage.
Fast forward to the present, and my best friend and I both have kids of our own. Swoopes has since retired but, happily, the WNBA is still around. Not only that but the league also recently announced its first rebrand in more than 20 years. The new season tips off May 24th, and the timing couldn’t be more salient.
In March, the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team sued the U.S. Soccer Federation over pay equity and working conditions. In April, Notre Dame’s women’s basketball coach, Muffet McGraw, went viral for comments she made about gender equality in sports and society at large. Culturally, a shift is taking place. Important conversations about parity between the sexes are occurring with more frequency than ever before.
But that doesn’t mean the work is done. In fact, it means we need to do more and that’s what the new WNBA is all about.
If we all want to see equality for women in sports, we need to actually support women in sports. How? Sandy Brondello, coach of the Phoenix Mercury, has some ideas. “We need more people coming to watch our games,” Brondello told SheKnows. “People always say, ‘Well, men play a superior game,’ but no, they don’t. There are great male athletes and there are great female athletes — everybody should be celebrated. If more people would just come to watch, they would see that.”
In a conversation with SheKnows, New York Liberty guard Rebecca Allen addressed why the lack of parity in coverage is so problematic. “I’m not even asking to have the same salary at this point; I just want some recognition. I’m wanting there to be more media because, without the media coverage, how do people know that it even exists?” she said, noting that the imbalance of coverage also contributes to unfair comparisons. “Don’t expect to go to a game that is just like the men who play above the ring. We play below the ring — it’s a kind of game that’s different, and I think you’ve got to enjoy it for what it is.”
We need to amplify the voices that are helping shape the dialogue, and that includes the lady ballers of the new WNBA. “The WNBA is showing the world what basketball is on their terms,” the league described the rebrand in a statement. “With a new look, new voice and a whole new approach to storytelling, the league is elevating not just the game but also the social and pop culture movements around it. With this new movement, the WNBA is making space for the game, the players and the fans to shine and show the world who they really are — badass ballers and dynamic women who challenge convention and shape culture.”
It isn’t just on women to empower women in sports, though. Tina Charles, center for the New York Liberty, touched on the importance of both genders pushing for equality in sports. “It’s definitely important, just for the fact that we’re all putting in the same work all around,” she told SheKnows. “I think that we’ve definitely been making progress with the amount of women that are stepping up and the amount of men that are also stepping up to see the value of women in sports.”
Brondello also pointed out that the NBA’s support of the WNBA is helping shift the conversation surrounding women in sports. “The NBA supports the WNBA and that’s great because they currently have a much larger audience than us and their support really helps us continue to grow,” she told SheKnows. “Kobe Bryant is a huge fan of the WNBA. Support from big names like that can help change the public opinion.”
Supporting female athletes isn’t important just for right now — it will have a lasting impact on society, as well as a profound effect on our young daughters. “I have a nine-year-old daughter at home and she’s seeing that anything is possible,” says Brondello. “The rebrand is proving that anything is possible because there are so many women in our league that come from so many diverse backgrounds and we celebrate the path they took to get to where they are now.”
Describing that effect, Allen looked to her own future. “They’re the next generation. I would hope that when my daughter comes to play basketball — when that day comes — I hope that it’s a different world that she lives in,” she said. “I hope that we’ve been able to build it up to be better. At this point, every change is a good thing. It’s going to be small steps in the beginning, but every small step is leading us towards where we want to be.”
As Charles puts it, gender equality in sports is important for everyone, regardless of whether you’re a sports fan. “Once you see progress that affects everyone else around you, once you start a conversation, I think conversation pushes progress, and that’s when you see change. Just keep having the conversations.”
So hey, if watching the women of the new WNBA turns my little girl into an aspiring basketball player, this mama certainly wouldn’t be upset. The girl I once was — the one who dreamed of owning Nike Air Swoopes and still thinks “swish” is one of the sweetest sounds in the world — would undoubtedly rejoice.
But, more pointedly, by supporting the WNBA, my daughter and I would be helping to further a conversation that only stands to make our society better and fairer. If that’s not baller status, I don’t know what is.