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The check-in: Be better, women's sports
The only thing good is Venus Williams. And you.
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1. What not to do.
Yesterday was Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. More specifically, it marks June 19, 1865, when Major General Gordon Granger issued an order that proclaimed freedom for slaves in Texas. This order came a full two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Juneteenth has long been a holiday for African Americans, an occasion to celebrate African-American history, African-American culture, and the progress and perseverance of the African-American community. In 2021, Juneteenth finally became a federal holiday.
Why the history lesson? Well, because based on the way some women’s sports franchises celebrated, it’s needed.
It’s good — or, at least, it should be good — that Juneteenth is getting more recognition from mainstream, white America. But, unfortunately and predictably, a lot of mainstream, white America has butchered and co-opted the meaning of the holiday, and made it more about unifying buzzwords than actively uplifting the African American community. This year, two women’s sports organizations in particular — the Indiana Fever of the WNBA and Racing Louisville of the NWSL — did a particularly poor job marking (or, not marking, as the case might be) the occasion.
Let’s start with the Fever. First, and perhaps most egregiously, the Fever got a corporate sponsor for its Juneteenth celebration. And not just any corporate sponsor, but Bank of America. Yes, that Bank of America, where Black and Latino employees are 3.75 and 5.05 times more likely to hold entry level positions than their white peers. That Bank of America, the one currently being sued for racial discrimination in its maintenance and marketing of foreclosed-upon properties in 2018.
Every social media post about their day literally said, “our Juneteenth celebration presented by Bank of America.” It was truly dystopian.
That wasn’t the only Fever misstep. It also promoted the Juneteenth game by tweeting out a (since-deleted) graphic with Grace Berger, one of three white players on the Fever roster. This was either an inexcusable slip-up, or a purposeful move to try to make white Fever fans feel more comfortable about a Juneteenth celebration. Considering its pull quote from a Juneteenth video was how “Juneteenth is important for all Americans,” the latter is certainly a possibility.1
But look, at least the Fever actually did a lot to celebrate Juneteenth. That’s a definite step up from what happened in Louisville, which is … nothing. Well, actually, worse than nothing. Instead of holding a Juneteenth celebration at their home game on Sunday, like most other teams in the NWSL and WNBA did over the weekend, Racing held a SpongeBob Squarepants Day. I’m not even kidding.
God, I wish I was kidding.
Now look, I’m white. I’m not going to tell anyone how to celebrate Juneteenth. But I will tell you how *not* to celebrate it — do not do any of the things above!
Black women, Black fans, Black coaches, Black executives, they just deserve better. So just do better, women’s sports.
2. Questions remain about Brittney Griner’s travel situation.
Two Saturdays ago at a Dallas airport, Griner was harassed by what the WNBA called a “social media provocateur” — a nice way to say an asshole with a camera who followed Griner and her Mercury teammates at the airport, barking pointed questions at them all in a quest to gain cheap internet points from his right-wing followers. The stunt understandably rattled the players, as Griner’s teammate Brianna Turner shared on Twitter:
I have to ask: How was this allowed to happen? Headed into the season there were obvious security concerns for Griner, whose profile rose considerably when she was wrongfully detained in Russia for 10 months. (The WNBA still mostly travels commercially — this season, the league is paying for charters for teams who are playing back-to-back games that require air travel, for the visiting team in the Commissioner’s Cup final, and for all rounds of the playoffs; hey are also allowing teams to utilize pre-set flights via a public charter service, though I’m afraid I’m too poor to really understand what that means.)
After the incident, the WNBA said that special arrangements were made for Griner’s travel this season, including charter flights and increased security.
“The safety of Brittney Griner and all WNBA players is our top priority. Prior to the season, the WNBA worked together with the Phoenix Mercury and BG’s team to ensure her safety during her travel, which included charter flights for WNBA games and assigned security personnel with her at all times,” the WNBA said in a statement. “We remain steadfastly committed to the highest standards of security for players.”
But Lindsay Kagawa Colas, Griner’s agent, told the Wall Street Journal that Griner’s travel for the season was actually “a league plan that included a mix of charter and a select number of commercial flights with security protocols that failed.”
The WNBA is said to be working with the Mercury and Griner to sure up her safety, but it seems that there are still a lot of uncertaintes about what Griner’s travel will look like. (I reached out to the Mercury, WNBA, and Griner’s agent for further clarification, but haven’t heard back at the time of publication. I will definitely update you all if I find something out.)
According to an AP report by Doug Feinberg on June 17, “Questions remain about who would pay for it if the WNBA allows Griner to fly privately. And also if the league allows Phoenix to use JSX to fly to any of the other 11 cities that teams play in by creating their own flights, how other teams would view that since it would give the Mercury a potential competitive advantage.”
Again, I have to ask: How were these issues not resolved before the season began? I do understand that this is an unprecedented situation, and that adjustments might have to be made as the season progresses. But it feels like this whole situation is lacking leadership. It’s easy to point fingers at the WNBA front office, but where is new Mercury owner Matt Ishbia? He certainly has the bank account to easily take care of Griner’s charter flights — spending certainly isn’t an object for him when it comes to the Suns. Truthfully, Griner’s situation is bigger than the WNBA and the normal bounds of competition. Every single owner in the league and the entire league office should be putting all things aside to ensure that Griner’s safety is paramount, competitive advantages be damned.
Hopefully all of this will get figured out sooner rather than later. Like, yesterday.
3. The Women’s World Cup won’t be the same without Becky Sauerbrunn.
We’re less than a month away from the 2023 Women’s World Cup kicking off. It is truly, completely hard to believe. The USWNT roster will be released Wednesday morning. It’s all happening.
Now, I’ve got a full WWC-focused version of a check-in coming later this week, but I thought I would go ahead and mention the extremely sad news first reported by Meg Linehan last week that Becky Sauerbrunn will not be at the World Cup due to a foot injury.
In a statement on social media, Sauerbrunn said, “Heartbroken isn’t even the half of it,” which I think sums up how most of the country is feeling right now. Few players unite USWNT fans like Sauerbrunn, whose quiet leadership and ruthless defense has been a steadying force for the team on and off the field for 15 years. This World Cup won’t be the same without her.
4. Venus Williams, living legend.
On Monday, a 43-year-old Venus Williams got her first top 50 win in three years and eight months, defeating Camila Giorgi 7-6(5), 4-6, 7-6(6) in three hours and 15 minutes. She faces Jelena Ostapenko in the second round on Wednesday — I’ll tweet out time and viewership info once I have it, so keep an eye on my twitter.
JUST LOOK AT HER.
5. Thank you so much for joining me on Playback!
On Saturday, we had our first group watch party over at Playback, and it was an absolute blast. We had about 30 people from at least four countries show up, and both games — Seattle Storm d. Dallas Wings 109-103 and Angel City FC d. San Diego Wave 2-0 — were incredibly exciting.
If you missed it, don’t worry; we will be doing it again! Stay tuned to the newsletter and also join the Power Plays Playback room for free so you’ll get notified when we schedule new watch parties.
We’re going to keep trying new things this summer, and it’s going to be awesome, because all of you are just incredible, truly.
You guys I’m so sorry that Instagram embeds are so weird!!!! Since Elon Musk is a petulant man-child and hates Substack, I can’t embed tweets anymore, and I try to limit screenshots, so I’m stuck doing Instagram embeds for the time being. But apparently Mark Zuckerberg hates Substack too, because they crop very poorly!!!!!!! This is not a serious problem but it is very annoying and I’m going to try to find a better solution.