WNBA legend Sheryl Swoopes continues to serve as a role model with her nonprofit basketball camp
Gender pay equity in sports has been an ongoing saga ever since women started playing professionally. In May, news from the United States Soccer Federation that players on the men’s and women’s national teams would receive equal compensation sparked hope among all female athletes. Although there are still major hurdles to overcome in other sports leagues, efforts have been made to close the gap. For Example, the Women’s National Basketball Association sold shares in the league, declaring a capital increase of $75 million. Additionally, the Premier Hockey Federation has pledged to invest $25 million in the women’s hockey league over the next few years, with a focus on player salaries. Equal pay in sport is not just about money; it’s about the opportunities that equal pay allows players to have off the pitch. On a larger scale, it recognizes the value of female athletes and their positive impact on the world. Pioneers in this space continue to shine a light on the importance of women in professional sports and their impact on communities.
Sheryl Swoopes, the first player to sign with the WNBA, Olympic gold medalist and co-founder of Back to Our Roots, continues to serve as a role model for current and future professional female athletes. Plus, she supports equal pay for equal play. Since signing for the WNBA’s inaugural season in 1997, she’s won four WNBA championships, three Olympic gold medals, was the first female athlete to have a Nike shoe named after her, and is often called the “Michael Jordan woman”. In 2016, she was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Today, she is on a mission to empower and educate young people believing in themselves through farming, gardening, goal setting, sports and exploring different cultures, especially in Africa.
“Being a black woman in America who has a son, nieces and nephews, I’ve seen far too many of our children wondering who they are and not understanding where they fit in this world,” Swoopes expresses. “Back to Our Roots educates and empowers our young African Americans about our heritage, where we come from, and how powerful we are as a people. Part of what we will do with my nonprofit will be to bring some of our young African American children back to Africa. They can see the homeland, and we will do DNA testing so that they understand some of their heritage. The other side of that is that we also grow our own herbs and We organize field trips where we take children and teach them to grow their own food and learn the importance of being able to be self-sufficient.
Swoopes started playing basketball at age seven with his two older brothers. From the very beginning, she knew that her skills were more advanced than the others. Her brothers treated her like any other player, which instilled in her a different kind of mentality and the ability to develop self-confidence. Every time she stepped out on the court, Swoopes was ready to prove the doubters wrong.
Initially, she enrolled in a junior college before transferring to Texas Tech University. Swoopes set more than ten school records, and in 1993, she scored 47 NCAA championship points, earning her the title of MVP. She helped the 1996 USA team win gold at the Olympics. Then, when the WNBA launched in 1997, it became the league’s first draft pick.
“When you’re doing something you love and enjoy, and you’re very confident in your abilities and who you are, I don’t consider that pressure,” Swoopes shares. “I see it as an opportunity to show people exactly who I am, what I am and more, who we are as women. When the WNBA finally happened, a lot of people said, ‘You You’re the first to sign. You’re the first to this. You’re the first to this. It’s a lot of pressure. I saw it as an opportunity. I never saw it as a pressure. was just another opportunity to be great.
Since retiring in 2011, Swoopes has partnered with JP Morgan Chase, is a product manager for Nike, and continues to focus on his nonprofit organization. Plus, this summer she’s teamed up with Nike and Dick’s Sporting Goods’ It’s his shot country. This is a collection of national events organized by Nike and Dick’s Sporting Goods to raise awareness of the need for safe spaces for girls to play unstructured hoops and make a lasting impact in local hoop communities. Additionally, this week she’s hosting her first-ever Swoopes Hoops Elite Basketball Camp, a free basketball camp for girls.
As Swoopes continues to pivot in her career, she is focusing on the following key milestones:
- Don’t exit a position until you have something else lined up. Preparation is half the battle, but it is essential for success.
- Trust your instincts. A second guess of yourself will cause delayed progress and may even hamper your strategy. Go for what you want.
- Acknowledge the fear, but don’t let it paralyze you; continue to advance.
“It was a surreal moment [being the first draft pick]concludes Swoopes. “I never had the opportunity to see women play. You could turn on the TV and find a men’s game all day, but you couldn’t find any women playing. I was that woman that the little girls had to see and that I couldn’t see. So even though I knew it was happening, it still felt surreal. I was excited. I was anxious. I was nervous. I was afraid. But more than any of those emotions, I knew I was ready for this moment.
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