Defying the odds and the critics, the WNBA celebrated its fifteenth season this week with an opening game between the Minnesota Lynx and the Los Angeles Sparks. The league was founded in 1996 and began play in 1997. “This is a significant milestone for the WNBA,” said NBA Commissioner David Stern. “The league continues to be the destination for the greatest women basketball players in the world. The WNBA has also developed into an icon and a vehicle for social change, providing extraordinary role models for young women and individuals of all ages.”
The first player to be signed to the WNBA when it was created in 1996 was Sheryl Swoopes, now a three-time WNBA MVP and and the winner of three Olympic gold medals. In October of 2005, Swoopes announced that she is gay, and became one of the most high-profile athletes in a team sport to do so. At the time, Swoopes said, “It doesn’t change who I am. I can’t help who I fall in love with. No one can… Discovering I’m gay just sort of happened much later in life. Being intimate with [Alisa] or any other woman never entered my mind. At the same time, I’m a firm believer that when you fall in love with somebody, you can’t control that.”
Swoopes is still playing for the WNBA fifteen years later. After missing the last two WNBA seasons and appearing to be on the road to retirement, 40-year-old Swoopes is back on the court this season playing for the Tulsa Shock.
As a soon-to-be-40-year-old-woman, and as a lesbian, I am both amazed and inspired by Swoopes. I will definitely be taking my daughter—and my sons, for that matter—to a game this season. I encourage everyone to get out and support the amazing athletes of the WNBA!