Michele Roberts: Women of Color are Breaking the Glass Ceiling in Sports

February 7 - Sarah Ashlock
Creative
 

FIRST THOUGHT: Shootin' High

This year, I participated in my first fantasy football league. I was told it’s the easier kind, called Pick’em. By the third week, I forgot to make my picks. “You mean, I have to get on this app once a week?!” I groaned to my fellow league members. As the only girl, I really wanted to beat them all. Turns out I have no clue what I’m doing. But guess what? I won several weeks, and even won a week in the playoffs with a tiebreaker that another member said “I would’ve advised against.” Did I have a method to my picks? Not one I’d share proudly with my dude friends and family. Today, take a stab at something totally crazy and new and out of your wheelhouse. I’m not saying you’ll be good at it, but you’ll at least get a giggle or two.

WOMEN IN NUMBERS: One-fifth

One of my league’s members has a theory that it isn’t that girlfriends and wives are nags about their dudes watching football or participating in a league; it’s that the dudes don’t invite them to participate. (Not that women need that). When it comes to basketball, women have been shooting hoops for decades, but for some reason (cough, sexism, cough), the highest-paid player in the Women’s National Basketball Association makes one-fifth of what the lowest-piad player in the men’s NBA makes. Let that sink in.

WOMAN TO WATCH: Michele Roberts, Executive Director of the NBPA

Michele Roberts is changing the basketball game. She’s the first woman ever to hold the position of executive director at the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA), and the “first woman to head a major sports union in North America.”

The NBPA was established more than 40 years ago to make sure players were represented. It’s an important job to help manage an organization that’s so renowned and has such influence on players’ lives. Clearly, Michele’s a slam dunk (dangit, I told myself no basketball puns…) because she was freshly re-elected to a second, four-year term.

Michelle’s journey down the court actually started in a real court: the Law and Order kind. She was a public defender and then a partner at some top law firms. Raised by a single mom in the Bronx, Michele knows firsthand the difficulty of being offered opportunities as a woman of color.

When the NBPA position opened up in 2013, Michele wasn’t going to be boxed out of an occasion to fill a role she believed she was well suited for. So how does a trial lawyer transition to then leading the NBPA? It’s something so few career advisors and college counselors explain: Your profession doesn’t always have to align perfectly with a future endeavor. Rather, the skills you possess and the deliverables you provide can say a lot about what you’re fit to do.

That’s the case for Michele. The NBPA president and other members of the committee, which includes basketball stars like LeBron James and Stephen Curry, hired her because of the leadership, guidance and accomplishments she’s exemplified. Her past performance solidified that she had the making of an exceptional trailblazer, regardless of the industry she came from.

Michele’s tenacity has not gone unnoticed by players and agents, as the basketball union space has faced some serious struggles with in-fighting. Now, though, league revenues are increasing and franchise valuations are flourishing. Michele receives emails and letters of support and gratitude from young women of color who express that Michele’s thriving career has motivated them to stretch beyond what they initially thought was possible. Ain’t that what it’s all about?

QUITE THE QUOTE

Game’s over, folks. Here’s a few words from Michele Roberts:

"I don't live my life saying, 'What ceiling am I going to crack tomorrow?' What I have done, and what I tell my nieces to do, is not to worry about whether you're the only one but worry about whether you're the best one."

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