The WNBA this year celebrates 25 years as a successful pro league, and Black-owned media dutifully played an unrecognized but important role in its success.
Unlike most mainstream media, who treated the W over the years worse than Cinderella’s stepsisters and whose naysayers wrongly predicted its demise, the Black Press and other non-mainstream media nonetheless gave women’s pro hoops deservedly prime time coverage on our sports pages and websites.
When the Minnesota Lynx began its dynasty run, winning four championships in odd-numbered years (2011, 2013, 2015, 2017) and reached the finals seven times, the MSR didn’t need to join the local media bandwagon because we had been solidly on point years before with our coverage during the team’s formative years.
During last week’s conference call with reporters, Nitecast Media’s Nick Robinson reminded WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert of the importance of Black media and asked how Black media and Black-owned businesses will be a part of the W’s overall diversity strategy.
Diversity can be a buzzword too often uttered while returning to non-diverse business as usual. But the commish reiterated that she and the W are putting action rather than just words in place.
“We would love to have more coverage,” Engelbert responded. “We’re also working with our teams on engaging with local Black small- to medium-sized businesses. I know some of our teams are already doing a great job on that, but making sure that we’re continuing to because of our diversity and being 80% percent women of color.”
That fact alone should put Black media in front of the line when interview requests, etc. are made rather than getting placed back behind the mainstream outlets who now, finally, are recognizing that the WNBA is here to stay.
“We absolutely are open and would love to talk with anyone and welcome further conversations about how to engage with the league, the teams, with the players,” pledged Engelbert. “Our players were fired up last year when we did some things in the Bubble using Black-owned businesses, and they love that we’re focused on that.”
The MSR asked Engelbert about coaching diversity in a league where the majority of its players are Black but there’s only one Black female head coach.
“I am totally focused on diversity in hiring practices,” said the commissioner. “It’s making sure that we’re helping build that pipeline of individuals who then would be in the running for these head coaching positions or ownership positions, like with [former player] Renee Montgomery” [now a part-owner with the Atlanta Dream].
“I know it may not view from outside in as enough, but I think we’re building a really outstanding pipeline,” she continued. “We have [former players] Rebekkah Brunson [now a Lynx assistant coach] and Tamika Catchings [now Indiana Basketball Operations VP]. Bethany Donaphin, who works on my team [as league operations head] is a former player. [Dallas HC] Vickie Johnson and [Minnesota assistant Plenette] Pearson and [Seattle assistant Noelle] Quinn, and [Las Vegas assistant Tanisha] Wright and [Phoenix assistant Chasity] Melvin.
“It’s great to see former players like Dawn Staley and Adia Barnes making history in coaching for their respective teams in the Final Four,” noted Engelbert. “I think it is about building a pipeline and making sure that when the next head coaching jobs become [available], when there’s a vacancy in the front office, I definitely think we have to do better across the board.
“But I think we are making progress,” said Engelbert.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.