As your WNBA playoff run has just completed and your career has come to an end, I wanted to thank you for being not only the best athlete, but also the best role model a Jewish girl could ask for.
You’ve played basketball in the public eye for longer than I’ve been alive: 19 years in the WNBA to my 20 on earth. I saw you win five Olympic gold medals, four WNBA championships and all-time leader in assists, and four FIBA World Cups in addition to countless other awards.
I came a little late to your fandom, though I’ve always loved sports. When I was little, my dad and I would read a book about Jewish athletes before I went to bed, learning about players from across all eras and sports. My favorite was ice skater Sasha Cohen, who was one of maybe three women in the book. Kindergartener Sophie wanted so much to be like the Olympic medalist that I named my American Girl doll Sasha and started taking skating lessons. My interest in ice skating turned to gymnastics after the 2012 Olympics, where I watched Aly Raisman win the gold medal for her floor routine to Hava Nagila (a song I was amazed to see performed to on the global stage). Then I found soccer, which I played for 15 years. I didn’t know any Jewish women’s soccer players — I had no role models to emulate — so I decided the role model would be me.
It turns out that role model is you, Sue.
I was never into basketball until the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team told me I should be; the soccer players are all huge supporters of women’s basketball. So I started watching, and I was immediately drawn to you, Sue, and not just because you were soccer icon Megan Rapinoe’s superstar girlfriend.
In the 2020 WNBA season, I watched you make passes and baskets only you could make, and lead the Seattle Storm to another championship, your fourth, after a whole year off with injury. At the same time, you worked with the Atlanta Dream to rally the country to vote their owner, former Georgia Senator Kelly Loeffler, out of political office after she criticized the league for supporting Black Lives Matter and dedicating the season to Breonna Taylor. You led the way in creating a league-wide movement in support of her Senate opponent Raphael Warnock, full of endorsements, tweets, and pictures of players in “Vote Warnock” shirts that led to her losing her positions in both the league and the Senate. Your advocacy led to a change in the majority party of the Senate, and the Dream is now owned by former player Renee Montgomery. This year, you have worked to bring your Olympic teammate Brittney Griner home after being wrongly imprisoned on her way to play basketball in Russia. Your advocacy has both emphasized the danger of using a Black queer woman as a political pawn, and has focused on increasing player salaries so that working overseas can be a choice, and not a necessity.
I am in awe of the way you use your space to constantly uplift the voice of others. You recognize that in a league of 70% Black women, so much of the spotlight comes to you and it is your job to share it. Your commitment to LGBTQ+ rights and gender equality have paved the way to such positive change in the WNBA and beyond, from the monumental collective bargaining agreement you helped create to the vaccine site you ran in Seattle. I hope other athletes follow the unique way you prioritize social justice, while still being on top of your game.
Many sportswriters have called you Seattle’s sports hero. You are also my hero. What I love most about watching and learning from you is getting to see someone who looks like me. Seeing yourself represented is the most powerful, irreplaceable motivation. It is assurance that you can set your mind to accomplish whatever you dream of. When I look at you, achieving all that you have and using that as fuel to continue to do good, I see someone who is strong, fierce, capable, and living her truth to the fullest while paving the way to ensure the future continues to be brighter for everyone. I feel empowered. Your authenticity is contagious. You have changed basketball, but also what it means to be a Jewish woman, queer woman and female athlete.
If I were the author of a new book on Jewish athletes in sports, I would write your story first. Your Judaism looks similar to mine where you allow it to be an important piece of you but also allow the other parts of you plenty of space to shine. Our families came to Ellis Island from the same parts of Eastern Europe at the same time. You don’t share much about religion, though you are an Israeli citizen and lived there for some time, as well as being honored by the Washington State Jewish Historical Society as an Agent of Change. You don’t feel the need to constantly talk about religion, but you use it as a value to guide you in always doing the right thing.
Sue, you are the greatest basketball player of all time and the epitome of what it means to use your platform for the good. At 41 years old, you are still unstoppable on the court and genuinely it feels you could play forever. Nineteen years ago, no one thought that a Jewish woman would be the most decorated player, Olympic flag bearer, a social justice champion, the face of countless brands and magazine covers, and half of sport’s greatest power couple. Thank you for showing them what we’re made of.