Within minutes of the Cleveland Cavaliers winning the NBA championship, news organizations readjusted rankings of cities suffering the longest title droughts in pro sports.
One media entity noted that the Twin Cities moved into the No. 1 spot among U.S. cities with at least three major sports teams. Cheryl Reeve begs to differ.
The Lynx coach thanked a local reporter who mentioned on Twitter that her team has won multiple WNBA championships recently — three in five years, to be exact.
“With your help,” Reeve tweeted, “we’ll become ‘major’ as defined by men.”
Fighting for gender equality has become Reeve’s calling, in addition to her team’s quest for a WNBA title repeat.
Whether on social media, in private conversations or at large speaking engagements, Reeve passionately advocates for greater media coverage of women's sports, better pay in the workplace and more willingness from “decision-makers” to ignore traditional stereotypes. She uses her platform to highlight what she perceives as slights toward women’s sports, or to applaud those who provide content.
I requested a 1-on-1 interview with Reeve to talk about her public advocacy for gender equality. She joked that we would need several hours because she had a lot to share.
“If I don’t say something who’s going to?” Reeve asked rhetorically. “Those of us that have a voice, if we don’t use our voice, then you can’t enact change.”
Reeve makes clear that her outspokenness is not “man-hating.” She loves the NBA and NFL.
She just believes that women sports deserve equal attention and coverage and respect.
“It’s discouraging when women are told that you have to be two, three, four, 10 times better than our male counterparts to even approach the conversation of — it’s not even equal coverage,” she said.
Reeve hears a common comeback in this discussion: Women’s sports are not as interesting as men’s in broad audience appeal. She disputes that theory as it relates to her team specifically.
“If you walk around with me for a day and we go to the grocery store or wherever I’m going, without fail, at least three people a day go, ‘Why don’t we hear more about you?’ ” Reeve said.
Reeve believes more media exposure would drive interest and popularity, which is a chicken-or-egg theory. Which comes first, interest or coverage?
“Then you get this: ‘Why are you trying to shove it down our throats? I don’t want to watch women sports,’ ” Reeve said. “That moves into a societal issue. I think it’s an education process. It all starts at a very young age.”
A young boy visiting the Lynx practice facility was shooting baskets across the court from Reeve as we talked. She used him to make point.
“If we can educate this little boy right here,” she said, “if he can walk into a gym and see strong, powerful women playing basketball, he’s going to grow up thinking differently than somebody who was not exposed. …
“It’s not about trying to force women’s basketball on somebody. It’s about saying that what women do is just as important as what men do. It’s also about women in the workplace and how we’re treated differently than men when it comes to promotions and the proverbial glass ceiling. It’s all the same.”
Nothing slips past Reeve in this area. She gently chided a beat reporter recently for omitting the Lynx in his Twitter bio among teams he covers.
Larger issues weigh on her.
“We feel like every day we’re fighting it but it’s worth the fight,” she said. “It drains the heck out of you. There are some days you walk out of here so angry at some of the things that you hear and see because it’s not right.”
Reeve, who turns 50 this fall, said she tries to focus less on her frustrations and more on “small successes” such as seeing a young boy at a Lynx game wearing a Seimone Augustus jersey with his father by his side.
“You celebrate that because that person is really aware about good basketball,” Reeve said. “And what he’s teaching that young boy is that it’s just as cool to wear a Seimone Augustus jersey as it is to wear a Ricky Rubio jersey.”
As a championship coach, Reeve often gets invited to speak at corporate events. Many times, those events cater only to women.
Reeve found another small victory recently when Cargill invited her to speak to a group of its top leaders.
“It has nothing to do with women,” Reeve said. “It has to do with winning championships. It’s that person [at Cargill] that goes, ‘It’s not about her coaching the Wolves or the Lynx or whatever. It’s about this longevity of success. There’s no gender to it.’ ”
“That’s a success story that needs to be talked about and celebrated. Then it’s on to the next one, just like it’s on to the next game.”
Reeve is winning a lot there lately. Both places, on and off the court.
Chip Scoggins • firstname.lastname@example.org