By Gerry Chidiac
Being a sports fan is interesting. There are certain teams and athletes to whom we willingly give the utmost devotion, and there are others we despise. Some sports we find thrilling, others are baffling, and some we just cannot connect with.
I’ve always loved basketball, as a player, as a coach, and as a fan. There is something artistic, even beautiful, about the game when it is played well. For this reason, I’ve long appreciated the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). It is more of a team game than what one normally sees in the NBA, the top men’s professional league in the world. The athletes are highly skilled, and both offensive and defensive play is executed to virtual perfection. As a coach, I could tell my players that if they want to become better at basketball, they should watch the WNBA and practice doing what they see.
Yet, I never had a strong attachment to the WNBA. I enjoyed the games, but I could never make the kind of connection that was necessary to be a real fan.
This began to change a few years ago, however. Along with loving sports, I am an advocate for human rights. I have unbounded respect for athletes who use their public platforms to draw attention to social issues, even when it could potentially put their careers at risk.
Despite having salaries no higher than that of an average working professional, I observed WNBA players using their public platform and risking their livelihood by speaking out for human rights.
To their credit, the executives of the WNBA did not try to admonish these women. Clearly, this was a league that understood that success is not measured strictly by a short-term financial bottom line, that building a connection to a fan base meant building trust with one’s community, both locally and globally.
Then I learned that the WNBA not only spoke out on major social issues, but the league’s executives also treated the people who worked behind the scenes with decency, integrity, and kindness. I heard from my cousin that her late husband had worked as an accountant for the Connecticut Sun in the early 2000s, a team that plays its home games on Mohegan territory and is owned by the Mohegan Nation. When he passed away suddenly and tragically, the team gave my cousin and her young family a framed jersey, signed by every player on the team. This has become one of her family’s most cherished possessions, something that not only reminds them of a good man, but of a high-profile sports organization that truly valued his devoted service.
This story transitioned me from an admirer to a true fan. I’ve started watching the Connecticut Sun with devotion and with great emotion. I have not been disappointed. Despite not having won against the Chicago Sky (the 2021 WNBA champions) during the regular season, the Sun defeated them three games to two in the semi-finals to advance to the league championship series against the Las Vegas Aces.
It seems that I am not the only person with growing enthusiasm for the WNBA. Viewership is up significantly in recent years and corporate sponsorships are also increasing. Interest levels are still nowhere near what they are for the NBA, but that is clearly changing.
The WNBA has chosen to do things the right way, with tremendous integrity and a great product. In essence, they are what all professional sports leagues should be.
Gerry Chidiac is a Canadian educator and a columnist for Troy Media.
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families. Linda writes extensively about how youth sports can hijack families, and family outings, non-sports activities and bonding time are lost in the pursuit of the next club team game or travel tournament.
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Episode #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.”
Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
Episode #24 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Mental Health and Athletes: Ending the Stigma – Nathan Braaten and Taylor Ricci are the founders of Dam Worth It, a non-profit created to end the stigma around mental health at colleges and universities through sport, storytelling, and community creation.
Episode #23 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Olympian Benita Fitzgerald Mosley Talks Title IX, Youth Sports and the Olympics.
Episode #22 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Rethinking Sports Fandom with Author Craig Calcaterra – We discuss Calcaterra’s new book “Rethinking Fandom: How to Beat the Sports-Industrial Complex at Its Own Game” and explore new ways to be a fan.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- League of Fans Sports Policy Director Ken Reed quoted in Washington Post column titled "What happened to P.E.? It’s losing ground in our push for academic improvement," by Jay Mathews
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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Ken Reed’s Author Page on Amazon