WNBA president discusses gender equality in sports at university lecture

Laurel Richie tackled issues facing women and LGBT athletes in the sporting community at the second university lecture of the semester.

Laurel J. Richie, the president of the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA), had an in-depth conversation with the audience at Hendricks Chapel on Wednesday evening. As the leader of the longest running women’s professional sport league in the country, Richie shared her insights about women's sports, as well as about the issues and opportunities of the WNBA.

"Sports has a real opportunity to inform culture. We are different — but not less — than men."
- Laurel J. Richie

By walking the audience through her career path — working at advertising agencies such as Leo Burnett Worldwide and Ogilvy & Mather, to Girl Scouts of the USA — Richie explained how her love for marketing brought her to her current position.

Before Richie took the job, she had never been to a WNBA game. But the extra layer of marketing intrigued Richie to take the job and change the world by using her own voice.

And she made it. Richie was named to the 2014 ESPNW Impact 25, a list that recognizes the top 25 people who influenced women's sports that year, and was named one of the most influential African Americans in sports by Black Enterprise.

Riche mentioned that the mission of the WNBA is that “a woman can be an athletic, and an athletic can be a citizen." More and more women are engaging in political systems and taking the leading role in business, and Richie said she hopes women in sports can help improve appreciation for women in society.

“Sports has a real opportunity to inform culture,” Richie said. “We are different — but not less — than men.”

Meanwhile, part of the WNBA’s work is to redefine femininity, she said.

“I grew up in the time that women and girls are either girly or tomboy. But I think WNBA athletics are really on a mission to show us it’s not necessary to be an 'either or,' it’s an 'and,'” Richie said.

She also said that society is in the right direction, but there is a long way to go until we truly have gender equality in America.

“If you take a look at the news coverage, you can find the double standard in reporting in terms of the male and female athletics,” Richie said. She shared with the audience that Becky Hammon has been a rock star in the WNBA as a player for 16 seasons, but the media exposure is less compared to her new role as an assistant NBA coach.

Tim Sheldon, a freshman student who came to the lecture to expand his sports management knowledge, said one thing that resonated with him was the gender discussion. He agreed that the WNBA doesn’t get proper respect.

“Ms. Richie told me that Becky Hammon remains true to her roots, realizing that she would not be where she is today if not for her 16 seasons in the WNBA,” Sheldon added. “Hammon is not so concerned about being the first ever female assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs; she was more concerned about how many people will come after her — just like a pioneer that paves the way for others.”

Ali Beard, a student of intercollegiate athletic advising and support at the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics, enjoyed the opportunity of having the president of the WNBA offer a lecture to the students, staff and the public. Beard was interested in what inspires Richie and her staff to formally embrace and capitalize on their LGBT fan base, which sets a model for the other leagues.

“This is not something that can be seen everyday, especially in a professional sport league,” Beard said.

Richie is proud of the WNBA’s accessibility to its diverse fan base, no matter if they are gay, straight, from different religions, from veteran families or from different races.

“Female athletes are assumed to be lesbian; and male athletics are assumed to be straight, except for that one person who has yet to come out. I’m fascinated about the discussion that goes around gender,” Richie said.

WNBA had a PRIDE initiative last summer to acknowledge the LGBT community’s undervalued support since the time the league was established, and it was well-received by the fans.

“The love for basketball puts people together,” Richie said.

John Nicholson, the director of Newhouse Sports Media Center, said Richie sent a tremendous message to the students who want to pursue a career in sports management and public communications.

“If you think you want to do something and you are sure you want to do something, go get it, reach out to people, and you’ll probably succeed. You won’t get anywhere by sitting back and hoping. Richie has been successful by working hard, by speaking up, and she is also obviously smart and amusing,” Nicholson said.

Nichole Grant, a marketing coordinator from the Stanley Theater in Utica, New York, said she was drawn to the lecture by the marketing skills Richie shared.

“What I got has really opened my eyes. I’ve learned to push the lines, and go out there trying something new. Just as a female too, realizing that I might not be a huge fan of sports, but it makes me want to start watching a WNBA game,” Grant said with a smile.

Live Blog WNBA president Laurel J. Richie live at Syracuse University

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