Seattle Storm point guard Sue Bird agreed with remarks made by her girlfriend, USWNT captain Megan Rapinoe, that women’s soccer enjoys more public support than women’s basketball in the United States due to the demographics of the respective sports.
“Even though we’re female athletes playing at a high level, our worlds, you know, the soccer world and the basketball world are just totally different,” Bird told CNN Sport’s Don Riddell in an interview that aired on Sunday.
“And to be blunt it’s the demographic of who’s playing. Women’s soccer players generally are cute little white girls while WNBA players, we are all shapes and sizes … a lot of black, gay, tall women … there is maybe an intimidation factor and people are quick to judge it and put it down,” Bird said.
Rapinoe wrote in her piece for the Players’ Tribune published ahead of this month’s WNBA finals that the players for the USWNT were perceived as “straight, cute, unthreatening, suburban white girls next door. It’s not actually who we are – the WNT’s racial diversity, though not yet where it needs to be, is improving every year. And, you know, breaking news … I’m gay. But by and large, that’s the perception. And it’s certainly how we’re marketed to a lot of people.”
Bird disputed the notion that the WNBA should emulate how women’s soccer markets itself to the US public.
“The problem is not the marketing, per se,” Bird told CNN. “The problem is how society and how the outside world is willing to accept the cute girl next door, but not willing to accept, or embrace, or not judge these basketball players who are tall, Black, gay.
“That’s kind of, to me, where the issue is. Where I feel like I’ve learned throughout that process is you have to be who you are. You have to be to be true to who you are and authentic.
“We [the WNBA] are representing all that we are. We’re representing every day the values that we want to push forward in our world. And I feel like you can go to bed at night and sleep well knowing you’re being true to yourself, and that’s more important than anything.”
Bird, who turned 40 this week, averaged 11.0 assists per game in the finals – extraordinary considering the single-game playoff record was 12 before this week – but the raw numbers only tell part of the story. The Storm shot 73% (33-for-45) off her passes in the series, a nod to Bird’s ability to get her teammates the ball in the best spots at the right time.