The board “will support and help shape the efforts of the union to create meaningful change in the working conditions of players in the WNBA, as well as provide insight and guidance in off-the-court matters,” with a focus on three major issues: general advocacy, marketing and group licensing, and player activism and philanthropy, per the group’s mission statement.
Along with Abrams, former NBA standouts Alex English and Jerry Stackhouse will serve on the board. All members were selected with the input of the WNBPA's executive council.
“The WNBPA’s rallying cry for us and working women around the world is ‘Bet on Women’ — a message reinforced and embodied by each member of the board,” WNBPA President Nneka Ogwumike said in a statement.
Abrams’s involvement with the WNBA stretches back to 2007, when the former state representative was part of a group that helped bring a franchise to Atlanta. Abrams is reinvolving herself at a critical moment — for the league, which is mired in collective bargaining negotiations and has a new commissioner in Cathy Engelbert, and for women’s sports in general.
“My mission is to be part of the conversation about how we build a strategic plan and how we leverage this cultural moment — this economic moment — but also to recognize that WNBA players have been integral parts of communities for so long,” Abrams said in a phone interview. “Now is an opportunity for us to leverage both the marketing and licensing on the business side, but also the cultural exposure and their deep commitment to community. It was not a hard decision for me to make, to say that I’d like to be one of the voices cheering them on and helping them navigate the next phase of the WNBA. ”
The board hasn’t decided on a specific schedule of meetings or even whether regular group meetings will occur.
Sarah Flynn, the general manager of Kevin Durant’s business portfolio, Thirty Five Ventures, imagines the board more as a Rolodex for the league, a group of individuals able to offer knowledge and contacts if the WNBA is looking to, say, partner with a new brand.
“Being able to have somebody on speed dial and pick their brain about something is really invaluable,” Flynn said Thursday. “From a marketing perspective, just being able to say, ‘Hey, maybe I should introduce you to this brand that I know that you might not have worked with,’ or, for me, one of our biggest projects is the sports business vertical called ‘The Boardroom,’ which is a show on ESPN+ but also we’ve built out a number of social platforms around it, and we cover the business of sports. I can be connecting people on the back end, or I can be introducing people who really want to start telling women’s stories better. ”
Partnering with such recognizable names as Abrams and model Kathy Ireland helps give voice to a group of players who may not be as well known in realms of politics or entertainment.
“It’s been really great that we’ve been able to keep negotiating out of the media and have been able to have very productive sessions between the players’ association and the league,” said Carolyn Swords, the Las Vegas Aces center and WNBPA treasurer. “The fact that we have these advocates who can lend their platform and support toward these efforts, the process and really the goals that we’re going after — it’s all about advancing girls and women and the next generation of professional basketball players. Bringing broader awareness to that is really exciting. ”
The complete list of the Board of Advocates:
Stacey Abrams — Founder of Fair Fight and former minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives
Adrienne Becker — Co-founder/CEO, Level Forward
David Cooper — Adjunct professor, NYU Preston Robert Tisch Global Institute of Sport
Alex English — Retired NBA player and Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame inductee
Sarah Flynn — General manager, Thirty Five Ventures
Sunny Hostin — Co-host of “The View” and senior legal correspondent for ABC News
Kathy Ireland — Chair, CEO and chief designer, Kathy Ireland Worldwide, and former model
Sharlee Jeter — President, Turn 2 Foundation Inc. and VP of strategy and development, Jeter Ventures
Stephanie Rawlings-Blake — Former mayor of Baltimore
Joyce Roche — Former president & CEO, Girls Inc
Jerry Stackhouse — Vanderbilt men’s basketball coach and two-time NBA all-star
Trisch Smith — Global chief diversity and inclusion officer/EVP, Edelman PR
Tamika Tremaglio — Greater Washington managing principal, Deloitte Financial Advisory Services
Brent Zachary — Program manager, Level Forward