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Rainbow connection

The WNBA promotes LGBT pride, but it allows dissent where other leagues don’t


Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

Rainbow connection
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Relegated to ESPN2 behind World Cup soccer and drag racing, the worldwide leader in sports and the WNBA officially celebrated gay pride June 22. The game between the Chicago Sky and Tulsa Shock saw the network and league present a joint message to the country. “We need more LGBT role models,” voiced Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner in an in-game segment.

Teams have often taken advantage of cities’ gay pride events to draw in fans, as was the case in Chicago June 22. WNBA President Laurel Richie said she decided to nationalize the tradition, praising the 29 percent of season ticket holders who say they are lesbians. But when asked if the platform came about through any recent social movement or any mainstream player like openly gay Michael Sam, Richie seemed unprepared. “You know we’re very grateful that they feel comfortable coming out and doing that,” Richie stuttered. “But for us, this is really about our fans.”

Such uncertainty is rampant as a new LGBT surge trots out words like “acceptance” and “support” as if they’re synonymous. Religious players and staff appeared to face forced speech after the league’s May 21 announcement “celebrating inclusion … while combating anti-LGBT bias.” That included “team participation” in Pride parades and Pride games, where players “will wear” Pride shirts. Organizations with little tolerance for opposing views, like GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign, were sponsors.

But despite the strong language, WNBA communications director Dina Skokos told me that as with all platforms—like Faith & Family nights—teams have freedom. Parades and WNBA Pride uniforms weren’t required, and that played out on the court. ESPN reported that just “some” San Antonio players wore rainbow shoes at that team’s Pride game.

The lenience corroborates a past tolerance of sorts for religious players in WNBA ranks. San Antonio’s Sophia Young tweeted against gay marriage last year, but she wasn’t punished. The WNBA acknowledged she “has the right to express her point of view.” Contrast that to the Miami Dolphins’ Don Jones, who faced sensitivity training from the NFL for his tweets after St. Louis drafted Michael Sam. ESPN had repeatedly showed Sam kissing and flirting with his boyfriend.

Billion-dollar pie

A landmark trial pitting NCAA doomsdayers against fairness hawks has passed the midway point. The case before U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken questions whether NCAA athletes should be paid for use of their names and likenesses. The billion-dollar pie is too big to keep players out, plaintiff Ed O’Bannon says, acknowledging his view applies to Little League baseball players too. NCAA and conference chiefs claim that pay above college expenses makes athletics even less about education. Big Ten chief Jim Delany claims major college sports would collapse, and he would consider kicking schools out of his conference. —A.B.

Starting over

Last issue WORLD reported on Drew Burnett, a man trying to run the Appalachian Trail in record time for a Ugandan orphanage. By the end of Day 2, he had two broken pairs of glasses, 29 mosquito bites on his neck, and no crew due to broken vehicles. He came off the trail. But rather than quit, he started over June 17, sending his wife and son home after yet another equipment malfunction. Before rewalking the first 100 miles, Burnett quoted Romans 5:3-4—“suffering produces endurance.” —A.B.


Andrew Branch Andrew is a World Journalism Institute graduate and a former WORLD correspondent.

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