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Falling In Love With The WNBA

It all started with a direct message from a player on the WNBA team, the Washington Mystics, after I shared a post about her newly released childrens book. She thanked me for the shoutout then offered me tickets to a game.

It would be the first time I watched womens basketball in person. Ive always been more of a spectator type from the couch fan. But as someone who writes so much about womens sports and their value to society, it was simply unacceptable that I had not yet attended a WNBA game, particularly when I live in a city whose basketball arena is only fifteen minutes from my house. 

Ive watched the WNBA before on TV, and excitedly watched the womens NCAA Tournament when South  beat Mississippi State to win the national championship. 

NCAA Women’s Basketball National Championship | Game Highlights [17-04-03]

South Carolina Gamecocks takes home it’s first National Championship under Hall of Famer Dawn Staley.

Am I well-versed in who all the players are? Not by a long shot. Do I have respect for how amazingly talented the women are? Absolutely. 

Leading up to the game, I thought about who I would give my extra ticket to. None of my friends are really into sports, my dating prospects have been dismal lately and Im not brave enough to invite a stranger off the street. 

Then I realized, Anya, your passion is to get girls into sports. You should obviously take a young girl!

Quickly, I sent a message to my friend who runs an after-school program and asked her if she knew of any girls who would want to attend a game. Sure enough, I was told that an 11-year-old named Kianna would love that. 

Before the game, I brushed up on who who the players were, the history of the team, and the history of the league itself. And great moments have taken place this season, like when Diana Taurasi of the Phoenix Mercury set a new scoring record in the WNBA and Lindsay Whalen of the Minnesota Lynx becoming the all-time winningest player in league history.

Diana Taurasi’s Top 10 WNBA Career Plays!

You’ve watched her make magic happen for 13 years in Phoenix. Now, be there to celebrate Diana Taurasi in her first game back since becoming the all-time WNBA scoring leader. Get Your WNBA Tickets Here!: http://www.wnba.com/tickets/

But I found myself admiring the WNBA as a league even more, and it had nothing to do with their athleticism, and everything to do with the fact that the players are community and social activists. 

This year, the Seattle Storm partnered with Planned Parenthood to raise money for the organization during a game, raising around $42,000. The New York Liberty hosted a panel discussion on race, partnering with the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE), and invited law enforcement advocates and educators to weigh in on how race relations can be improved. 

Last year, the WNBA fined the Liberty, the Indiana Fever and the Phoenix Mercury $5,000 apiece because some players wore black warm-up shirts in response to recent shootings in Texas, Minnesota and Louisiana. 

Those players were fined an additional $500. As a result, players on those teams held media blackouts, refusing to answer questions about basketball, and instead focus their attention to race relations. 

Tamika Catchings, who recently retired, said at the time while playing for the Fever, Theres a lot of other stuff outside of basketball thats going on that, as a whole, all the players have grabbed a hold of. I think its important that us as players being able to utilize our voice, and being able to stand for, and stay united for what matters to us. 

Sue Bird WNBA All-Star 2017 Season Highlights

Sue Bird WNBA All-Star 2017 Season Highlights

And this season, in response to the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, the Washington Mystics and Los Angeles Sparks locked arms during the national anthem before their nationally televised game. 

WNBA players have been taking unpopular stances for quite some time. Sure, they may have less to lose in regards to sponsors, but the players, it seems, have stayed true to their conscience and have fought for what they believe in honorably and diligently. 

As a former athlete, I think about the role of athletes quite a bit. I wonder if I could have used my platform on the LPGA differently, and if I could have made more of an impact had I spoke out about the things I truly cared about. 

And I wonder if I was still playing now, if I would have remained relatively quiet under the current Trump administration out of fear of losing sponsorships or fans. What I admire about WNBA players though, is that theyre more interested in justice and making a difference, and less concerned about what people will think of them. 

So when I took Kianna to the game, I wanted her to enjoy her first professional womens event. But I also wanted to her know how hard these women work for little compensation. I talked to her about the pay gap between the NBA and WNBA players and how not all their games are televised. I gave her a brief about the some of the work the players do in their communities, and why its important for athletes to use their voices. 

Elena Delle Donne WNBA All-Star 2017 Season Highlights

Elena Delle Donne WNBA All-Star 2017 Season Highlights

Kianna and I went into the Capital One Area, went into the merchandise store where she picked out a Washington Mystics shirt and a basketball. We stood in line and ordered popcorn and a drink, went to our seats and saw the tip-off. 

As the game progressed, Kianna became more enamoured as she watched the players go up and down the court. And that night, she got to witness WNBA history when Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm broke the leagues all-time record for assists. 

As she familiarized herself with the players, Kianna began cheering and yelling, and she got in on the action as the crowd yelled, Defense!

I looked around and noticed something particularly special: there were young girls everywhere, and it was there I saw the future of womens basketball. 

In that moment I realized how pivotal it is for these young girls to not only see themselves in these women playing on the court, but to also see that they can make a difference regardless of what their platform is. 

And as the WNBA continues to grow, the league and its players have a perfect chance to continue to not only inspire young girls, but lovers of the game to become activists in their communities and to stand up for what is right, even when its unpopular. 

The Mystics won in a nail-biter, and Kianna looked at me disappointed when the game was over. She wanted to watch more basketball, and dammit, so did I. But as we left, she looked at me said, That was so much fun! 

And she dribbled her new basketball all the way to the car, not saying another word after…just relishing in what she experienced and the memory of watching some of the best women in basketball play a sport they love. 

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