Swin Cash Q&A: Pelicans exec opening door for black women in sports

Swin Cash Q&A: Pelicans exec opening door for black women in sports

When the New Orleans Pelicans offered Swin Cash an opportunity to join their front office, she wasn’t completely sure if she should accept. The former WNBA All-Star and Olympian felt comfortable working as the director of franchise development for the New York Liberty, as well as a studio analyst for MSG Networks, and her family was settled.

Ultimately Cash decided to do it for the women behind her—who all dream of working in front offices for major professional sports teams that are typically dominated by men.

“I was going to take a position to make sure that the door stayed open. That was important to me,” Cash said. “This should be a revolving door. Too many times, people think about women, we get a position, and there can only be one.”

And for Cash, once she made it to New Orleans, kept her word and made sure that the revolving door continued to turn for the women behind her. Teresa Weatherspoon, a former WNBA player and Naismith Hall of Famer, joined the team shortly after Cash as a two-way player development coach and was promoted to full-time assistant coach a little more than a year later.

Cash, a two-time NCAA national champion with the University of Connecticut, three-time WNBA champion and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, spoke to veteran broadcaster Monica McNutt to have an honest conversation about being a Black woman in sports.


This interview has been edited for clarity

MM: Did you ever see yourself in the NBA space?

SC: I never really saw myself in that space. I just remember being on the media side and for so many years, you’re able to sit in that chair and talk about what teams should be doing. You’re able to talk about what the league should be doing. And granted, a lot of my opinions were based on the fact that not only did I play, but I also spent most of my career on the executive committee with the union going through two CBA negotiations, and understanding what collective bargaining was, you learn a lot. And I felt like I was in that position. And when (David) Griffin reached out about me taking this position, the first thing my husband said to me was ‘Well, you sit around and you talk about what you would do for a team. Go do it.’ The more I started thinking about, I said, ‘This is my next challenge.’

MM: The truth is not every woman looking for a position (in sports) will have Olympic gold medals, NCAA championships, or a longtime, tenured career with the WNBA. How would you encourage a woman who doesn’t have your path?

SC: I am a big believer in building relationships. I am a relationship builder, and I tell people this all the time. I didn’t get offered my job because (David Griffin) was like, ‘You know what? I need to pull an Olympian to be the VP of basketball operations.’ It’s because we both were working in television. I knew he came from the Cleveland Cavaliers, but we would just talk about hoops. When you sit around and you’re talking, you just build relationships in that camaraderie. And literally, I was walking out of the studio down at Turner and he was like, ‘Hey, you know what, if I get one of these jobs, I’m coming to talk to you about coming with us.’ … and literally two weeks later I get a ping from like ESPN and it’s like, ‘Oh, David Griffin has been hired in New Orleans.’ And there goes my phone.

It’s just one of those things where I tell women all the time, I started building a relationship with Adam Silver when I first got into the league and he was working at NBA TV at the time and was overseeing all of that. But Adam was so smart. He was one of those people that just wants to bounce stuff off other people, and I wanted to get to know him. And over the years, I had no idea that Adam was going to become the commissioner. But because you foster relationships, you’re able to call people and people you know ascend to different positions, and you never know.

I always say this about women, too. When you’re in the room, you also need to be advocating for other women that you know are qualified. Like we’re not saying give us jobs, give all women jobs. What we’re saying is that there are a number of women who are qualified, but their names are not being spoken in those rooms where decisions are being made. So that’s what I take as far as my responsibility now, when I say revolving door, is to present (those names). I know qualified men and qualified women, but a lot of times if there’s not a Swin Cash at the table, if there’s not another woman at the table, those names may not get presented. And that’s where we have to be better.

MM: From your perspective, what does the disparity in access in sports for Black young girls and our counterparts say about society’s relationship with Black women and Black girls in particular?

SC: There’s so much work to still be done. People always talk about how far we’ve come, and I always say look how long it took to get here. We’re not trying to wait another however many years to have that next step or another step. The time is now. Our demands are now. We have to be better. Organizations have to be better. We can’t operate in the same space and think that we’re going to get different. You have to operate in this authentic space, understanding that if you want more, in order to get more you have to do more.

Sports is a microcosm of a lot of things. But our society in the way that Black women are treated is very well-documented. It’s easy to see the things that go on. It’s easy to see, you know, a sister like Maria Taylor that is celebrating another milestone in her career minding her own business, but somebody that’s in another state wants to talk about how she dressed. That was so triggering for me because I remember being a 23-, 24-year-old when I first came out and I’m working in media covering the NBA and that was so hype, but I also love fashion. So I was changing my hair at times on TV, changing my outfit, and I remember a producer, an older white man, saying to me, ‘You are so good at your job and you know this game and stuff, but just keep in mind you want people to listen to what you’re saying and not so much look at you.’ And at 23 years old, you’re like, what? What do you mean? I should be able to be my authentic self as a woman, and if I want to have hair extensions, if I want to wear makeup differently, you’re asking me to tone something down so that I am more appealing for somebody to listen to me and not be attracted to me. Well, bro, that’s not gonna happen. See, so then that becomes the next issue of now more women are having platforms to speak up about it. But for years this has gone unchecked and continues to go unchecked. So I’m happy to see that not only women, but men are starting to stand up for women who have to take this verbal misogynistic mentality from men that we shouldn’t have to take.

MM: How, or what, is it that you love most about being a Black woman in sports?

SC: I think first of all, I just love being a Black woman. Even though there are so many challenges and things that we are faced with throughout our life, the resilience, I feel like it’s in my DNA from my ancestors and you can feel that at times. It’s something that’s inside of you, and it makes me feel proud to know that. That I come from people that have been through a lot, but still, have persevered. And I think being in sports, there are a number of challenges, not only for women of color but women in general. And so, you know, when I was younger, my mom and my grandma used to say, ‘You know when the world looks at you, they see two strikes against you. One, you’re a woman, and two, you’re a Black woman. You can’t use that as an excuse because it’s always going to be there. It’s not going to change. So what are you going to do about it?’ So I really took that challenge, I think, as I got older in life. So I celebrate that every day, being able to engage in a space as my authentic self.

MM: Is that how you’re most challenged as a Black woman in sports?

SC: Yes, absolutely. I mean, I think it’s, it’s funny. I always laugh when people say, ‘You know what? I don’t see color. We’re all the same.’ Like yes, as a human being, we are all the same, but you have to see color; that’s part of the world that we live in. So acknowledging, who you are is okay. Like I tell one of my closest friends, she is white, she’s a conservative, we have great conversations, have been friends for a really, really long time. And we can acknowledge those things without feeling like, you know, there’s conflict that’s there. So the biggest challenge I would tell you is sometimes being the only person in the room. Because you have to have enough courage. You have to have enough confidence in not only your ability, but your purpose of being there to be able to speak in those spaces and know that it’s who you are.

MM: If you could give a young woman three words to hold onto as they were navigating their journey in the sports space, what three words would you give them?

SC: Authentic, confident, and be unapologetic.

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