Indiana Fever launches new Athlete to Advocate program

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After Jantel Lavender bought injured in 2019, she wasn’t positive what it might imply for her profession. Lavender was a veteran of the WNBA, in her early thirties, and on the cusp of her tenth season. “Within the WNBA, that’s thought-about outdated,” she says.

Lavender ended up sitting out the 2020 season to get better from a surgical procedure to tackle her damage. “I’m sitting right here with this broke foot—like, I could possibly be completed,” she says. “I had to face actuality: This could possibly be over.” Then, as if by “divine intervention,” Lavender bought traded to the Indiana Fever, the crew she had been eyeing for years. “I really feel like I used to be form of on this downward spiral,” she says. “After which any person sees that you would be able to nonetheless do one thing on this league.”

Becoming a member of the Fever this season comes with one other perk: Lavender is now within the inaugural cohort of Athlete to Advocate, a five-week skilled certificates that kicks off its pilot program as we speak. The program—a collaboration with Anthem and Indiana College’s Lilly Household Faculty of Philanthropy—goals to assist gamers grow to be simpler advocates and higher perceive how to use their clout as athletes to amplify their philanthropic work.

“As a result of our gamers are leaders, and in some methods celebrities, their platform is elevated,” says Allison Barber, president and chief working officer of the Indiana Fever. “And so what we heard from our gamers is: ‘We would like to put on the T-shirts that promote this trigger. We’re completely happy to be on social media and tweet about it. However what extra can we achieve this that we truly change conduct, not simply seize media consideration?’ ”

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The league is nearly 70% Black, and its gamers have lengthy spoken out towards racial injustice and police brutality, with some experts arguing that it was the WNBA’s activism that helped lay the groundwork for the NBA’s much-lauded wildcat strike in 2020.

The Indiana Fever earlier than a recreation towards the Minnesota Lynx at Feld Leisure Middle in Palmetto, Florida [Photo: NBAE/Getty Images]

However final 12 months’s protests have introduced new consideration—and institutional help—to their advocacy. Simply 5 years in the past, gamers have been fined by WNBA officers for carrying warm-up T-shirts in help of the victims of current police shootings. (The fines have been later rescinded.) In 2020, nevertheless, the WNBA stated the season was “devoted to social justice” and even teamed up with the gamers’ union to type a Social Justice Council that might tackle all the pieces from voting rights to LGBTQ activism.

Some gamers selected not to play so they might deal with advocacy work. (The union additionally agitated for inner reform in 2020, negotiating a landmark collective bargaining settlement that considerably raised salaries for gamers and launched paid maternity depart; as soon as the pandemic hit, the union additionally secured full pay for gamers regardless of a shortened season.)

Barber likens the Athlete to Advocate program to the form of help gamers get from specialists on and off the courtroom to enhance their recreation. “I spotted that we now have these wonderful athletes who need to make a distinction, however I acknowledged that as a franchise, there was extra we may do to equip them of their ardour—similar to you’ll take a basketball participant and put them with a bodily coach and a nutritionist and a sports activities psychologist,” Barber says. “It takes loads of completely different disciplines to make them a complete athlete. We acknowledged that there was a possibility to equip our gamers with extra instruments as they work to be advocates.”

The program is brief, at simply three hours of instruction every week, and will probably be carried out just about to make it accessible to far-flung gamers. (Many WNBA athletes play abroad through the low season.) Seven gamers from the Fever are becoming a member of the primary session, together with Tamika Catchings, the final supervisor and VP of basketball operations for the crew. The program—which will probably be taught by the Mays Household Institute on Numerous Philanthropy throughout the Lilly Household Faculty of Philanthropy—will cowl all the pieces from the historical past of philanthropy to an summary of range, fairness, and inclusion points, with an emphasis on racial justice.

One matter Barber believes is very essential is management in philanthropy, which can present gamers how to do their due diligence earlier than placing their title and platform behind a philanthropic group. “There are loads of nonprofits that speak the speak,” Barber says. “However let’s have a look at these nonprofits. What’s their board make-up? How a lot cash goes to overhead versus the precise packages? So that is, I feel, important to actually assist train our athletes about how to assess nonprofits.”

Tamika Catchings [Photo: courtesy of Indiana Fever]

The Athlete to Advocate program is the linchpin of a extra sweeping, multiyear partnership between the Fever and Anthem, which is headquartered in Indiana; the collaboration with Anthem additionally extends throughout the WNBA to New York, Atlanta, and Los Angeles. The connection began as Anthem appeared for tactics to tackle native well being inequities—specifically, bettering flu vaccination charges in communities of shade—and constructed on among the work Catchings had completed as an Anthem Health Champion. However the partnership framing the Athlete to Advocate program actually got here collectively after final summer time’s protests.

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“We thought there can be an awesome three-way partnership and a capability for us to assist these athletes actually amplify their voice and likewise make a distinction locally,” says Anthem CEO Gail Boudreaux, who additionally occurs to be a former athlete. “In our native communities, these are people that folks lookup to, they usually have highly effective voices.” Past this program, Boudreaux says Anthem additionally plans to companion with the WNBA on addressing disparities in COVID-19 vaccination charges throughout communities of shade.

Barber hopes that, following the pilot program, the Athlete to Advocate certificates will broaden past the Fever and entice gamers from throughout the WNBA—particularly those that is likely to be enthusiastic about their subsequent profession transfer. “The purpose of this certificates is that it does assist our gamers not solely find out how to be advocates as we speak,” she says, “however it begins to develop them for alternatives sooner or later, whether or not it’s for their very own basis or work they could need to do locally.”

In any case, taking part in within the WNBA is inherently transient: In accordance to Barber, the typical WNBA participant has a tenure of simply three and a half years. Since many WNBA athletes play abroad between seasons, they’re additionally at greater danger of getting injured. “I feel all WNBA gamers ought to actively be enthusiastic about what they’re going to do after basketball, as a result of this doesn’t final ceaselessly,” Lavender says. “I need to dedicate my life to bringing change to individuals and bringing consciousness—being a voice for the unvoiced.”