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October 6, 2008 at 4:51 PM

Letter from WNBA president

So, I thought we were done blogging, then received this letter from WNBA president Donna Orender. Since we’re cutting space in the paper and this would have to be cut in order to fit, The Seattle Times decided to post it on the blog. Please offer your opinions. Here’s the letter:
Why the WNBA Matters Op-Ed
By: Donna Orender, WNBA President
Tension and passion hung in the air in the final electrifying seconds of Game 2 of the WNBA Western Conference Finals on Sept. 27. In front of a packed home crowd at the AT&T Center, the San Antonio Silver Stars’ Sophia Young hit a 14-foot turnaround jumper at the buzzer to fend off elimination from the Los Angeles Sparks. At this moment, someone leaned over to me and whispered, through the tremendous noise, “You must be so proud of all this.”
It was an incredible moment; one of many that define our league. At these times, when the promises of the WNBA align — when huge, passionate crowds come together with great athletes who are giving it their all in a do-or-die situation — I am grateful for many things: for the excitement this league generates and the entertainment and athleticism that it showcases; for the messages it delivers to young girls to pursue their dreams, and that sweat and grit are permissible; for the messages it delivers to young boys that strong and athletic women should be a worthy option for their fandom; that the league is making the necessary strides to establish itself as a viable entity next to its much older and bigger brothers. Yet I remain bewildered at the anger that just being can engender on sports talk radio.
The WNBA formed just 12 years ago, and it continues to blaze new trails. The markers of success are familiar in the American sports landscape — corporate partnerships, network television broadcasts, the rhythm of a season from training camp to All-Star to playoffs. It’s the trailblazers who are different. Our league sits uniquely at the crossroads of Main Street USA, with an atmosphere and accessibility that encourage families to gather for a game that speaks to America’s values and work ethic. In a day and age when community leader, politicians and parents simply asks for positive role models for their children, we find one right in front of us: the WNBA, a league where teamwork and hard work are prized, and athletes’ raw passion to play and compete are front and center from opening tip to closing buzzer.
It’s a league that is defining what an investment in our female youth can yield. For 12 years now, young girls, their fathers, coaches, communities and colleges have pursued dreams. It’s in this pursuit that superior athletes — who have studied the game, have revered the game, and are playing the game with a style and athleticism that has fans out of their seats — have emerged.
But the league is about more than just great players, as it delivers on its promise to “Expect Great.” With these role models before them, young women are playing sports in exponentially increasing numbers. The benefits for our daughters, nieces, and neighbors to compete at every level are enormous. The health benefits have been well documented: the lowering of heart disease and cancers, and the rise in self-esteem and school performance.
Far less commonly recited, however, are the enormous social benefits. Sports is a welcomed and pervasive cultural presence; its language is the language of business and the currency of status, and it clearly dominates the hallways and corner offices of the global corporate landscape. Up until now women have been largely sidelined, kept away from the enormous profits and other considerable benefits that being a valued member of this sports society generate.
The WNBA is increasingly important as it helps to reshape this playing field and, more importantly, creates a new look for those who play and the businesses that support them. The league says to young women that they can earn a seat at the table by showing them that they’re invited to dinner in the first place.
After 12 years, the WNBA deserves more credit for what it has accomplished — for the athleticism of the players, for the power of the game, for the emotional connection created when our teams nakedly put their passions on the floor.
The product is great; these women are fantastic. Our fans have responded to the high level of play by pushing increased attendance — including a record 46 sellouts — TV ratings, Web traffic and merchandise sales. These women are spreading this work ethic and universal language around the world — note the 41 current-and-former WNBA players on Olympic rosters in Beijing, including the 12 members of Team USA who brought home their fourth consecutive gold medal.
So here we sit after the Finals, with one team — San Antonio — coming up short after bringing the excitement of a championship round to their city for the first time, while another team — Detroit — cements its legacy as a dynasty by winning their third title in six years. We were squeezed in with the baseball playoffs and football season, competing for the eyes of sports fans, but it is worth noting that just over a decade ago, the choice to tune in to the WNBA didn’t exist at all, and that is something worth recognizing.



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