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WNBA star, radio host Chiney Ogwumike talks breaking gender barriers: 'Let's own the room'

Just a little over two months after the Los Angeles Lakers won the 2020 NBA Championship, basketball season is already back.

And for the first time in history, a Black woman has her own national sports radio show to talk about that, and more.

Chiney Ogwumike is the co-host of “Chiney & Golic, Jr.,” a daily ESPN radio show that launched in August. She’s still stunned that she has this powerful platform. In June, the WNBA player opted out of the season for medical reasons, but wasted no time in establishing her next act.

“I grew up not thinking that there would be positions for me to just go out there and live out all of my dreams,” Ogumike told Yahoo Finance live in an interview.

“I never thought I could be a radio host...I didn't see it happening on this grand of a scale when it comes to a Black woman doing that position.” the two-time WNBA All-Star added.

Ogwumike has also teamed up with AT&T (T) in a new campaign to support female athletes. Along with soccer superstar Alex Morgan, pro golfer Maria Fassi, and WNBA legend Sue Bird, Ogwumike is hoping that her story — and those of others — will inspire the next generation of women.

“What’s the point of achieving success if you can't help someone else achieve that as well?” she asked. “I think as women, we totally understand that at a different level.”

Ogwumike added: “For so long, we've been fighting for one seat at the table. Why not just work together and own the room and have a place for all of us, not just one of us, because one person can't can't do it all.”

If you can see it, you can be it

WNBA star and ESPN radio host Chiney Ogwumike: "I'm in a space that has not necessarily been built for me, but now I'm finding myself having the time of my life." (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)
WNBA star and ESPN radio host Chiney Ogwumike: "I'm in a space that has not necessarily been built for me, but now I'm finding myself having the time of my life." (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

The 6 foot 4 Ogwumike, who was born in Texas to Nigerian parents, was a three-time All-American in college at Stanford University, and led her team to three Final Fours. Earlier this year, she made the tough decision to forgo the 2020 season as a forward for the Los Angeles Sparks, but still serves as vice president of the WNBA Players Association.

On the court as a player and now off the court as a sports analyst, Ogwumike takes her position as a role model very seriously. Her motto: If you can see it, you can be it.

“Once you see it, then you start realizing that this is normal, this is something that can be expected,” the 2012 number one overall draft pick told Yahoo Finance.

“I feel really lucky myself, because I have been able to be in a position where I can share the mic, and broaden that scope and that perspective for young girlsm” Ogwumike said.

“Now they see ‘Oh, there's a young girl that sort of talks like me out there talking sports, just like the guys’ in the sense that it's no longer being distinguished as basketball for women and basketball for men,” the star forward added.

“Hoop is hoop, and anybody that brings value is able to have a voice in the space.” she said.

“We're making the right steps so that our players feel secure and our future is secure We are the best at what we do." Chiney Ogwumike

Ogwumike was just four years old when the WNBA launched in 1996 with the motto “We Got Next.”

In the nearly 25 years since, the league has made significant strides as a business and as an employer, though there is still a long way to go. Thanks to a collective bargaining agreement that took effect this year, the average player’s salary is now more than $100,000 for the first time in WNBA history, and top players pull in more than $500,000 (a three-fold increase over past salary maximums).

Those salaries may be just a fraction of what Ogwumike calls “Lebron James or Steph Curry money,” but they are important milestones, she argued.

“We're making the right steps so that our players feel secure and our future is secure,” said Ogwumike. “We are the best at what we do. Only 144 women get the opportunity to play in the WNBA, the best basketball league in the world. We need a business that reflects that same standard, that same [distinction] and so that's what we've been fighting for.”

As the league make strides in its battle for respect and pay equity, the WNBA has also grown in social capital: Earlier this month, the Sports Business Journal named the WNBA orange hoodie as this year’s “best fashion statement.”

And for players, there are lucrative deals to be made: Also this month, Nike welcomed five WNBA players to the Jordan Brand family (adding to the three who are already part of its portfolio).

Ogwumike thinks there’s value in the WNBA’s diversity, inclusiveness, and socially consciousness.

“All of a sudden, we're checking a lot of the boxes of what companies want to align with,” noted Ogwumike. “We've always been this. So I guess that's the frustrating part. I always say, ‘We're not new to this, we're true to this.’ And I guess it's one of those things, it's like ‘better late than never.’”

Yahoo Finance’s ‘A Time for Change’ is a weekly half-hour program that explores race, diversity, and inclusion in the world of business, finance, politics, and beyond. Tune in every Tuesday at 1:30pm ET for a new live episode.

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