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Woman-Up: A conversation with WNBA Lynx Head Coach Cheryl Reeve, Part III

WNBA: Minnesota Lynx Head Coach Cheryl Reeve
Matthew Fleegel

Welcome back to Woman-Up. A three part exclusive interview where I sit down with WNBA Lynx Head Coach Cheryl Reeve and discuss how and when she became interested in sports, how that interest led her to coaching, the WNBA, and the state of woman’s athletics as a whole at home and abroad.

Part III:
Equal representation, growth potential, and the future

Examiner: “You’ve mentioned a couple of things about the way the WNBA is presented to the general public; increasing the coverage, getting the mainstream media to mention the WNBA when they break down the daily scores each day. So, for some reason the WNBA hasn’t been deemed popular enough to be included in bottom of the screen ticker scores and game updates. It’s not necessarily right, and it’s one of the ways that some of the mainstream media continue to marginalize women in professional sports.”

Examiner: “For example: on May 16th of this year, Michael Phelps won an Olympic qualifying race. May 16th was also the day the 2014 Tip Off was for your WNBA Champion Lynx. Phelps made ticker status and became part of the hourly round-up discussion, yet there are four Gold Medal Olympians on this Lynx team who received virtually no national coverage of a season opener in which Maya Moore scored 34 points and the Lynx secured a commanding 89-77 victory on the road. How do you respond to those types of variances in media coverage?”

Coach Reeve: “That’s obviously very frustrating. And I will say this…just as an exercise.”

The exercise…

CR: “What if we tried this…If we took a year in the life of Minnesota sports, we’ll just take the Lynx for example, now if they give the Lynx the same energy and resources to cover the team on a daily basis that they give to the Timberwolves, and now take the Timberwolves and give them the same coverage and resources that they’ve given the Lynx, and tell me how it impacts the interest in the sport.”

CR: “That’s obviously an exercise that’s never going to happen, but the point of the matter is that media controls so much. In that, if the same number of media attended our practices, if the same number of networks put us on during road games, if FSN would televise the same percentage of Lynx games that they televise for the Timberwolves, and do that for the entire season, then we’re being equally represented.”

Coach Reeve: “If we’re equally represented…and we’re on the TV, and our newscasters are giving us coverage every night, at home or when we’re on the road. If they’re showing footage from our games, and the interviews following the games, and if they cover us exactly the same way, I can assure you that the interest will grow in this sport.”

CR: “So, it’s just really wrong for some sports editors to say that there is not an interest in the WNBA. Partly, because they control so much, and mostly because women’s sports are worth watching.”

Examiner: “Preparing for this interview I had a thought about how, during the Olympics, female athletes seem to receive better coverage. They also receive better representation, the proper amount of praise for their abilities in multiple sports by local media and national media seemingly across the boards. Yet, when the Olympics end and the Olympians come back home, that coverage doesn’t typically carry over to an athlete’s regular venue, in your case, the WNBA regular season. What are your thoughts on why that is?”

Coach Reeve: “The Olympics are obviously embraced by networks as big money events with big sponsors. Also, the Olympics have been around a lot longer than professional women’s sports leagues, and I think that it is all part of that process…as long as women are getting covered.”

CR: “Whether it’s World Cup Soccer for women, for example, the 99’ team…the way that Mia Hamm was able to transcend coverage. Whether it’s a gymnast, or any other female athlete, the Olympics are really more individual. It’s really more about sponsors wanting to associate themselves with someone winning a Gold Medal as an individual. So the team sport thing has not really gained that much popularity, other than with World Cup Soccer.”

CR: “How to change that…I think it’s really more social change…we need women’s professional soccer. I think they tried to capitalize on the interest during the Mia Hamm era. They weren’t able to sustain a league, now we need other options. Whether it’s professional softball, football, whatever it is, we just need more socially accepted women in sport professionally.”

On what is needed for women to receive equal media coverage…

Coach Reeve: “I think for that to happen that along the way we need people that are in positions of power, making decisions, to see their job as more than just showing a great highlight of a dunk. They share and bare a responsibility of reporting all of the information, not just something that they deem attractive to a very limited audience.”

CR: “So, as you can tell, I put so much back onto the decision makers. Very short-sided, very tunnel vision, they need to bare more responsibility in the socialism aspect of it. That it’s more than sport, what they do is more than sport. They have a big responsibility and once they grasp that, and once the decision makers adapt to an ‘out with the old and in with the new’ mentality, then I think we’ll see things change.”

Examiner: “Do you feel that the WNBA gets more recognition on the world stage than they do at home? And, in your opinion, is the fact that the United States is more prone to take women’s rights for granted than potentially other countries abroad the reasoning behind that?”

Coach Reeve: “It’s really actually an interesting situation. I think that the WNBA is very popular abroad. The perception is that the best players in the world are here, playing in the WNBA. So we carry that badge, that this is the best league in all the world.”

CR: “We’re interesting in that, we are of the more enlightened countries, because we do have a WNBA. We’re established; we have a partnership with the NBA. We treat women here in the US better than in various other countries abroad, and we’ll just say that in a very broadly painted way. At the same time, it’s more lucrative overseas. At the same time, there is more sponsorship then there is in the US. So, it’s an interesting landscape to say the least. But there is no question the WNBA is elite. Like I said, ‘it’s like a badge of honor’, and it’s worldwide.”

Examiner: “Finally…how excited are you for the future of this league and your 2-time WNBA Champion Minnesota Lynx?”

Coach Reeve: “There’s no question I’m excited immediately about the Minnesota Lynx. It’s a great time in our franchise’s history, and we’re just trying to capitalize on what we describe as a window of opportunity. We’ve got great players here, and they really enjoy being here. We’ve got a great fan-base, we’ve got a great owner in Glen Taylor. Just a lot of things around of right now just fit, fit just like a glove. And we’re all enjoying that.”

CR: “The future of the league…I think that we are a team that is the epitome of how good it can be if you get behind it. Some of our fan-base is from when we started to win, people wanted to come see great basketball. A large part of it is a fan-base that understands that these are great role models, and they want their kids to see strong, powerful, confident women in these roles.”

CR: “So we have a lot going on, and the fact that ESPN brought their partnership to the extent that they did. The fact that a very prestigious corporation like the Mayo Clinic wanted to associate themselves with our league, obviously in particular here with the Minnesota Lynx. I just think it speaks volumes to the growth potential, and obviously to the future.”

WNBA Minnesota Lynx Head Coach Cheryl Reeve

Thanks to the Minnesota Lynx, and the Lynx PR staff for being so accommodating. A big thank you to WNBA Head Coach Cheryl Reeve for her time, insight, candor, professionalism, and patience throughout the interview. And, finally, thanks to everyone who read/liked/retweeted/shared the Woman-Up interviews on and through social media, your support is greatly appreciated.

This concludes part III of Examiner’s exclusive three-part Woman-Up interview with WNBA Lynx Head Coach Cheryl Reeve. Hopefully it inspires some of you to not be afraid to openly show your support for professional women’s sports, or at least be willing to attempt to give female athletes the same respect that typically is given to their male counterparts. The WNBA hasn’t just come a long way…they have truly arrived. They continue to secure their status in the world of sports, in addition to claiming their proper place in the pages of history.

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