WNBA star Chiney Ogwumike wants to empower young girls ahead of the Olympics

“It's tremendous to be on a mural with amazing athletes and then to also just be able to push out the idea that representation truly matters, especially in the space of sports,” Ogwumike tells theGrio

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WNBA star Chiney Ogwumike isn’t just a game-changer on the court as a power forward on the Los Angeles Sparks, but the Nigerian-American has carved her name in history multiple times over — and she’s not done yet.

Ogwumike was the first overall draft pick in 2014, named Rookie of the Year, is a two-time WNBA All-Star, and a double gold medalist on the USA Women’s basketball team. Just last year, she became the first Black woman to host a daily, national radio show for ESPN, Chiney and Golic Jr.

The newly minted podcaster is also on the cusp of another feat at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics later this month along with her sisters – fellow WNBA star Nneka Ogwumike and WNBA 2020 draftee Erica Ogwumike. The trio is listed on the provisional roster for Nigeria’s women’s basketball team and could become the first siblings to represent the same Olympic team during the same games.

Chiney Ogwumike thegrio.com
(Credit: Getty Images)

Per an ESPN report, Chiney and Nneka need approval from FIBA since they previously played for Team USA.

“Yeah, we’re still in the process of approvals, but it just is a blessing because this is something that I had been exploring for a while,” Ogwumike exclusively tells theGrio.

“My Nigerian heritage is very important to be just as much as my American heritage. That’s the beauty of being American where we celebrate all cultures and embrace all aspects of it.”

As history calls out Ogwumike’s name once more, she’s partnered with Secret deodorant as part of their ‘Watch Me’ campaign. Ogwumike and other athletes will appear on murals across the country leading into the Olympic Games to empower and encourage young girls to watch.

“It’s tremendous to be on a mural with amazing athletes and then to also just be able to push out the idea that representation truly matters, especially in the space of sports,” Ogwumike says.

Chiney Ogwumike Secret thegrio.com
Secret deodorant teams up with powerful women athletes including Chiney Ogwumike, Ashleigh Johnson, Oksana Masters and more on the ‘Just Watch Me’ campaign. (Credit: DEREK WHITE/Getty Images North America)

“To me, it’s just been phenomenal because it always starts with, ‘what are we trying to do?’ And having a teammate like Secret that understands the importance of girls in sports and, and how confidence really emanates from learning the values and ideals of sports,” she continues. “How big of an issue it is that girls are dropping out of sports at an alarming rate, but more importantly, creating an answer for that problem by pushing representation.”

Ogwumike says she understands that personally as she first saw herself reflected in the athletes she saw compete in the Olympics.

She reminisces about being “inspired” by the talent on display.

“I’ll never forget what I remember from watching the Olympics,” Ogwumike shared. “The first time I was a young girl and it was the women, because I can see myself like, ‘Oh, that’s Marion Jones (the now-disgraced former world champion track and field athlete and gold medalist), like that amazing woman, Lisa Leslie (former basketball player and four-time Olympic gold medal winner),” she remembers.

“Those memories carried with me, like throughout my childhood, that drive and motivation, like, wow, I want to be fierce, and feminine and on my own terms and competing at a high level. And so, that to me is what is at the center of what we’re doing, providing representation because that representation is what inspires.”

Chiney Ogwumike thegrio.com
Forward Chiney Ogwumike (Credit: Getty Images)

Ogwumike credits Black women for helping to lead those shifts even under the weight of scrutiny. The Olympic Games in Tokyo have been marred by various controversies, including suspensions of Black female athletes and a furor over swimming caps.

“Black women tend to be the nexus of change in society because we have to become our own greatest advocate,” she says.

“It is disappointing, but at the same time, I think it’s facilitating great conversations so that we have the urgency to see different perspectives and understand what truly matters in these moments and how representation can really help everyone in society through the lens of our experience,” she offers.

Ogwumike also asks that fans reconsider boycotting the Olympic Games as a show of support for Black athletes.

“I think we have to just have to take that Issa Rae line and just support each and every one of us that we can ….magic will happen, right? Like anytime we exist in a space that’s not necessarily built for us — magic happens because we know that that helps us over-perform and over-deliver and become our best versions of ourselves,” she states.

“And so, for those who may hesitate on, alright, like, ‘I’ve sort of lost out my energy or enthusiasm,’ know that there are women out there that have tremendous stories, that maybe the spotlight will come to them in a unique way and we’ll find more people to be fans of.”

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