WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert solves season issues
WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert spoke with members of the media in Bradenton, Florida, on Wednesday, and the league is scheduled to begin marketing the 2020 season on Saturday.
In his first speech since the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the start of the season, Engelbert talked about maintaining safety, ownership and player issues in the “bubble” at the Florida IMG Academy.
Katie Engelbert: Thank you Ron. Thank you for joining this call today.
As Ron said, I am now at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, which is our official home stadium for the 2020 WNBA season. We were very excited when we tipped this Saturday.
I want to thank you all for your continuous service and patience as we finalize our plan to achieve today’s goal. Everyone knows that until July 6th, including ourselves, we all came to the campus. We have been in a huge plan and program modeling mode for several months.
Now that we are here, it is amazing to see the work going well and the players back on the court. As I mentioned before, IMG Academy is a beautiful and expansive campus, known for its elite training of athletes (including professional athletes).
Whether you are watching the team practice or watching the players riding a bicycle on campus, or doing billiard exercise under the leadership of the captain, you can immediately feel the motivation and vitality of the team.
I would say that this is not an easy process, but we are confident in a wide range of health and safety procedures that can quickly classify problems when they occur on site. We are here, ready to go.
Obviously, I want to thank many people this season. AT&T became our presentation partner for Tip-Off 2020. AT&T also keeps their players in touch by providing their players with 5G equipment.
Our broadcasting partner, ESPN, yelled at them. CBS Sports Network. NBA TV, continuous commitment and reporting. You know that was one of the priorities when I came a year ago to ensure that we have more media coverage. From a broadcasting point of view, we have achieved our goals for this season.
Avis’s rental car is an important step in the transportation of minivans that our fleet urgently needs in terms of cooperating with the fleet. The Kinsa thermometer provides our players and employees with a tool to monitor their own temperature, and uses Bluetooth technology every day, so it works very well. That is an important part of keeping our season as safe as possible.
We made Clorox really strengthened. Wet wipes are just as impressive and useful as electrostatic sprayers. Anheuser-Busch has achieved success. In addition to AT&T, our other WNBA Changemakers, Deloitte and Nike also made this season a success. It cannot be done without these partners.
With an eye on the upcoming game on the court, it is important for us to continue to emphasize the progress that we and our players have made in the field of social justice. Throughout the season, letting the fans pay attention to the issues that are most important to the players is a large part of our dedication to the players.
As we announced recently, WNBA Justice Movement will be our driving force to drive players forward. We have established the Social Justice Committee and look forward to collectively zooming in on the entire process throughout the IMG Academy and in the coming seasons, because we know that change will not come soon.
We will look for ways to interact and interact with fans. As you know, they will not appear on our stage. We will need to conduct a lot of in-depth research on players, including the fact that we are together. Get real-time functions and content from you through broadcasting and other means.
Of course, you know that I am a firm supporter and we now have a huge momentum for development. We have seen some highly anticipated national TV showdowns. After the very active free agency period, we will get senior returns and new team motivation. Of course, many amazing rookies debut.
I do think this is indeed a different season. We are ready to tip on the 25th of the 24th season.
Thank you again for all the support you gave us candidly during this very unusual period in the history of the league and in the history of sports. The past few months have been full of challenges. Everything is now realized.
I am happy to answer your questions. Thank you.
It seems that when you first arrived there, we had not heard any COVID test numbers. Do you have any updated COVID test numbers for the alliance now?
Katie Engelbert: Of course. If there is anything to report, we will report it. Obviously, we often test our players and employees. We have tested it before players come here. We have released those. If we have a story to tell, we will. Fortunately, we did not.
When they got here, we only had two players who tested positive. That was during the initial isolation period. After the quarantine, no other participants tested positive.
We will report if there are important stories there. I knock on wood every day, but now the situation here is stable. Since we were quarantined a few weeks ago, there has not been any active testing.
Without a positive test, isn’t that what you want? Other alliances say there is no positive, no positive, one positive. Do you want to use this information as a story with bubbles at work?
Katie Engelbert: Yes, of course. I have this media today. We know you will ask. We are happy to eliminate it. It’s just that we really focus on social justice platforms to ensure everyone’s safety and health. Of course, if it helps, we can do this regularly.
Social Justice Council
Participants have been involved in social justice initiatives for many years, but one of the co-owners is focusing on solving this problem. Can you talk about the council, your participation and how focused your players are on these issues this season.
CATHY ENGELBERT: I mean, obviously everyone knows, I hope you saw my comment on CNN last week, when I was asked about Love, the co-owner of the Atlanta Dream Team Senator Le. I was surprised to receive a letter from Kelly. From the moment I met her, even before I joined the league, I have seen public statements that she has always been very supportive of women’s issues, empowered women, and interested in their players and their positions. She has played basketball herself and wants to help her grow and support the league.
Again, not sure what exactly is here. I am proud of the WNBA players, as you said in the second half of the question, they have always been at the forefront of social sports. Many people are unaware of these recent events.
Since the day I walked in the door last July, I have been talking about this issue and I am very impressed. Frankly speaking, I am not just focusing on how they use the platform to vigorously advocate what is most important to them. You only need to look at Maya Moore, what she can accomplish from the perspective of criminal justice system reform. You will see Natasha Cloud, some of our participants choose to focus on social justice.
More importantly, the players here and the Social Justice Council formed with the players and the players’ associations have produced many great ideas. They are so proud of them that they will not be distracted by politics or other things. They are really focused and very excited to be together frankly.
They are full of energy. This may be the best word to express their voice and make lasting change in this country, because this is their goal. For them, this is even bigger than current basketball. Their voices are listening with great momentum.
Coronavirus number, program
Return to the COVID number. More broadly, since last week, you have heard the encouraging results of the NBA and Major League Soccer. You look at these numbers, your own numbers, what have you learned, especially in the past five to seven days? How can the initial information help you while you refine the agreement to minimize the quantity?
Cathy Engelbert (CATHY ENGELBERT): I think the really interesting part so far is that the plans and agreements are working. Wear a mask, wash your hands, check the temperature every day, and check the symptoms every day to ensure that we have eliminated all problems. Similar to our initial quarantine period, then the initial team-only work, and now we enter the melee and competition this weekend.
You really must follow the science. We have done a lot of work in understanding data and science, obviously consulting experts. This is why they are so strict. You may have heard complaints here early, because we are very strict and have formulated these health and safety regulations in consultation with these public health medical experts.
No one likes to wear a mask, but in addition to on the court, you also need to wear a mask. Physical distance. The really important part of it is also difficult, and also difficult. Designated WNBA exclusive area. Temperature check, symptom check, follow up people who do not perform check.
These are the communications that we have been communicating during the first week until the 14th day. Now we have passed some time. I think the players and staff feel good.
You really must continue to believe only in science. I know it can be difficult sometimes. We prove that if you follow the science and follow the protocol, you can remain stable in this uncertain environment.
Fine for leaving
Is there any policy to prevent players from accidentally leaving the bubble? Warning, fine? What kind of medical plan will they go through? What if someone is really sick? Where are they going? The local hospital? What are their options?
CATHY ENGELBERT: If someone leaves for unauthorized reasons, obviously this will have a significant impact, including that they may not be able to come back this season.
Of course, for reasons of prior authorization, family and medical emergencies are permitted with prior notice. They will be quarantined when they return because they will return outside our confined area here. They will be quarantined for 7 to 10 days when they return.
So far, we have no one. Knock the wood-whenever I talk about this, I talk about testing. We have not had any unauthorized export. You can leave at any time. Coming back is a challenge to ensure that we have proper quarantine and testing periods before we board the plane and arrive here or drive, and when we are on campus. I think we have determined this well.
Fortunately, we have not had a positive reaction, no symptoms or severe symptoms. We now have a relationship with the local hospital. In the Manatee County area, I have talked with public health officials in the county. We are all ready.
Our entire team is composed of physicians. On site, internally and internally, they cooperate with players to deal with various things, not only COVID, but also various medical issues, sports medicine and other things you think will happen. We need to be with people. Here in about three months.
Elena Delle Donne
I want to ask you about Elena Dale Don. Specifically, she published an open letter last week, saying that the decision of the alliance expert group and the way of communicating the decision caused her a lot of harm. Looking back, do you have any regrets about how it happened? If you extend a helping hand, what are your thoughts on establishing a relationship with someone who is clearly one of the most outstanding players in the WNBA?
Katie Engelbert: Let me give you some background information. Obviously, we are very sensitive to her health and support her. Throughout the entire setting process of the season, we have been trying to follow virology and consult infectious disease experts, epidemiologists.
The virus is very complicated. We must work with the Players Association to develop a process to create a level playing field for all WNBA players so that everyone is treated fairly. Independent medical review team including experts.
The level of the player is not a factor when making these decisions. As you know, the Mystics separately confirmed that due to Elena’s recent back surgery, she does not need to be required to report to Florida and will receive a full salary. The pandemic has disrupted her back recovery because it is doing a lot of unnecessary things during the peak of COVID. From March to July, many things here are disrupted by the pandemic.
Elena is absolutely highly respected. A great player in our league. Her game level is not a factor. This is an independent medical review process, and infectious disease experts are also reviewing her and other cases. This is why it is called independent. This is an independent medical review team.
Unfortunately, the reaction was so, but of course we were sensitive to her health and supported her along the way.
Media and TV coverage
Given what is happening in the country right now, playing in front of a sport-hungry country, do you see that the league is now gaining some advantage in the exposure that television has always wanted?
Katie Engelbert: I really am. When I came in about a year ago, part of the strategy was to expand contact with these elite female athletes. When you look at the statistics, less than 4% of sports cover women’s sports. I think if we can develop a strategy and increase the numerator by a few percentage points, then the denominator will be very large because of the coverage of sports. Big.
Who knew we were about to suffer from this global health pandemic, which would put economic pressure on our financial system. If you look at any crisis, the disadvantages of getting into a crisis are often magnified. But you also see this crisis as an opportunity to resolve these weaknesses.
I think that around the weak links of women’s sports and the attention to women’s sports, it is certain that this is a huge opportunity for us and the entire league. For these athletes, it really shows their talents to everyone. . This is why we have been through training camps for several weeks. I am very happy to be here on Saturday to prepare for our season this year so that we can pay more attention to us and start implementing what we prepared before the game. The strategic pandemic is to expand the attractiveness of the fan base, bring in new income, and ultimately develop the game and expand the fan base. This is exactly what we will try to do.
The pandemic makes you back down, but as you described in the question, it provides us with an opportunity. We must take advantage of this opportunity. This is why everything is planned so carefully and scenarios are planned so that we can ensure a season, a season of success, while ensuring that health and safety come first.
It can be said with certainty that the WNBA, established in 1997, is ahead of the times in social justice and provides women with opportunities to play professional basketball? Isn’t this in itself a statement about the alliance?
Katie Engelbert: Yes. I have reflected on this a lot this year. David Stern, who initiated the league, passed away on January 1 this year. For me, 2020 is a huge challenge for all sports, and this has not lost me. After David, Kobe Bryant and the young basketball players and their parents failed together. Now we have an outbreak of this pandemic.
WNBA players are definitely ahead of their time. I think the NBA is far ahead in creating the league. I think the participants were in a leading position in social justice platforms at the time, as Maya Moores and Natasha Clouds showed, the courage around social justice echoed.
League development momentum and Kelly Loveler
We always talk about momentum. Are Kelly Loeffler’s words worrying because they directly contradict the purpose of this alliance. Will they affect the momentum? In addition, due to various reasons, some players also withdrew from the game. Are you worried that it will affect the momentum and growth we have been talking about?
CATHY ENGELBERT: I think your two questions are mixed, so I will answer them all at once.
As a commissioner, I am committed to ensuring a player platform that is committed to vigorously advocating social justice this season to ensure that “life in black” is crucial. We are proud of our participants speaking up on these issues. They have been leading and will continue to do so. This has no political significance. This is a statement of their values.
I think they are making people aware of issues that people have long overlooked, especially when they advocate #sayhername, against female victims of racial injustice and police brutality. I think this is an important voice. They enjoy a unique position in a multicultural, 80% black woman, even more diverse alliance than before.
I have been advising players to make sure they are focused and full of energy, and not get caught up in the many other factors that divide the society in which we live. They can become voices, especially in this season of cultivating community conversations, round tables, podcasts produced by players, and other activities that address the country’s long history of inequality and implicit bias against the community.
There is no better time to end the season than this weekend. Their uniforms will show the name of Breonna Taylor, Louisville is the victim of police injustice. These women will make important statements. They will continue to carry other various forgotten victims.
No, I definitely don’t think this will get rid of the momentum. I bet on WNBA players now because they will successfully express their voice.
Positive COVID-19 test
Regarding the test, how many days have passed since the last positive test? Do you have any feelings about how many tests have been conducted during the most recent test period?
Katie Engelbert: I don’t have an exact phone number. Before they fly here, we start testing. Since we arrived here, it was July 6th, and 11 of these 12 teams came on July 6th. Their quarantine period is 4 days. That might be the last positive test, because I guess there are only two, such as July 8. Maybe it’s number nine. That was during the initial isolation period.
Similarly, we have conducted a test, if you think there are 140 players and employees every day since July 6th, we may provide you with some mathematical information.
The point I pay attention to every day is because science shows that if you can identify any COVID positives and isolate them, you can get them before they are infected. This is what science shows. You can isolate them whether they are symptomatic or asymptomatic. Obviously, according to CDC guidelines and close surveillance by our medical team, they must be isolated.
Can you explain in terms of personnel, all game day personnel are only (inaudible)? Does this include referees? Will they not fall into a bubble? The scorer, the people there are playing, will they only interact with the players there and not in the bubble? Are you worried that there may be teams with minor injuries, teams that are in short supply due to how long it will take for someone to enter the bubble?
Cathy Engelbert (CATHY ENGELBERT): Our officials, referees will use the names of other people I know to get into a so-called bubble. Players call “Hubble” affectionately, and I like it very much. Yes, the referee is definitely in the bubble. That’s it.
As they have experienced in Orlando, we have graded, and certain people who will be broadcast will never be within 10 feet of any player. We have plexiglass, other obstacles for this group of people. These are still being tested, but they have not stayed on the IMG campus. That’s important but the referee is inside.
Regarding injury, injury or COVID, we are watching closely whether the player may be taken away. Before they arrived, we had several people, and since arriving here, there have been two. I think we have many rosters. We have difficulties with upper limits.
We also do have some agreements, if someone needs to urge players to enter, we will not relax. They must undergo a 7-day quarantine after arriving here and conduct tests before they board the plane. If needed, it may take seven to ten days for the player to get up and run.
I think the coach and general manager will do everything they can when evaluating the overall lineup. Again, we do have roster difficulties. At least one player in 10 games and second place in at least 4 games. You will get another roster without giving up anyone.
If you have less than 10 players, it will obviously be difficult to cap. We have a lead time. I think everyone understands now. We cannot jeopardize the health and safety of everyone here in order to reduce this isolation period.
There are a few players who have not yet joined the bubble. If they come back, some of those players who were signed due to an emergency may have to leave the roster. Is there any discussion about players having to withdraw from the list due to restrictions, if other teams need additional players, can you isolate them in a bubble?
Casey Engelbert: We will definitely consider it. I believe only one or two people came in. We will consider when another player from the team enters the field, and they are either exempted, that is, the player is clean and in a bubble. Must talk to the player. Of course, if they want to stay here, they will choose to exercise as a potential replacement player. That would be ideal. We are of course considering this and discussing with the team.
Independent medical team
Independent medical team, have they made all the decisions now? Did they disband? Are there any decisions about availability?
Casey Engelbert: I believe that at least for WNBA players, their work is done. I think they never disbanded, because we will continue to consult with infectious disease experts throughout the season.
If the substitute player who has not been investigated by the medical history must be placed in front of the team after the team doctor review, yes, we will have to hire someone.
For the time being, at least for our population here, for those who have made it clear that they can participate, I believe their work is done. This does not mean that they will not be reconvened by some substitute players who need further evaluation.
You mentioned the Changemakers program in your introduction. As far as I know, this is an important part of CBA. This is what you have been doing in business since the takeover. Who are the members of the group? In this season, what are the ways to cultivate this partnership from afar?
Cathy Engelbert (CATHY ENGELBERT): As you may remember, this is definitely a platform. In January, we announced the separation of collective bargaining agreements with three pioneering Changemakers: AT&T, Nike and Deloitte. Obviously, we have been continuing to activate our platform sponsorship.
As I mentioned, AT&T, what they do for players to keep them in touch with 5G devices. They will continue to provide resources. Others-Nike and warm-up shirts with the words “Say Her Name” printed on the back will be unveiled this weekend.
We are very happy to launch these three first changemakers. We will continue to work on this platform. Now, this is something that the pandemic has interrupted, because it is very difficult for us to move from the virtual draft on April 17 to the plan to plant a season this year.
Now we will start tipping, I think we will come back and call for action to let others step up their efforts. We have signed contracts with partners since CBA, but we are looking for important partners at the Changemaker level to truly support the alliance. I think we will succeed in doing this.
We must start a season. As you know, we should start in mid-May. Now we are almost at the end of July. We will continue to work hard to bring more revenue to alliances, sponsors and partners.
This is why reporting is so important. Therefore, when these elite women see them on the national radio programs and platforms we have this year, they call for action to support them. I think this will be an important way to attract the alliance, expand the fan base, and attract more sponsors.
You mentioned that there are many different data to learn. It seems that every day we receive different data reports, case numbers, positive cases, etc. What have you learned personally, what has the alliance learned about how to deal with this data every day, what is important and what is not?
Cathy Engelbert (CATHY ENGELBERT): I have learned a lot about data and science. Now, I am very convinced that after the third week, if you follow the scientific method, then please follow the operating procedures. This is the best way to ensure the safety of everyone.
Again, this seems simple, but all public service announcements about COVID are the first to appear-wash your hands, wear a mask, check your temperature every day, check your symptoms every day, and of course also conduct tests. These five pillars are important. These give you data and science.
Ultimately, for non-professionals like me-although I worked as a pediatrician in high school and college, I was a little interested in medicine and science. Fascinating reading. Whenever someone asks a question, even if we have a doctor to answer, I will still do my own research. Please visit the CDC website. In the past few weeks, I have been to this site a hundred times to make sure I understand the difference between isolation time, isolation time, testing methods, PCR testing, antigen testing and antibody testing. Make sure that we have the highest possible education and that I am a specialist, but also make sure that we seek the right profession when we need it.
Number of personnel
About staffing. Each team can bring eight employees to Bradenton, so many teams have to make difficult decisions. Now that the players are practicing and we are close to starting the game, have you heard of players and coaches and can help with a limited number of employees? Are there any concerns about this limited number?
CATHY ENGELBERT (CATHY ENGELBERT): Yes, of course, during the preparation work, we had extensive conversations with players, teams, and coaching staff. We have indeed expanded the number of people each team can bring.
We also strongly recommend that they really look for another position within the extended range, whether it is a massage therapist or a physical therapist (assisted sports coach). We highly recommend that if we want to have the first place, it is to give priority to the health and safety of players and employees, how important that is to us. Obviously, from the perspective of the alliance, this is very COVID-driven. We also need it in sports medicine.
I think we end up in a good place with enough resources. We will constantly evaluate this to ensure that our players can use the content.
Attract fans remotely
My name is pepper. I am a 9-year-old journalist and a big fan of the WNBA. I created my own show and podcast called Dish with Pepper. My question is: when sports fans cannot participate in the game in person, how can they be brought to the WNBA?
CATHY ENGELBERT: Pepper, I am glad to hear from you. It’s great to hear that you have become the next generation leader. The question of how to attract fans and attract attention without a seat is really great.
I think this is an area, if you have heard it before, we discussed how to attract fans in a virtual environment. We are working hard. We will try something out, and hope that if we can bring fans back to their seats next year, we will continue to stick to it.
This is telling stories, getting reports, and establishing confrontations. The personality is there. Now I assure you that I have been with these players for almost three weeks and their personalities are showing. I think the story is here and the competition is here. Veterans, rookies, somewhere in between.
This will be an exciting season. We must find ways to market players in a more powerful way across a wide range of media channels. I thank everyone for expressing their gratitude. Of course, our broadcasting partners and our social media platforms.
We need to find a marketing method. Therefore, we need to take action around more sponsors so that we have more funds to market ourselves more widely. This is the whole content of our ongoing strategy and transformation.
good question. Thank you for calling today.
Look to the future
We have noticed that not only in sports, but also in all industries, the pandemic is proceeding as usual. As sports writers and sports fans, I think all of us can agree that when all the teams are on the court, we want to be in an environment that covers women’s basketball. AAU Basketball Day is coming to the summer. Should Wubble work according to your vision, have you considered having a tournament-style basketball in the future, you can bring all the teams together and allow fans to participate in the WNBA in this way?
Cathy Engelbert (CATHY ENGELBERT): Actually, this is a great observation because I do think we will learn something from everyone’s gathering. I hope we have to do this next time, not because of the global health pandemic, but because there are no fans.
As you know, as part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the players gave us an idea about lifestyle, not just basketball. One of the things is to let us call ourselves “Bowler Fest” (Baller Fest), this is a “Baller Chela” event. Next season.
It was always going to be the 2021 season, which is our 25th silver anniversary season, to have a fusion of lifestyle and food and art and music and basketball. Bring everyone together to really, again, draw a broader fan base in to start following our players more broadly than just during the regular part of the competitive season. Maybe we could even pilot different formats of doing a 3-v-3 type format, things like that.
Absolutely, it was already in the plan. Obviously, next year, now that the Olympics have been deferred, we’ll see how everything fits. We were going to do a Commissioner’s Cup tournament this year, designate those games. That obviously has been deferred into next year. A lot to think about.
I think it’s great that you’re kind of putting that back at the top of my to-do list because that was certainly something we’re working on even throughout the scenario planning for this season.
When we get to next season, we have Olympics. Hopefully, we’ll have an All-Star Game, a Baller Fest, a Commissioner’s Cup. That will integrate into the plan of how to more broadly market our players as an important part of it.
In the short term has anyone in the Wubble had to leave for some of the medical care you referred to, some of the things that are available on campus? I’m wondering if anyone has had to leave yet for the inevitable basketball injury that happens . X-ray, MRI? What is the policy for keeping the Wubble around them in a case with a relatively minor injury, where they’re able to get back to playing soon? My other question is, obviously you have the new CBA, the salary cap increases and whatnot, you talked about the Changemakers program, the expectations for enhanced revenue through 2027. A lot has changed in our economy since then. How are you feeling about that in 2021, 2022 and beyond?
CATHY ENGELBERT: In your first question, I assume you are thinking X-ray, MRI, that kind of thing. We have set up a clean corridor with our medical staff, the local diagnostic center. There’s actually one attached within IMG Academy. Then if we need to use a hospital capability, we do have some of that capability on campus in the bubble as well as a clean corridor we’ve worked out ahead of time with our local team and medical capabilities. Again, mask wearing, physical distancing , all that stuff is all part of that clean corridor as well.
Your long-term question, really good question, one we have not lost sight of: what we need to do as part of the transformation into ’21 and ’22. While I’d like to say the pandemic didn’t disrupt any of it, it did. I think we’ll use the rest of the season into the offseason to really work hard on what we can bring to life in ’21, in an Olympic year, with an All-Star Game, as I mentioned, hopefully a Commissioner’s Cup as well as some kind of Baller Festival.
The future of the league
Obviously, the CBA you put together, the salary cap increases and whatnot, you talked about the Changemakers program, the expectations for enhanced revenue through 2027. A lot has changed in our economy since then. How are you feeling about that in 2021, 2022 and beyond?
CATHY ENGELBERT: Really good question, one we have not lost sight of: what we need to do as part of the transformation into ’21 and ’22. While I’d like to say the pandemic didn’t disrupt any of it, it did. I think we’ll use the rest of the season into the offseason to really work hard on what we can bring to life in ’21, in an Olympic year, with an All-Star Game, as I mentioned, hopefully a Commissioner’s Cup as well as some kind of Baller Festival.
Then into ’22 and beyond, we’ll also have a FIBA World Cup in there, then the Olympics before we know it again. Constantly looking at how our schedule plays out, what kind of assets we can build, how we can grow the value of our franchises. Down the road, we look at expansion. Those are all on the list, all things top of mind for me had we had a normal season this year. Obviously, my focus shifted very quickly after the draft to help with the safety protocols.
Now I see with the tip this Saturday coming out of that, really working hard on how we significantly drive the league forward and the growth of the league for 2021 and beyond. We have this opportunity, too, around marketing the league in the 25th season, the only women’s professional sports league in the U.S. to be hitting the silver anniversary. I think we’ll do a fair amount of marketing around that, which was all part of our plan. League marketing agreements, team marketing agreements to drive, again, more recognition, more household name, more rivalries as we grow the league over the next three, four years.
(Question about the medical evaluation of players whose health status in terms of participation was to be determined by a medical panel convened jointly by the WNBA and the Players Association.)
CATHY ENGELBERT: We had a process where everyone, not just the players, but everyone involved that was going to be coming to Bradenton would be involved in a medical history questionnaire that then would be evaluated and reviewed by their team physician. The team physician would either clear the player or clear the staff member for travel, or refer it to the league.
Those were the ones, it was a small amount, that would then be evaluated by a panel of infectious disease specialists, depending on what the complication was in the medical history questionnaire noted by the team physician. That was the process of evaluations.
Completion of season
Given what you’ve been saying, the positive things you’ve been saying about how the protocols are working, how confident are you that you’re going to be able to complete the entire season all the way through the playoffs? Also, the NWSL, the ownership group that was formed for the new L.A. team, do you see that might be something that might be applicable to the WNBA?
CATHY ENGELBERT: I am very confident that if we follow the protocols and the science, we will have a successful season leading into the playoffs in September, culminating in the Finals in October. Again, I’m not superstitious, but the more I talk about how well things are going, I do get a little nervous. But I’m very confident right now.
Regarding the NWSL, I think it’s great. I did read that in earnest yesterday. The growth of all women’s sports is a good thing. When I took this job, I said part of my job also is to think more broadly about women’s sports.
Girls, as they enter the teens and preteen years, are dropping out [of sports]. I was a huge beneficiary of Title IX, a huge beneficiary of the confidence that sports built in me when I went to college and played two Division I sports.
We would love those type of ownership groups to be interested in the WNBA as well. It’s a model we’ve been looking at with female ownership groups, diverse ownership groups. It’s something we continue to look at when we think about growing our franchise values and, down the road, look at expansion.
This question comes from South Africa. Does the WNBA have plans to grow the following of the league in different markets like in Africa in particular?
CATHY ENGELBERT: It’s a great question. Obviously, part of what we want to do is grow women’s sports in the U.S., but also there is a lot of interest outside the U.S. in our game. I think these players can be huge role models for young girls and boys, young women and men, in other countries as well.
While we’re very focused today on transforming the league here in the United States we need to drive more coverage, more sponsorships here we have an interest in those that want to invest in our league outside the United States.
Would look clearly at a call to action around that, too, to start doing some analysis of the interest in women’s basketball, women’s professional basketball, our elite players around the world. Many of our players play all around the world in our offseason, but certainly also bringing our game outside the U.S. is definitely something that we have on the list.
I would say, again, the pandemic probably delayed that until next year. There were some things we were thinking about for this year, a preseason game, that kind of thing. Over the next year or two, it’s something we’ll start looking at.
Is Social Justice Council here to stay?
Could you talk a little bit about the longevity of the Social Justice Council. What plans does the league have to support and provide resources to this council for years to come? What are some of the initiatives out of the council that you can preview or tease for us besides what’s going to be on the court and the jerseys?
CATHY ENGELBERT: I think this is something that’s here to stay. We are, I would say, maturing the council that has been meeting a few times already since we’ve gotten here to Florida. I think they already have some amazing ideas.
I know there’s some community conversation, even one going on this evening, that we’re excited about. I actually have a meeting tonight with a subset of the player group at 6:00 to get a readout of some of the things they’ve been thinking.
Again, I’d say we’ve graduated from the infancy stage into the toddler stage. This is something I believe will be here to stay for probably the next few years. I think the players are trying to brainstorm, with the advice of their outside advisers as well, as to how their voice can be amplified the most, how they can effect change, what social justice areas they want to effect change. Is it voting rights? Is it criminal justice reform? Other areas of social justice? Certainly it’s around racial injustice, police brutality, that kind of thing.
Until I get more of a readout, I can’t give you the exact initiatives. I can tell you, from what I’ve listened in on so far, they’re being very creative in the way they’re thinking, very different in the way they’re thinking.
We all know to get change in this country around these issues, we have to think differently. I’ve also been advising them, sometimes things might seem counterintuitive to what you should do. You have to be patient because this is a strategy that can’t be all short term because we know change is hard and we need the right culture to drive the change. I think they’re feeling right now that their voices can be amplified around driving this change.
It’s hard to change culture. I’ve advised them that culture takes sometimes a long time. This cannot be a one-and-done this year. But this year is dedicated to it. The Social Justice Council, the outside advisers, will drive what they’re doing. This is something that’s not going to go away.
Again, I just can’t stress enough how much this is not new to these players. They’ve been advocating for a long time. It’s just new to a lot of other people.
Do you have any sort of anonymous tip line that we read so much about from the NBA bubble in terms of tracking any outside movement? The Delle Donne situation, some of the way all that was done, the part where she wrote how the league panel of doctors without anyone speaking to me or either of my doctors informed me they were denying the request. It did bring a lot of criticism and negative publicity, something we’re still talking about. Is that just the way it was set up, that they didn’t have to communicate directly with the player in question or examine them? Do you wish you could have had any kind of do-over in that situation?
CATHY ENGELBERT: Again, obviously as with any medical issues, those are confidential under HIPAA between medical professionals. I can’t comment specifically on what doctors talked to what other doctors. I know there were discussions between physicians and a nurse practitioner.
Again, it’s a confidential process, confidential for all of those that were considered by the panel. It’s a confidential medical procedure protected by HIPAA. I cannot have any interaction with that process. As I said, nor would the level of the player be a factor or anything like that.
Your question on the tip line, I think given the size and scale of what you’re hearing from other leagues, having to have a tip line, kind of confined campus here at IMG Academy, we don’t have an official tip line. But we do follow up on any observations.
We’ve asked the IMG Academy staff as well as our teams to be very honest, to let us know if they’re hearing or seeing anything not in compliance with our protocols. As soon as we get any information, we investigate it and follow up and take the appropriate action, send the appropriate reminders out.
Most of it’s like how important it is to wear a mask at all times except on the court. Again, making sure we’re following the protocols, making sure we’re getting tested, the daily temperature checks and symptom checks.
Our size and scale, we didn’t need an official hotline or tip line. We certainly are receiving indications and we’re following up with them immediately. With the teams, we’ve assigned a central team contact for any things we need to get done at the team level. It’s working pretty well right now.
This post is written by Sue Favor