the last year of Michaela Onyenwere’s life has been a whirlwind.
The New York Liberty selected the former UCLA forward sixth overall in the 2021 WNBA draft, and within weeks, she was in seafoam at Barclays Center, playing her way to Rookie of the Year honors. She earned her degree at UCLA, played overseas in Spain and now in year two of her professional career, she’s starting to plan a family.
No, no, not like that. Onyenwere, who turns 23 in August, is learning about her reproductive health and fertility as part of a campaign with Modern Fertility so that she’s prepared for that part of her life down the road.
“We go overseas, so it’s like, OK, if I do plan to have a child in some point of my life I know I may have to miss basketball. I know I may have to miss part of my career,” Onyenwere told Yahoo sports. “I think it’s so important for me to — not that I’m looking to have kids anytime soon — for me it’s really important to have that resource and option to do so.”
Onyenwere is joined in the campaign by Liberty teammate Betnijah Laney and WNBA peers Candace Parker, Nneka Ogwumike and Chiney Ogwumike. The campaign highlights the difficulty for female athletes to have a family when their bodies are literally their career and support is largely lacking.
That second issue is beginning to change for the better. As Title IX turned 50 years old this week, the sports world celebrated progress while also focusing on the next 50 years of growth in equality. That includes maternity protections and access to family planning so that athletes aren’t limited in their careers.
The WNBA included it in its groundbreaking 2020 collective bargaining agreement, a large leap from when Sheryl Swoopes gave birth to each end shortly before the inaugural WNBA season tipped off in 1997. The CBA includes fully paid maternity leave, reimbursement for fertility support and adoption fees , childcare stipend and the end of the stigmatizing use of “suspended” when a player is out due to pregnancy.
Players have already benefited from the changes. Cheyenne Parker and Napheesa Collier have each given birth to daughters while Breanna Stewart, who used a surrogate, and Parker, whose wife carried their son, have welcomed children.
But speaking out about it in a campaign is far different than quietly utilizing a job benefit. Onyenwere, who is the youngest W star in the campaign by six years, said she was a little nervous when she first heard the pitch because reproductive health is still such a taboo topic. Her first thought was, “OK, we’ll deal with it later,” and she thought back to a six-week college class about Black motherhood that piqued her interest.
“This made me more interested in getting knowledge about my body,” Onyenwere said. “I know about my body on the athletic side. I’ve been able to push my body on the athletic side. But I’m not as well-versed in the reproductive side, the hormones and my eggs and things like that. I think this is a no-brainer kind of collaboration that I’m really excited to keep learning about.”
The progress made in the WNBA, other sports leagues and society at large when it comes to family planning also comes at a time when the Supreme Court appears poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, a 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide.
“I’ve been very angry about just because it’s like, there’s people who are men who will never go through things that women go through on any level on any landscape that are making decisions for women,” Onyenwere, whose degree is in sociology, told Yahoo Sports. “No matter how much I read about it, no matter how much I process it, I just don’t get it. And it’s just been how it’s been for a long time, unfortunately.
“But it’s just so disappointing to see things like that. See the world like that. See how women’s bodies are being regulated even from years and years and years and years ago. Decades ago. So it’s really, really unfortunate to have that. I pray that we’re able to get to a space where that doesn’t happen, where we’re able to have the choice to have kids, to not have kids, to make those decisions for yourself that are best for yourself.”
WNBA All-Star rankings
A’ja Wilson, Breanna Stewart, Sylvia Fowles and Sue Bird are sharing captain duties as four of the 10 All-Star starters announced by the league on Wednesday. All-Star selections are always interesting because it’s a weighted vote between fans, media and players, so it allows insight into where each sector stands. And there were some large discrepancies between those parties.
At the guard position, the Nos. 5-7 finishers each had margins of at least seven between the highest ranking and lowest. Seattle Storm guard Jewel Loyd was ranked third by players, fifth by fans and 10th by the media (East Coast bias proof?).
Skylar Diggins-Smith who didn’t waste time pointing out the difference on Twitter, came in at third by media, fourth by fans and 14th by players. She was the only top-10 guard in weighted score who received a double-digit player ranking. The second-closest was Rhine Howardwho came in ninth and finished ninth in the weighted score.
Arike Ogunbowale was voted fourth by media and players, but 11th by fans to fall out of the starters pool. (Marketing and/or racial bias at play?) And Kelsey Mitchell was ranked sixth by both, only to fall down because of a No. 13 finishes with fans.
At the frontcourt position, where there are six All-Star spots, it was sixth-place Candace Parker (fan third, media seventh, player 13th) and Elena Delle Donne (4, 12, 20) who saw such drastic differences. The low player ranking isn’t new for Parker, who was voted “most overrated” in a confidential player poll conducted by The Athletic in September 2019. Delle Donne’s difference could be attributed to her situation as a part-time player, while fans likely voted her highly in excitement for having her back.
But the biggest thing to note in the rankings is reigning MVP Jonquel Jones. She finished third in each of the media and player ranks, while only eighth in the fan frontcourt ranking and 15th out of all players. It shouldn’t be overlooked this result came out the day of Katie Barnes’ piece for ESPN highlighting marketing problems and bias in regards to Jones and within the league’s entirety.
In overall voting, Wilson was first (88,407) followed by Stewart (79,520), Plum (68,678), Parker (66,462) and Delle Donne (45,876). I had an All-Star ballot, which I’ll share in the spirit of transparency with a few notes.
guards: Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young, Sabrina Ionescu, Kelsey Mitchell
Give the new kids some love. Plum and Young are obvious. Ionescu has reached another level in June and impacts every part of the stat sheet. Mitchell got the nod because of what she’s done without experienced talent around her, but Ogunbowale and Loyd were tough to leave off.
Frontcourt: A’ja Wilson, Breanna Stewart, Jonquel Jones, Sylvia Fowles, Brionna Jones, Elena Delle Donne
Her Hoop Stats made a good case for Brionna Jones, who is a key part of the Sun’s strong start. And I did put Delle Donne in partly for her success after two years away and that the Mystics are such a different team without her. Many players were hard to leave off, like Dearica Hamby, Nneka Ogwumike and Emma Meesseman.
WNBA x NBA Draft mashup
Family members of WNBA players past and present had their moments in the spotlight on Thursday night during the 2022 NBA draft.
Washington Mystics center Elizabeth Williams was in town to see her little brother, Mark Williams. Mark attended Duke just as his older sister did and chose the school after seeing Elizabeth, the 2012 National Freshman of the Year, play there.
Rhonda Smith Banchero, who graduated as Washington’s leading scorer, raised her last, Duke’s Paolo Banchero, on the women’s game. Smith Banchero (who played as Rhonda Smith) was drafted in the third round of the 2000 WNBA draft by the Sacramento Monarchs.
And then there is Niele Ivey‘s ending, Jaden Ivey. The Indiana Fever selected Niele Ivey out of Notre Dame at 19th overall in the 2001 WNBA draft. She played for five seasons before becoming a coach and ending up back with the Fighting Irish, where she took over after former coach Muffet McGraw’s retirement. Jaden was born in 2002 while she played for the Fever and he played collegiately at Purdue. Both mother and son reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournaments in March.
Twitter user TC Collins said it best: “Biggest takeaway from the NBA Draft. Guys w/ moms who played in the WNBA are better prospects than guys whose Dad’s played in the NBA.”
WNBA news you may have missed
The latest on Brittney Griner:
TV schedule for the weekend
Games are available on WNBA League Pass, unless aired by broadcasters as listed below (excluding Facebook and Twitter). all time ET
Friday: Liberty at Dream (7:30 pm, CBS Sports Network)
Saturday: Mercury at Wings (8 pm, NBA TV), Sparks at Storm (9 pm, Facebook), Mystics at Aces (10 pm, NBA TV)
Sunday: Sun at Dream (3 pm, Amazon Prime), Lynx at Sky (6 pm, CBS Sports Network)