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.
LR: It's great. I have the opportunity to talk to a lot of our players about the impact of Title IX, and virtually all of our players will credit Title IX with ... creating the opportunity for them to really hone their skills and their craft while they were in high school and college, so I think the WNBA for them is just a natural extension of that. Title IX absolutely paved the way for them as individuals and paved the way for the league as well by creating a robust group of women who are able to compete at the level required to be part of a professional sports league.
TR: What do people not know about the WNBA that they should?
LR: I always encourage people to come to a game, because I think most people have heard of the WNBA, but not nearly enough people have experienced the level of play -- it's fast, it's competitive, it's aggressive -- and the in-arena experience. We hear from our fans all the time that there's nothing quite like the fun, the excitement and, quite frankly, the feeling of community that exists at a WNBA game.
TR: Do you think the WNBA will be as lucrative and popular as the NBA in our lifetimes?
LR: I absolutely hope so. I often describe the game being played in the WNBA as different but not less than the NBA. It is exciting. It is competitive. You get to see the fundamentals of the game and see the teams coming together, but you also see the stars shining though.
I think we have everything going for us, and we're really well poised to achieve the same levels. We're seeing our audience grow. We signed last year our first leaguewide partner in Boost Mobile. Viewership is up. So I'm quite optimistic about our future.
TR: What still needs to change to allow female athletes like those in the WNBA to really be recognized for their talents?
LR: Somehow, we as a society just have to get more comfortable with the notion of a female athlete. I went to a game once in Minneapolis, and there were two young boys sitting behind me -- they couldn't have been more than 9 years old -- and I listened to them going back and forth commenting on the game.
They knew all the players' stats -- who was good at guarding, who wasn't; whose shot was on, whose shot was off -- and I remarked that they were not viewing this through a gender lens. They were not saying, "This is terrific women's basketball"; they were saying, "This is terrific basketball." And so, I think the rest of society needs to catch up with those two boys.
Jenée Desmond-Harris is the staff writer for The Root.