Just 15 days after winning the 2020 WNBA Championship, the Seattle Storm have once again made headlines — not for their basketball play, but for their political activism.
On Oct. 21, the Storm announced on social media that they will be endorsing Joe Biden and Kamala Harris for president and vice president on Wednesday. It is one of the first, if not the first, instances where a professional sports organization has formally supported a political campaign in recent memory. Ginny Gilder, one of the Seattle Storm’s three owners, also tweeted that she and co-owners Lisa Brummel and Dawn Trudeau will also be endorsing the Biden-Harris campaign.
Front Office Sports spoke with Gilder about what led to the Storm’s Biden-Harris endorsement, why right now to do it and what she hopes it sets out to accomplish.
Front Office Sports: How would you best explain the Storm’s approach to addressing and handling political and social justice issues?
Ginny Gilder: There’s actually two pieces to that. The first is to defend and support players and amplify their voices, which is not a hard decision, because the players are what the league is all about. As owners of a women’s professional sports franchise, we know how much the right to earn a living playing sports is an issue of social change and social justice, so that’s the first part.
The second is when the owners decide to do something as a group, which is I would say more rare. Probably the first time that we really decided to do something publicly was in 2017 with the decision to do a fundraiser to support Planned Parenthood at a game. That really happened as a result of individuals trying to find our way, I’d say, in terms of, ‘What’s the difference that each individual in the United States and every citizen can make and try to generate the change that they want to see?’ As owners of the Storm, we realized we had this platform.
We take a kind of being the holders, if you will, of the Storm. We might own the team, but we hold it for the city, if you will, and the community. We take that role very seriously and we don’t come to decisions — like what we decided to do [on Oct. 21] — very lightly. This is really an expression of the values that we believe the Storm as an organization tries to live and also promote within the community that we’re part of.
FOS: What was the conversation like with players and leadership as you were trying to figure out whether or not you should go out and publicly make a statement like this?
GG: It’s an owner’s decision. That is not one where we’re asking for input or feedback, particularly from the players or our staff. Having said that, everybody knows where we are, so it’s not like we’re doing something that’s a surprise.
Leaders have a responsibility to do what they think is right, just like our players don’t come to us and ask permission about what they want to say — yet we know where each other is. Because there’s an ongoing kind of background, general conversation among our staff, our players, the owners about who we as an organization are and what we stand for.
It’s not like we’re coming from outer space to say all that, to do this. It’s obvious within the context of who the Storm is, if that makes sense. It’s not like we’re saying, ‘Oh, this is our decision, and no one else is included.’ We include that in our thinking, whether they’re part of the dialogue — specific to this decision or not.
FOS: You brought up the importance of the 2017 Planned Parenthood event in today’s decision. Was this endorsement a consideration during the 2016 presidential election? If not, why right now to take this next step and to make a statement like this?
GG: Absolutely not in consideration in 2016. I think that part of it is, frankly, a process of maturation, both as an ownership group and frankly, even women in sports and what’s our role. If you look four or five years ago about the whole concept of sports becoming part of the political sphere, things have changed.
I think four years ago, a lot of people either didn’t think about, or weren’t aware of, the extent to which the presidency of this country can influence their personal lives in a very concrete manner. I guess in the last four years, we’ve discovered that. We’ve discovered it in horrible ways, starting with COVID.
What’s incumbent upon any individual citizen in the country who is not happy with the current administration is that you get out there and you get into action. That’s my interpretation of what it means to be a citizen, and that’s what I think has shifted since 2016. It started for us really right after the 2016 election realizing what a powerless feeling it is ‘one person, one vote.’ Okay. I’ve voted. Look where that got us.
What else can I do? Because I am not somebody who likes feeling powerless. You see that all across the country in protests and all these different kinds of groups that have been created to fight for justice in lots of different lanes. That’s what’s happened. We’re not the only organization that’s become active. The whole country is becoming active or more active, but obviously there have been people who’ve been active for decades, like [the-late Representative] John Lewis.
FOS: When exactly did this idea behind the endorsement come about?
GG: It was two weeks ago. I would say that up through [Oct. 6], we were focused on basketball. Obviously politics in the background, given that the WNBA’s focus of the season was basketball and social change. But for us, the way it works as an ownership group is somebody starts the conversation and then we’re in the conversation and it’s usually weeks where we’re talking. And this one started actually because we were talking about, ‘What else can we do to support people, to volunteer, to help get out to vote?’
We started talking about, ‘Well, what are the three of us doing?’ Then we went to the platform. What else can we do? How do we use our Storm platform where we’re aligned? And it’s always a requirement that the three owners be aligned. If anybody’s not aligned, the conversation stops. You can use your own individual platform, but the Storm platform conversation is over. So this has been building, I would say since the week after the championship.
FOS: Were there any concerns externally about making this public statement or did that unity across the leadership not affect how you all felt about it?
GG: I can’t imagine a business today that doesn’t weigh the pros and cons of everything they’re doing. That’s just that business. Are there considerations where you do something like this? Sure. Do they rise to the level of concern? They didn’t this time.
FOS: From Dana White to Abby Wambach, we’ve seen numerous examples of sports leaders endorse politicians. How much did that factor into your situation, and have you ever seen a team do what the Storm have done with this endorsement?
GG: I haven’t seen it, but when I was thinking about it today, what’s commonly accepted — and I don’t know if it’s true — is that there were a lot of NFL team owners that are Trump supporters. So why can’t you have some pro sports owners that are known for being Biden supporters? When [Breanna Stewart] came to our team, she said to me, ‘I’ve been put in this position… of having a platform, and I want to make sure I use it for good.’ Stewie was of the first athletes out there when all of the Trump’s first immigration directives came down — she was at LAX. If anything, we learn from our players, we see what they’re doing. They’re amazing models in so many ways, their passion and their energy and the great thing about being young is you don’t care about burning bridges because you want what you want. And I don’t say that with any disrespect.
We use their energy and we hope that they consider our wisdom. We are 40+ years older; maybe our energy isn’t quite as bright as theirs, and we’re a little more thoughtful about, ‘Well, can we afford to do this? Or what’s the downside? Can we bring that together?’ Hopefully we influence them a little, but I think… beyond the Storm, the WNBA players — there’s 140+ who were in the Wubble this year. They deserve a huge amount of credit for putting themselves at risk as humans and really taking a stand for something and extending the power of the WNBA as a result.
FOS: I know social media isn’t the greatest indicator for analyzing how certain decisions play out, but how would you assess the response thus far to this endorsement?
GG: I would say unsurprising. Everybody knows where the Storm is. Everybody knows where the Storm leadership is. We are not shy about taking a stand or about laying our values out there and our operating principles, so I would say the response so far has not been a surprise.
The LeBron James-founded group already secured over 20 sports facilities for polling sites and believes concert venues will allow for social distancing.
FOS: Do you believe that this will serve as precedent for other pro sports teams and brands to do what your organization has done?
GG: I would be surprised if it was. All of those organizations are run by humans and every group of humans has to make their own assessment about what’s right for them — given their values, their business goals, their life philosophy. There’s a wide range of what people view as appropriate. I mean, that’s why there’s this whole conversation about, ‘Well, should athletes — much less sports team owners or sports teams — be active in the political realm?’
I’d be surprised if this sets any kind of precedent and we didn’t do it to set a precedent. We did it to make our voices heard and to make it very clear and to do everything we can to influence the election and the way we want it to be influenced. That’s a promise I made to my daughter, who’s now 28.
The night of that [2016 presidential] election, she said to me, ‘We are going to do everything we can the next time around, Mom,’ and this is one of the things I can do.
FOS: What would you consider to be a success? Election night comes around and Biden & Harris make it to the White House?
GG: Yeah. When something happens that you’ve been working towards, I feel like even if your effort was minuscule compared to the infinite number of drops that went into the bucket to make that happen — wouldn’t you feel like you did your part? We did our part.
The other tweets that I’ve tweeted today are all about, ‘Let’s get into action. Register to vote.’ It’s pointing people to action. It’s not just, ‘Hey, we support this.’ Volunteer to get out the vote. Get yourself out there.