Athlete on Athlete

In the #AthleteOnAthlete series, we hold court with team members from #TheAllianceLA about the unique challenges professional athletes experience. Our first episode features Nneka Ogwumike of the Los Angeles Sparks and Blake Bolden of the Los Angeles Kings.

Los Angeles Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike’s accomplishments include WNBA Most Valuable Player (2016), WNBA Champion (2016), and multi-year WNBA All-Star.

Nneka reflects on the lessons learned over the past year and a half as she and her fellow teammates navigated addressing social justice issues during this pandemic year.

She notes that the players of the WNBA and members of WNBAPA who have addressed women’s inequality and social justice issues for years had greater reach and more people listening this year. After years of feeling unheard, more attention has been drawn to the WNBA players as they continued to push for social justice in their communities.

She recalls game 1 of the 2017 WNBA finals when the LA Sparks team elected to stay in the locker room during the national anthem to protest police brutality. She remembers, “we stood together” and saw so many displays of advocacy and allyship in that moment. While the team broke their usual pregame focus and routines, they were united to advocate for change.

She smiles as she remembers the moment which signified “strength in numbers and in solidarity and in supporting each other.” To move forward she says we must link arms.

While some fans initially booed the team as they emerged from the locker room, many wrote letters of support. She emphasizes the importance of athletes using their platforms to take a positive stance towards change.

Nneka encourages others to remember that it is “Important to empower yourself and those around you.”

Blake Bolden, a Pro Scout for the LA Kings broke barriers as the first black female first round pick in the CWHL, the first black female NWHL player, and the first black female NHL scout.

She praises the LA Kings organization for their emphasis on learning and engaging their members to act. The LA Kings organization aims to create diversity in the Staples Center and they are developing an inclusion plan for the future.

Blake discusses the importance for athletes to “be bold and stand up for what [they] think is important.” She is excited to see this in action with the partnership between the LA Kings and The ALLIANCE: Los Angeles.

While she originally started playing hockey for the love of the game, she realized the impact her position had on young girls of color after becoming the first professional black female hockey player in 2015.

As she witnessed more young girls of color coming to games to see her play, she saw that “female athletes are constantly pushing the narrative of representation and how powerful it is.”

While her position comes with pressure, she sees her role as a privilege since she can shape the future of the sport and pave the way for the future of female athletes.

As she reflects on this year, she notes that it was important since people were forced to stop and come together to bring change.