Jan. 16, 2022 was a momentous day in professional women’s basketball history when 44 athletes gathered in Las Vegas to take part in Athletes Unlimited’s inaugural basketball season. I have had the opportunity to play professional sports for more than a decade, both stateside and abroad, and I can honestly say I have never had a playing experience like the one I had with AU.
I became the chairperson of our Player Executive Committee comprised of five amazing women. While we don’t speak for all of the athletes on our roster, we do represent all of them as we make decisions about our league.
Our real work started almost nine months before we even stepped foot on the basketball court. The PEC participated in weekly meetings with AU staff and was involved in all aspects of key decisions concerning the league and its players. Our input was requested, valued and incorporated across so many aspects of the league that we quickly understood how serious the co-founders were about the league being “athlete-led.”
Our league is comprised of players with diverse backgrounds, interests and life experiences, and AU has proven to be a safe place for an athlete to play and trust their voice will be heard and their individuality celebrated.
So when it came to deciding whether we would bring our 2023 season to Dallas, we had a lot to consider. What did it mean to be a professional women’s league that’s core tenet is athlete empowerment, playing our entire five-week season in a state where, just a few hours south and at the very same time as we played our season, Texas lawmakers would be attacking critical race theory, voting rights, abortion rights and LGBTQ+ rights?
I am a Black, gay woman from Houston, Texas, (Houstonians prefer to be seen as our own state because Texas can be so embarrassing) so I know far too well the issues that are present here. We had to take time as a PEC to contemplate whether our fellow athletes would be safe here, whether their voices would be heard and whether we should play in a place that could be so hostile to so many of our athletes’ identities and deeply held beliefs.
But the scary truth is there are many states working tirelessly to attack the rights of their citizens. We knew wherever we played, our PEC felt that this is the right time to be vocal about issues that affect us and the people who live where we will be playing. We understood that with our platform, with our stage, we could have an outsized effect for the very people these laws were meant to marginalize even further. Just by showing up, by using our voices to ally with those who are voiceless, we could have a profound effect. Professional athletes wield enormous power when microphones and cameras are put in our faces, and we are prepared to use our platforms to effect change.
The fans of AU who make it out to see us play at Fair Park will see our commitment to driving civic engagement on and off the field. As part of the “Power in My Voice” initiative to increase awareness about player opinions on important topics, we will have in-venue activations that amplify our voices to fans.
While the Texas legislature debates whether a teacher can delve into how racism is structurally embedded in our society, we built a larger-than-life display to uplift icons such as Toni Morrison, Barbara Jordan and Maya Angelou — prominent Black women who have paved the way for our athletes on and off the court.
Fans will be able to shop at our virtual bookstore through a partnership with bookshop.org for titles hand-selected by our athletes such as "Pushout," which tackles the criminalization of Black girls in schools — or "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings," so our fans can be rebels and grab one that has been banned at school libraries across the nation.
We’ve got inclusive spaces like our caregivers’ room, our sensory certification by KultureCity and all-gender restroom facilities. We want all you Texans who don’t have a voice otherwise to come and enjoy our games, and we’ll make sure you’re welcome.
Everybody loves a good quote to end an op-ed, right? Well Shirley Chisholm once said, “You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.” Even though AU fans will technically need to stand on the sidelines because, well, rules … please do not let that stop you from coming to take part in the progress we plan to make.