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WNBA star Sue Bird discusses sports equality at event

No, Sue Bird has not read fan-fiction about herself and Megan Rapinoe.

However, she has won three WNBA championships, four Olympic Gold medals, two NCAA championships, and was voted by fans as one of the WNBA’s Top 15 Players of All Time. 

Bird’s Q&A at Duke, moderated by Kyra Lambert—point guard for Duke women’s basketball and graduate student at the Fuqua School of Business—focused on inclusion, equality and diversity in sports. Bird also discussed how she’s used her success to further the conversation about each of the topics. 

Without hesitation, Bird defined the story of her career as a tale of adversity. As a queer female athlete, Bird has had to mentally navigate sexist anti-gay rhetoric while physically navigating several sports injuries, including a torn ACL her first year and several subsequent hip and leg surgeries. She made it clear that expecting life to be easy, especially as an athlete, is not realistic. 

“I can kind of look back and even make the argument that it’s what fueled me and motivated me, and I probably did better when I had people doubting me,” Bird said. “I just live my life.”

The conversation then shifted to advocacy and activism. Bird recognized that her success has opened doors for her to spark change. She works as a basketball operations associate for the Denver Nuggets—a role for which women have not been historically considered—and “makes sure [her] voice is heard.”

When asked to envision the future of sports with regard to gender and pay equity, Bird said the future looks bright. She emphasized that taking the initiative to hire and empower women is deeply important, calling on men to champion for equality in the same capacity as women. 

“But I think everything is trending in the right direction,” Bird said. “Across the board, I think people aren’t quiet anymore.”

Bird questioned the notion that student athletes, and athletes in general, should not speak up politically. 

“Look at your teams, they’re usually, like, melting pots of people,” she said. 

Bird spent 10 years playing overseas in Russia, interacting with people completely different from herself. She stressed that this exposure to different backgrounds does, in fact, qualify athletes to speak up even more.

There was no shortage of advice for the next generation of female athletes. Bird honed in on the point that trying to be someone you’re not only hinders the team. 

“You need to figure out who you are and be the best you,” Bird said. 

She also spoke to the benefit of being a part of sports in general, whether or not that leads to professional success. 

“All of the lessons I’ve learned growing up, whether in elementary intramural sports, high school sports, the friends I made, how do I be on a team and be a good teammate,” she said. “All of those things translate through life.”

Looking forward, Bird wants to play in the next WNBA season and the Olympics, recognizing that life could render either of these impossible. Overall, the 38-year-old Bird expressed a genuine excitement to experience what life has in store for her. 

“I’m like 105 in basketball years,” she said. “I’m looking forward to being young again.”

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