WNBA President Laurel Richie's Got Game

The head of the nation's longest-running women's league talks to The Root about female role models.

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This Women's History Month, WNBA President Laurel Richie is talking about what the nation's longest-running women's sports league means -- not just for basketball fans but for all Americans.

She told The Root that she thinks the league is on track to become as popular as the NBA if we, as a nation, can get comfortable with the idea of female athletes. Richie says that the game is exciting and competitive and different from (but not less than) men's basketball. And she challenges anyone who has a doubt about that to come check out a game.

The Root: You were senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Girl Scouts of the USA before you took on your current role with the WNBA. Did you make a conscious decision to use your career to represent the interests of women?

Laurel Richie: I think I did. Early on, when I was working at an advertising agency, I went to a very senior-level training, and I remember walking into the room, and it was filled with men in leadership positions both at the client and the agency. I just made a mental note at that point in time that boardrooms needed to change and that I was going to do whatever I could to bring about that change.

As my career unfolded, I found that I worked on lots of different businesses and types of businesses, but the ones I found I enjoyed the most were those that were targeted to women and where women were either the primary consumers or beneficiaries of the product. So that really came to the forefront when I made the move from advertising to Girl Scouts of the USA and then, very clearly, in joining the WNBA.

Not only is it a great product in terms of the longest-running professional women's sports league in the country, but it's comprised of 132 players, and many of our owners are often females. So you look at the players, owners, coaches, trainers, massage therapists -- it's a wonderful example of what women can do in sports and in business.

TR: Why is the WNBA important, even to people who might not be big sports fans?

LR: All of the studies tell us that those who participate in sports contribute to a healthy society -- in terms of physical fitness but also in terms of reducing some other negative aspects, whether that's not staying in school or teen pregnancy. Girls who participate in sports tend to be more successful, not only in sports but in other aspects of their lives.

And women in the WNBA are great [role] models. Of the players from the United States, virtually all have gone to four-year colleges, so they enter the league with a strong educational background as well as being the best of the best in the sport in which they have chosen to compete. It's great for young girls and young boys to see women achieving their best.

TR: The anniversary of Title IX, the law that allowed women's sports to be on equal footing in both the collegiate and professional arenas, is coming soon. How has it made a difference for women?

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