The NBA has received plenty of praise for its role in fighting systemic racism and the various injustices that have negatively impacted Black and Brown people. But for those who have really been watching the social justice scoreboard, you know that the WNBA has dominated the social justice game since the league’s inception 25 years ago.
Its players have done more than just show off their basketball prowess. They have been successful leaders in navigating through a wide array of social justice movements. Whether it was elevating conversations about athletes within the LGBTQ+ community, speaking out against the negative treatment of Asian American and Pacific Islanders, or even supporting an underdog senatorial candidate, against one of the league’s owners nonetheless, whose campaign got a big boost from their support on the path towards an upset win, the WNBA has been the ultimate social justice agent of change. But with their progress, comes increased purpose to do more. Which is why the transformative changes we’re seeing with the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream, come as a surprise to no one.
The Dream announced that they will have four women— all Black— for its broadcast team this season, a first in franchise history. LaChina Robinson and Tabitha Turner will serve as the team’s color commentators, with Angel Gray and Autumn Johnson as analysts.
All four women have strong on-air credentials and experience working with the Dream in the past. And while their chemistry is strong and their love of the game is undeniable, them being in this space at this time, has a much bigger, grander meaning. When any of us are elevated to a position of prominence, there is a different level of responsibility that comes with that ascension. Many of us have been conditioned through our parents and elders, that being good isn’t going to be good enough. So we work hard; harder than most hoping, praying that we’ll be fortunate enough to get an opportunity to do what we love, but prepared for disappointment because we’re not exposed to folks who look like us, doing what we want to do.
Here’s what we do know.
Somewhere out there, a young girl will be inspired by what one or all of these women of Atlanta are doing. And that is why them being in this space, at this time, is so pivotal not only in terms of their own professional careers, but the domino effect it will have on reshaping the career arc of someone down the road.
“I really can’t put it into words,” Johnson told EBONY in a phone interview. “The fact that I’m still trying to figure out and find the words, just the history that we are making.” That history that Johnson speaks about, is consistent with the WNBA and its players who more than any pro league, continue to push for significant, tangible change when it comes to diversity and inclusion.
“This broadcast team of all women is another positive step in our goal of providing empowerment to the diverse Atlanta community,” Renee Montgomery, Dream co-owner and former WNBA player, said in a statement. “It’s exciting knowing that moments such as these will create momentum, and we plan to keep that same level of energy moving forward.”
While many in corporate America and professional leagues across the globe are just awakening to the systemic problems that dominate headlines these days, the WNBA has been chipping away at the walls of inequity for decades.
One of the pillars of bringing about systemic change, is having a voice in the room when decisions at the highest level are made. As talented and deserving as the four women have proven themselves to be over the course of their careers, them being put together now and Montgomery’s role as a co-owner of the team, is not a coincidence.For sure, Renee had that vision,” Johnson said. “Representation truly matters. This is huge for us, for little girls in general.” Because what we’re seeing in Atlanta, is the kind of dream that’s no longer a deferred one for Black women; but the reality of where we are as a society, and the direction we are heading in.
Johnson recalls wanting to break into the broadcast journalism world, but was hesitant because there were so few women of color in sports. “I saw the Cari Champions, the Jemele Hills,” Johnson said. “But it wasn’t a regular thing. Now it's more common and it’s because of the decision-makers and women that have had this chance and continually leave the door open for others to make history.”