On the WNBA, Respect and Individuality

By Ben York, PhoenixMercury.com
Posted: February 27, 2014

On an annual basis from October through May, WNBA fans are in a collective state of withdrawal as the season comes to a close and players migrate overseas.

Indeed, women's college basketball is alive and thriving, but for many of us the WNBA represents something inherently unique.

Not better. Not worse.

Just distinctive.

And that's ok.

Every WNBA fan proudly has their own reasons for loving the league. Yet, based on my time growing up around women's basketball and covering the league professionally for nearly a decade, there seems to be a pair of fundamental beliefs that virtually every fan shares regardless of whom their favorite player or team is.

Namely, it's the inclusivity and authenticity of the WNBA.

Above all else, however, the crucial characteristic that separates the WNBA at its core from nearly every other professional sports organization is the pure, unadulterated respect from its fans.

The reverence WNBA players beget is why fans of all ages, genders, ethnicity and sexual orientation feel such passion for the league. Admittedly, from a strictly numerical perspective, it isn't quite as popular as the NFL, NBA, etc., but for genuine fans, that isn't what ultimately matters.

Respect trumps any perceived popularity contest.

That is to say, fans have an amalgamation of gratefulness, admiration and esteem not just for the players" remarkable athletic talents, but for how they carry themselves as human beings.

Considering the state of the world at the present moment " it's vital not to overlook how powerful that message is!

Players, whether they consciously know it or not, are personifications of individuality. The message that sends to society is one of encouragement and reassurance " that being who you are is more than enough.

It's Diana Taurasi's fearless competitive nature. Penny Taylor's heart. Tamika Catchings" resilience. Sue Bird's grace. Lisa Leslie's courage as a mother and player. Elena Delle Donne's bravery to choose the right school for her and her family. Brittney Griner's unwavering message of being proud in your own skin.

Intolerance of any form has no home.

By nature, the league has become a vessel for equality. And with athletes on multiple teams who have willingly stepped forward to become voices for fairness and civil rights, progress is being made toward a symbiotic relationship with acceptance and unity.

That means something.