By Donna Orender
President, Women’s National Basketball Association

Tension and passion hung in the air in the final electrifying seconds of Game 2 of the WNBA Western Conference Finals on Sept. 27. In front of a packed home crowd at the AT&T Center, the San Antonio Silver Stars’ Sophia Young hit a 14-foot turnaround jumper at the buzzer to fend off her team’s elimination by the Los Angeles Sparks. At this moment, someone leaned over to me and whispered, “You must be so proud of all this.”

It was one of many incredible moments that define our league. At these times, I am grateful for the messages the league delivers to young women that sweat and grit are permissible and to young males that strong and athletic women will populate their future.

The WNBA formed just 12 years ago, and it continues to blaze trails. The markers of success are familiar in the American sports landscape – corporate partnerships, network television broadcasts, the rhythm of a season from training camp to All-Star to playoffs. It’s the trailblazers who are different. This WNBA is defining what an investment in our female youth can yield.

With these role models before them, young women are playing sports in exponentially increasing numbers. The health benefits of this participation have been well documented: the lowering of heart disease and cancers, and the rise in self-esteem and school performance. Far less commonly recited, however, are the enormous social benefits. Sports is a pervasive cultural presence; its language is the language of business and the currency of status, clearly dominating the hallways and corner offices of the global corporate landscape. Up until now, women have been largely sidelined, kept away from the enormous profits and other considerable benefits that being a valued member of this sports society generate. The WBNA says to young women that they can earn a seat at this table by showing them that they’re invited to dinner in the first place.

Our league sits uniquely at the crossroads of Main Street USA, with an atmosphere and accessibility that encourage families to gather for a game that speaks to America’s values and work ethic. In a day and age when community leaders, politicians and parents simply ask for positive role models for their children, we find one right in front of us: the WNBA, a league where teamwork and hard work are prized, and athletes’ raw passion to play and compete are front and center from opening tip to closing buzzer.

After 12 years, the WNBA deserves more credit and more importantly, greater support for its considerable accomplishments. By just existing, it continues to encourage significant numbers of young women to compete, compete in all fields of endeavor.

Our fans have responded to the high level of play by pushing increased attendance, TV ratings, Web traffic and merchandise sales. These women are spreading this work ethic and universal language around the world – note the 41 current-and-former WNBA players on Olympic rosters in Beijing, including the 12 members of Team USA who brought home their fourth consecutive gold medal.

Progress has been made and yet for all of us who are involved with girls and women’s sports, the gap is still wide and perceptions still slow to change. In a world that is turning upside down and inside out as we try to buckle our seat belts, my hope is that the shift in the earth’s tectonic plates helps us collectively recognize and actively support change. If you have a daughter, a sister or a niece, then you fully understand the desire for her to have full access to all that is possible for her. Sports is a huge gateway. The WNBA is an iconic brand that is the most visible means of providing very positive imagery and role models who support all of her hopes and dreams and possibilities. Further, it provides major league sports entertainment rooted in value and values. Wow, life’s lessons are on sale, front and center, and at a great price.

The question we have to ask ourselves – are we willing to pay the price to keep the momentum going? As the women’s game continues to explode and play happens both below and above the rim, the drama of winning and losing are decisions that we effect each time we choose to support our young women with our time, attention and financial resources. Please choose wisely. I would tell you that the price for us to not support the WNBA and our young girls’ physical and spiritual development through sports is a very costly one.

The mission for the league is to lead, to inspire and to create change. It’s a rallying call every day. For me, it is both a professional and personal calling. It is about making a positive difference, which is everyone’s self-interest. The wonder of sports is that it is a place where passion rules and where fun and games form a solid foundation for winning, winning in the most important game, in the game of life.

Happy National Girls and Women in Sports Day!

WNBA President since 2005, Donna Orender has been awarded the March of Dimes Sports Leadership Award, WISE Woman of the Year Award and named to BusinessWeek’s Power 100 in Sports as well as’s 10 Most Powerful Women in Sports. Her sports career began with three years of college basketball, earning Regional All-American honors, after which she played three seasons in the Women’s Professional Basketball League including on the All-Star team.

Before joining the WNBA, Orender spent 17 years with the PGA Tour, serving most recently as Senior Vice President of Strategic Development in the Office of the Commissioner, as well as in television production at ABC Sports and the SportsChannel.

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  • Elizabeth W. February 4, 2009 at 8:16 am

    As a fan of women’s basketball at both the NCAA and WNBA levels, this post makes me all kinds of happy and proud.
    Admittedly, a little star-struck too.