While the NBA continues to make news as it decides the fate of an owner whose beliefs regarding race relations have alienated him from the business, sports, social and marketing worlds, the WNBA continues to align itself with these same communities for taking forward-thinking moves in the arenas of inclusion and diversity.
The WNBA, now in its 18th season, last week unveiled a major multi-media marketing platform that put front-and-center lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender lifestyles. WNBA Pride is being presented by Procter & Gamble brand CoverGirl. But it would not have seen the light of day without the support and acceptance of other league marketing partners, which include Boost Mobile, Adidas, American Express, BBVA, Anheuser-Busch, Coca-Cola, EA Sports, Gatorade, Nike, Spalding and State Farm.
The power of marketing partners should not be underestimated in matters where social responsibility conforms or conflicts with business strategies, especially when those conflicts become public knowledge. After Donald Sterling's opinions went global, which motivated the NBA to issue a "banned for life" decree that it is in the process of legally attempting to make official, more than 15 sponsors of the Sterling-owned Los Angeles Clippers distanced themselves from their alliance with the team.
Now, under the direction of WNBA Commissioner Laurel Richie, and with the support of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, the WNBA said it is the first professional sports league to establish an integrated marketing, media, grassroots and social responsibility program for the LGBT community.
The league has designated nine games as Pride platform events, which will include players wearing commemorative Pride shirts and information being disseminated regarding the LGBT communities.
ESPN is taking a lead role in this initiative as it will televise the June 22 Pride game between the Tulsa Shock and Chicago Sky.
Making social and marketing waves is not new to the WNBA. The league has several teams that sport jersey-front sponsors. Its Connecticut Sun franchise is owned by the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority (and plays its home games in the Mohegan Sun Arena, which is attached to one of the largest casinos in the U.S.) and last season, under the banner of several P&G brands, unveiled the "My Black is Beautiful" platform, through which young women are given access to scholarships, workshops and other tools of empowerment.
"The WNBA welcomes all fans, athletes, and partners to our game," Commissioner Richie said of the Pride initiative. "These beliefs unite the 12 teams of the WNBA and we are very excited to introduce the WNBA Pride platform which celebrates acceptance and inclusion."
Richie specifically highlighted WNBA marketing partners, which she called "extraordinary partners who share these values." She also stressed that the league is "grateful to our [Pride] presenting partner CoverGirl along with ESPN, GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network) and GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) for joining the WNBA on this important initiative."
In sync with this, where the NBA (Jason Collins) and NFL (Michael Sam) made "history" with the news of their first openly gay players, the WNBA has been home to alternative lifestyles without creating quite the same shockwaves.
"Every day in the news we see that inclusion is the new standard for our society, and every day we see more and more people reject prejudice and anything that would divide us," said Brittney Griner, one of the league's tops stars, who last season in her rookie year with the Phoenix Mercury went public with the fact that she is gay. "I’m proud to be a part of the WNBA and NBA family that has chosen to embrace the LGBT community, not just for the out athletes like me, but also the allies and fans who love them."