On Monday night, the WNBA finally kicked off its first in-person draft since 2019, live from New York and televised on ESPN. While the night proved career-making for many insanely talented WNBA hopefuls, ESPN’s presentation of the draft left hours of coverage, analysis, and basic respect to be desired. In other words, other than legend Destanni “DHenny” Henderson not getting swooped up in the first round, no surprises here!!!
But first, the good shit: The Atlanta Dream selected new franchise superstar All-American Rhyne Howard from Kentucky as the number one overall pick, followed by the Indiana Fever with NaLyssa Smith, the Washington Mystics with Shakira Austin, and the Fever again with Emily Engstler. Jackson State’s Ameshya Williams-Holliday became the university’s first-ever draft pick after Indiana selected her for the 25th pick. Williams-Holliday is also the first player to be drafted from a HBCU in nearly 20 years, and, if she makes it onto the court, would be only the third HBCU player in the WNBA after Andrea Gardner and Denique Graves, both of Howard University.
Although WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert has taken her fair share of criticism over both her business handling of the league and the Russian detainment of Mercury center Brittney Griner, who Engelbert said was playing overseas because she “wanted to” and not for any pay disparity reasons, the league did a satisfactory job at highlighting Griner’s detainment during the draft. In her opening remarks, Engelbert said bringing Griner home is a “top priority,” reiterated that “everybody in our ecosystem” is doing what they can, and reminded fans to stay patient. Good job, Cathy, for completing the bare minimum.
And now, back to your regularly scheduled dirtbag programming: “How ESPN Really Shit the Bed!!!” Even with the excitement of phenomenal women athletes across the sexuality and masculinity/femininity spectrum, many of whom are highly visible Black women, viewers were irked by ESPN reporter Holly Rowe’s questioning of the athletes just after they went onstage to shake Engelbert’s hand. There was a lot of talk of “adversity,” and many felt that the questioning and commentary going on in the background of the telecast did not meet the standard of pointed analysis or critique that male football or basketball players are subjected to as a regular part of the sport. The stats, takes, and doubt are often just another day at the office for male athletes, so it was unclear as to why ESPN felt the need to apparently…soften the blow.
Additionally, rather than interviewing or giving ample airtime to second and third round picks, ESPN announced the selections on a ticker at the bottom of the screen, notably missing the historical weight of Williams-Holliday’s selection for HBCUs nationwide. According to ESPN during the broadcast, roughly .8% of collegiate women’s players make it to the WNBA (and, as Yahoo Sports points out, that number will probably be even lower due to salary caps). The very least the media company can do is give these women their fucking time to shine, given that, to no fault of their own, the odds are their time might be very short indeed.
Adding insult to injury, ESPN’s Instagram invited the internet’s favorite incels to shitpost their way through the evening. On a poorly executed “jersey swap” post, one user commented, “I see the Editing budget is the same as the WNBA budget.” Several commenters expressed that they “didn’t even know the draft was going on lol,” as they realized in real time that, “Bro what , A draft rn ? 😭😭😭😭 This shit really don’t get no coverage lmao.” Others just didn’t give a fuck, writing, “We really don’t care fr” and “Stop posting wnba,” while the worst of the misogyny came down to debating whether the players were women or men.
Maybe next year these players will get the moment they deserve, including appropriate air time, social media celebrations, being correctly identified, and given the stats, data, and analysis that male-populated drafts are granted without fail. In the meantime, we can daydream about the outfits the draft prospects wore on the orange carpet, which were entirely dripping in finesse, individuality, and a touch of “I don’t care what the incels think of me!!!”