Don’t be misled by the WNBA’s top 10 jersey list

0 Comments

Ahead of the first round of the 2021 WNBA Playoffs on Thursday night (schedule here), the WNBA announced that sales on WNBAStore.com were up 50 percent over last year. For supporters of women’s sports, it’s good news and a clear sign that fans are interested in celebrating and investing in the league.

As part of its press release, the WNBA shared a list of the top 10 player jerseys since the start of the 2021 regular season:

  1. Sabrina Ionescu, New York Liberty
  2. Sue Bird, Seattle Storm
  3. Diana Taurasi, Phoenix Mercury
  4. A’ja Wilson, Las Vegas Aces
  5. Breanna Stewart, Seattle Storm
  6. Candace Parker, Chicago Sky
  7. Skylar Diggins-Smith, Phoenix Mercury
  8. Elena Delle Donne, Washington Mystics
  9. Maya Moore, Minnesota Lynx
  10. Liz Cambage, Las Vegas Aces

This list should reflect the jerseys that fans want to buy. But does it?

The answer to that question is complicated.

The problem with the WNBA’s top 10 jersey list

The first issue with the WNBA’s top 10 jersey list? Availability and selection.

There are 144 players in the WNBA, but fewer than 20 currently have “ready to ship” jerseys available in the WNBA’s official online store.

Within that group of 20, only some players – like Sabrina Ionescu and Breanna Stewart – have both youth and adult jerseys versions available for sale.

If you’re looking to buy a jersey belonging to a player outside of that group of 20 – meaning any of the WNBA’s 120-plus other players – you’re going to need to submit a custom order.

That much larger list of names features many of this season’s top performing players, including Tina Charles, Sylvia Fowles, and Jewell Loyd. Even Jonquel Jones – who on Wednesday was named AP Player of the Year – doesn’t have a Connecticut Sun jersey available on the WNBA’s store, though she does have an All-Star jersey for sale.

RELATED: Jonquel Jones named 2021 WNBA MVP

A source at the WNBA confirmed that custom jerseys count towards the top-10 ranking list, so long as the order is consistent with the player’s current team. But custom orders are often less desirable because they take longer to ship, cost more money, and aren’t available in youth sizes.

If you’re a fan of the Seattle Storm, you could spend $99 on a Breanna Stewart jersey that ships out immediately. But if you want a Jewell Loyd jersey? That custom order will cost you $129.

If you’re a fan of the Minnesota Lynx, the only player with a “ready to ship” jersey on WNBAStore.com? That’s Maya Moore, who hasn’t herself worn a Lynx jersey since 2018.

And if you want to buy for a jersey for a young New York Liberty fan, Sabrina Ionescu is your only option. Custom jerseys aren’t currently available in youth sizes.

The options at Dick’s Sporting Goods are somewhat more robust than the WNBA’s store, and will likely increase even further after a new multi-year marketing partnership with the WNBA was announced on Wednesday. And some WNBA teams, like the Minnesota Lynx, offer a larger variety of pre-made jerseys in a separate online store.

But purchasing a jersey from the Lynx or Dick’s wouldn’t boost a player’s ranking on the top 10 list, which according to the WNBA press release, is “based on WNBAStore.com sales.”

WNBA’s top jersey list shows racial bias

In the hours since the WNBA released its top 10 jersey list, plenty of headlines have celebrated Ionescu’s No. 1 spot on the list – often without the authors digging into the factors at play.

This is especially concerning given the role that racial bias plays in the composition of the top 10 jersey list. While over 80 percent of WNBA players are Black, half of the women on the list are white, including four of the top five.

Earlier this year, PhD student Risa Isard and Dr. Nicole Melton published research on the role that race plays in media coverage of WNBA players. They found that, during the 2020 WNBA season, regular season MVP A’ja Wilson received half as much coverage as Ionescu, who played in three games before getting injured.

Their research also found that, on the whole, white players received twice as many media mentions as Black players – a fact that Paige Bueckers noted in her ESPY acceptance speech in July.

While the media outlets that Isard and Melton studied showed clear racial bias, the WNBA – in its own press releases – did not. In an op-ed for the Sports Business Journal, they wrote: “The WNBA’s press releases in 2020 only showed a bias toward scorers. The more a player scored, the more often press releases mentioned them.”

And yet, different guidelines are clearly being used to determine which jerseys are included in the WNBA store. Otherwise, the league’s leading scorer in 2021 – Tina Charles – would have a ready-made jersey available for purchase.

Of course, none of this happens in a vacuum and all of it compounds with time. Media mentions lead to marketability. Marketability, in turn, likely plays a role in jersey availability and selection, which then leads to jersey sales. Rinse and repeat.

It’s clear that the system is broken. Until it’s fixed, let’s stop promoting a flawed list that stands to do more harm than good.

(Author’s note: to learn more about Isard and Melton’s research, watch this interview they conducted with Bria Felicien, founder of the Black Sportswoman.) 

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC

Kaillie Humphries elevates another fresh U.S. face to podium status in two-woman bobsled World Cup

Kaillie Humphries of USA, Kaysha Love of USA in action at the 2 women's bobsleigh during Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games.
Getty Images
0 Comments

PARK CITY, UTAH – Kaillie Humphries extended her podium streak on Saturday at the IBSF World Cup, where she and U.S. push athlete Jasmine Jones finished third in the two-woman bobsled.

The third-place finish in Park City marked the sixth podium for Humphries at the Park City track, which hosted the 2002 Olympics, and was Jones’ career-first World Cup podium in just her second World Cup start.

“This is our first race together, so really excited about that,” said the 37-year-old Humphries, considered the greatest female driver in history with three Olympic gold medals (2010, 2014 and 2022) and five world championships titles. She earned her 29th career World Cup win on Friday in Park City in the women’s monobob.

“Definitely a work in progress. … The runs weren’t perfect, but I’m really happy with our starts, happy with our drives minus a few little mistakes. It’s a good starting point, and we’ll look to grow from here.”

Humphries and Jones finished with a combined, two-run time of 1:37.69, 0.32 behind winners Kim Kalicki and brakewoman Leonie Fiebig of Germany at 1:37.37. Fellow Germans Laura Nolte and Lena Neunecker were second at 0.23 back.

Kalicki and Fiebig broke a 16-year-old track record with their first run, laying down a time of 48.60 seconds and besting the time set by Americans Shauna Rohbock and Valerie Fleming – the 2006 Olympic silver medalists – in December 2006 (48.73). It also marked the second straight victory for Kalicki, who’s won five career World Cup titles including last week’s two-woman bobsled race in Whistler, Canada.

“I was hoping Kaillie would get [the record],” said Rohbock, who is now a U.S. team coach and was on hand to see her record fall. “That first run there, she had that little skid in the bottom, so that didn’t help, but Kailee’s always putting up a great performance. And Jasmine, another great brakewoman, so we’re really lucky that we have that depth.”

For Team USA, it marked the second straight week that a fresh face earned her first podium finish while competing with Humphries. Last week in Whistler, push athlete Emily Renna and Humphries placed third in Renna’s first-ever World Cup appearance.

MORE IBSF WORLD CUP COVERAGE: Kelly Curtis notches career-best finish with top five at Park City skeleton World Cup

“Being able to race with her was really special,” said the 29-year-old Renna, who was a college track athlete at University of Rhode Island. “It’s really nice to be around seasoned veterans. It definitely makes you feel better in the back sled with you when you’ve got a good pilot who knows the track.”

Renna finished in eighth place in Park City with 12-year U.S. team veteran and pilot Nicole Vogt (1:39.04). Vogt partnered with Jones in her first World Cup last week where they finished seventh in Whistler, 1.33 seconds behind winners Kalicki and German teammate Anabel Galander.

“To have an opportunity to be with Kaillie in my World Cup debut – it’s exciting,” said the 26-year-old Jones, who was a collegiate track and field athlete at Eastern Michigan. “I just feel like I have so much more in the tank to give, and I’m just hungry for it.”

Jones is particularly gratified with her performance after returning full-time to bobsled less than 18 months ago following the birth of her daughter, Jade Quinn Jones, in February 2021. The Greensburg, Pa., native returned to training just five months postpartum, having sat out the 2020-21 season. She competed on the North American Cup last year, finishing the season with a win (the third NA Cup title of her career) and a third place in Lake Placid.

“I’m thankful,” said Jones. “Opportunity is the main thing, and I just feel blessed to have my first World Cup podium. I’m screaming on the inside. I may not show it, but I am jumping for joy because I’m just that excited and happy to have this accomplishment.”

She admits, however, it’s not always easy to compete balance a full-time competitive career with being a mom.

“Sometimes it’s a struggle being away from my daughter,” said Jones, whose mom takes care of Jade while she travels. “I try to get my facetimes in every night and just know that when I’m pushing, I’m doing it for her. Hopefully sometime in the future I’ll have her around on the sidelines cheering me on, and that’s my main motivation – that this is for her.”

The BMW IBSF World Cup continues its North American swing Dec. 16-18 in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Kaillie Humphries faces IVF journey head on — and collects monobob World Cup win along the way

Gold medallist Kaillie Humphries of Team United States celebrates during the Women's Monobob.
Getty Images
0 Comments

PARK CITY, UTAH — Kaillie Humphries knew the quest to start a family would impact her 2022-23 season, but it’s certainly not slowing down Team USA’s reigning monobob Olympic gold medalist, who captured her first World Cup title in the discipline on Friday.

The 37-year-old Humphries, considered the greatest female driver in history with three Olympic golds (2010, 2014 and 2022) and five world championships, earned her 29th career World Cup win and her third victory on the Park City track, where she won the two-woman bobsled competitions in 2012 and 2016. Competing in Utah – as well as North American World Cup stops in Whistler last week and in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Dec. 17-18 – is one of the reasons that Humphries pushed pause on her journey to motherhood.

“I’m excited,” Humphries said following the win, marking her second straight podium in monobob following a third-place finish last week in Whistler. “I was excited for this year before it started. It’s part and parcel of why my husband and I delayed the IVF process and starting a family this season. To be able to be back in North America and have the first half of the season here – it’s been a long time since we’ve had that, so I wanted to be able to compete and it feels awesome.”

That’s not to say the leadup to this season has been without its share of hiccups. In fact, Humphries admits that following the Beijing Olympics, she had hoped to get pregnant immediately, but she and husband Travis Armbruster had to pivot when a diagnosis of stage 4 endometriosis made it clear that in vitro fertilization would be the best path for pregnancy.

“Right after the Olympics, I was like, ‘We’re going to get pregnant; it’s gonna be all good,’” she said. “I thought, my body has always performed, and it wasn’t going to be an issue. Fast forward to I find out we have to do IVF. We do the first egg retrieval, and it doesn’t go as well as I had hoped — which anybody that’s done this process knows, you can’t control any aspect of it. And so having to do a second round of egg retrieval, …it pushed everything back.”

What’s more, it brought Humphries’ training to a standstill at times, when she would have to limit all physical activity during the three-week period surrounding the egg-retrieval process.

“It impacted my training coming into this year a lot,” she says, “but I also think it definitely reset my hormones, which turns out I needed. I don’t think was a bad thing. I knew coming into this year, I wasn’t going to be in the same shape as I have been in the past, and I had to make peace with that. I know that each and every race I’m racing myself into shape, and each race is a preparation for January’s World Championships.”

Humphries also chose to share her IVF journey publicly, and she’s documented every step of the way, believing that her story makes it less scary not just for her but also for other women and female athletes who might be facing the same thing.

MORE IBSF WORLD CUP: Kelly Curtis notches career-best finish with top five at Park City skeleton World Cup

“My husband and I weren’t sure that we wanted to share it at first,” she admits. “But I felt it was important just to showcase this. I have nothing to hide. And as much as there are parts of me certain days when I think, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ At the end of the day, I know I’m not alone in this.

“It’s important, I do have a voice, and I want other people to know, as an Olympic gold medalist, if it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody. Infertility exists in the female body, and it’s important that I talk about it in my journey and hopefully that’s inspired other people.”

She says she’s received an outpouring of support, which has been particularly gratifying as she continues to put a painful breakup with Team Canada in the rearview mirror. Humphries, who was born in Calgary, competed for Canada for 16 years, winning three Olympic medals including a bronze in Pyeongchang in 2018. But the relationship came to an abrupt end later just five months after the 2018 Games, after Humphries alleged emotional and mental harassment by a former coach.

Winning a gold medal in Beijing just two months after her U.S. citizenship was finalized proved to be turning point for Humphries, who commemorated the milestone with two new tattoos. She first added the date of her win – Feb. 14, 2022 – to the back of her left hand and a larger rose and skull illustration to the back of her right knee and calf, all of which commemorate her triumph over that darker period.

“The skull represents a rebirth and a growth, overcoming challenges and/or obstacles and turning something negative into something positive,” explains Humphries, who says she chose the rose because it’s the national flower of the U.S. as well as a symbol of love won or lost. She notes that she has “an actual Olympic one” planned for August 2024, which is when her favorite tattoo artist is next available.

Humphries has also found the silver lining in her IVF journey, as the competition season has been a welcome break from some of the self-imposed pressure.

“By pushing pause for four or five months and competing, it allowed me mentally to know that we can go into all of next summer and all winter focusing on just doing the actual embryo transfers and having a good pregnancy,” she says. “I don’t feel stressed to try and get pregnant right away. I felt like I was becoming competitive with myself, wondering why isn’t this working? Why can’t I do this? I tried to control too many things, and I started to get really frustrated. Mentally, it was hard. So, by pushing pause, going back to what I know — which is the sport, which is what I love – it’s allowed me to control a little bit of my future.”

Humphries’ season continues Saturday as the IBSF World Cup from Park City concludes with the two-woman bobsleigh.