I was never great at sports. On every team I was the least athletic, slowest and odd one out. And although I spent ten years of my life begrudgingly playing sports and watching mostly men’s teams on television, it always felt like a world that was not mine. This is peculiar considering I have spent the better part of the last three years obsessed with every stat, game, player and storyline of a professional sports league.
I grappled with my sexuality for a long time. And despite a culture of acceptance throughout my life, I ducked and dodged coming to terms with my own identity for many years. When asked about it, I responded with a squirm and a breathless, “I’m figuring it out.”
Until I became obsessed with the WNBA (Women’s National Basketball Association).
In May 2021, I sat in my childhood home working my remote summer job, slipping away between meetings to rake the internet for WNBA content and study the on-and-off-court moves of players like Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner, Courtney Williams and more. And although my obsession didn’t start with me seeking out a queer journey, that’s where it took me.
Sometimes my life feels like a series of all-consuming obsessions. These fleeting absorptions last for a matter of days or months before they eventually burn out, stored in a cavity for a future fun fact at a party. Growing up, sports leagues were among the ranks of my fleeting obsessions, like an Oakland Athletics roster or a NBA podcast. But the WNBA was different.
In a few short months, I had roped my best friend into the obsession, journeying across state lines to watch a game and build a community on Twitter. And core to those various communities, whether it be the phantom figures on social media, my real life friends or the players’ stories I memorized was a shared queer identity.
I am lucky that I grew up in a community where queerness was common and accepted, but even despite that, it never felt like my community. And although it makes no sense that I needed to watch interviews of famous basketball players to find queer solidarity in concepts my friends had spoken about for years, discovering a group of people with a shared queerness in a niche space finally allowed me to build the queer space I needed.
I wrote the first draft of this piece a year and a half ago scribbled in my locked notes app. Since then, on almost every plane ride, finally isolated from distraction, I have come back to the draft. Sometimes I add to it, wordsmith and think more, and other times I just read it.
Often when I sit down to write my column, I’m not exactly sure how to put everything in words and wrap my rambles in a tightly knotted bow. As I sit here writing this column’s finale, I am no longer pontificating about another person’s story or cultural touchstone – instead, I’m writing my own story. Throughout the two dozen times I’ve come back to this piece, including in the more recent frantic moments knowing it will see the light of day, I am never sure how to explain the transformative power a sports league has had on me in tidy thesis that my ever-so-patient editors will sign off on.
It is no secret a lot of the world hates the WNBA, and caring about it means developing a tough skin. Battling my urges to fight Twitter trolls in my mentions or having to justify every statistic about a game you love is a constant challenge. Caring about women’s basketball is exhausting, but it’s part of what’s made me stronger.
The more confident I became with the statistics, financial innerworkings and free agency pontifications of “the W,” the more I became sure of who I am. Although I’m not exactly sure why, the WNBA gave me the voice and space I needed to be myself in my own unique way.
Writing this piece has challenged me immensely. There is nothing like knowing your words will be splashed across the back page of your college newspaper to force your concrete, succinct thoughts on your chaotic identity. Even though I have found a level of acceptance, it is scary to share who you are and not fear being known as a walking cliche. But as I’ve tried to prove throughout this column, sports are deeply impactful, and although I haven’t fully figured out how to tell my story, sports are helping me get there.
Digital Operations & Podcast Editor | Gabriella Lewis (she/her, 23C) is from San Francisco, California, majoring in political science and women, gender and sexuality studies. She hosts the podcast Wheel Talk. Outside the Wheel, she is involved with residence life and voting rights at Emory. She also enjoys national parks, eating ramen and telling people she's from California.