Sue Bird Won’t Shut Up and Dribble

Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Hey, y’all, it’s Brittany…So perhaps against my better judgment, I watched the Georgia Senate runoff debate this past Sunday. Reverend Raphael Warnock, the Democrat in the race, was debating Kelly Loeffler, the very wealthy Republican who was previously appointed to that same Senate seat. Truth be told I think I did more yelling than watching. Did anybody else feel like they were watching “The Manchurian Candidate?” Kelly Loeffler was a greatest hits of every anti-justice, problematic political position that one could have spoken in eerily timed repetition: she’s against women having control of our own bodies; she seems to be perfectly fine with police violence and, my personal favorite, she claims not to have a single and I quote “racist bone in her body.” Her organs must be racist then, because the way she kept dog whistling about Reverend Warnock and marginalized communities was as racist as one could get, not to mention her stance that Black Lives Matter threatens to destroy America…please.

Loeffler’s performance is a frightening, but frankly, really timely reminder—being a woman does not make you a feminist. Look y’all, when we dreamt up this podcast, we always said, this is not a podcast about women. Why? Because intersectional feminism isn’t about holding a single identity. It’s about the way we look at the world.

Feminism is not some trite women’s empowerment tagline. It is a framework to ensure justice for the most oppressed. So yeah, we are going to have critical thoughts about ideas that harm justice instead of helping no matter who or what robot delivers them so that we can get onto the work of getting free because we are UNDISTRACTED.


Brittany Packnett Cunningham On the show today is Sue Bird…I’ll be talking to the WNBA basketball legend about finding her activist voice and standing up for social justice on and off the court.

Sue Bird We’ve always had to fight. So when people tell me to shut up and dribble or stick to sports, it’s actually comical. Like I literally tried, I literally tried to be a basketball player and this society, this culture, like, wouldn’t let us.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham That’s coming up. But first is your “UNtrending News.”


Brittany Packnett Cunningham As if it wasn’t already hard enough for restaurant workers who are putting their health at risk, a new study reveals that tips have unfortunately declined during the pandemic and perhaps—unsurprisingly—hostility and sexual harassment have increased. So there’s a new report by a group called One Fair Wage and in this study they found that due to the pandemic servers are actually more reliant on tips, which—you guessed it—gives customers more power to take advantage of the situation. Many women responded and said, they’d been asked to remove their masks—hello, safety—so that the customer could quote, “see that pretty face under there,” or quote, “see if your pretty lips match your eyes.” Good God. There are like pages, PAGES of quotes like these, some even say that they were explicitly told to take off their masks so that the customers could literally decide how much to tip. I want to let that sink in for a second. It is gross. It is disgusting. And it is totally predictable. When you think about how massive the tip economy has become and yes, like so many other things, it is mostly women, people of color, gender non-conforming folks and marginalized groups who work more tip jobs, which put them at a constant power imbalance. I mean, what happens? You report them and suddenly your rent money goes away. There’s little regulation in this industry and the people who work it are paying for it.

The solution would actually be doing away with this wildly low minimum wage for tipped workers, and actually raise everybody up to a livable wage…at minimum.


Caster Semenya When you’re the best in the world, people get obsessed, you know, with what you do, and then comes a genetic.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham With the Tokyo Olympics approaching in July, Human Rights Watch is demanding that track and field officials stop doing what they call “sex testing” on female athletes.

The human rights organization has described the practices of essentially measuring and then restricting female athletes’ natural testosterone levels as abusive and harmful—because it is. The dispute over so-called “sex testing” has heated up actually for the last few years, since around 2018, when track and field’s governing body, World Athletics, instituted its latest rules regarding intersex athletes like Caster Semenya.

Caster Semenya “It doesn’t make sense for me to change my body. You know, if I have a testosterone level then I have a testosterone level. So I’m just a woman like any other, you understand?”

Brittany Packnett Cunningham And while World Athletics acknowledges that their restrictions are discriminatory, they say that they’re necessary to ensure a level playing field.

However, a new Human Rights Watch report argues that testosterone regulations are completely medically unnecessary, not to mention that they’re humiliating and they disproportionately affect women of color, often from developing nations. Here’s what’s wild to me: you call scrutinizing and excluding athletes based on their natural hormone levels a level playing field? Women interviewed for the report described this intense self-questioning and even withdrawal from the sport.

This is an absolute shame for world athletics to say that women athletes should take drugs to reduce their natural testosterone levels. I thought they were supposed to be anti-drugs. Plus the more we expand our understanding of gender beyond binaries, the faster we can stop creating these arbitrary lines of who’s woman enough, like cut it out.

This is silly. They should be supporting inclusion and non-discrimination in the sport, but instead they’re perpetuating the exact opposite. 


Brittany Packnett Cunningham And this next story is a story that some of you all who saw me on “Pod Save America” on HBO a few years ago might remember me mentioning. So in 2018, a Black woman in Texas named Crystal Mason was sentenced to five years in jail for the charge of illegally voting. Five years. For voting. 

In 2016, Crystal cast a ballot while she was still on federal supervised release from prison. She essentially did not know that she was ineligible to vote, but the lower courts threw out her early appeals case in March. So now her attorneys at the ACLU and The Texas Civil Rights Project are appealing her case again, to the higher up Texas court of criminal appeals.

Crystal Mason This is very political just scaring everybody from the polls. I’m facing leaving my family again, or trying to vote—exercise my rights, me being a citizen here.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Y’all, Crystal is a freedom fighter to the thousandth degree. She is out here using her voice to make all of us, not just formerly incarcerated folks, but all of us more free. Not only should Crystal never have been thrown in jail, Crystal never should have been restricted from her right to vote in the first place. Fight on, Crystal. We’re behind you.


Brittany Packnett Cunningham Coming up. I’ll be talking to Sue Bird about the WNBA social justice season and yes, her clash with Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham So sure basketball is about dribbling and dunking, although I’ve never dunked. I think the last time I played basketball was like the eighth grade, but today’s guest says that activism has always been a part of the WNBA. Sue Bird is a basketball legend. Y’all know, I don’t use that word lightly. The Seattle Storm point guard is a four time Olympian, and now a four time WNBA champion. This is legend status. OKAY. Earlier this year, the WNBA decided to dedicate its entire season to social justice. Sue and the other players wear Say Her Name and Breonna Taylor T-shirts and observed several moments of silence, but not everyone appreciated it. You could’ve probably guessed that. Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler, who co-owns the Atlanta Dream, she criticized the league’s support of Black Lives Matter and, well, Sue and other players responded by sporting T-shirts that read “Vote Warnock” clear, simple. I love it. It’s been a challenging, but incredible year for Sue Bird.

>Not only did her team win the championship, but she herself has become a much more outspoken champion for social justice. I spoke to her just after she posted an engagement picture of her and her partner, the soccer phenom, Megan Rapinoe.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Sue Bird, thank you so much for joining us.

Sue Bird Thank you for having me.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham And congratulations on your engagement. You and Megan look so incredibly happy.

Sue Bird Thank you. You mean that whole thing? Yeah, I think, I mean engagement.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Enjoy it. It is a beautiful time. I’m so excited for y’all, obviously. Congrats on winning your fourth WNBA championship! My husband told me to tell you it was a fantastic game and he’s a big fan.

Sue Bird Awesome. Thank you. I appreciate that.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Congratulations! So the world knows you for being this incredible basketball player, but in addition to playing basketball, you are one of the vice-presidents of the Players’ Union, the league really spotlighted social justice issues this season. How did that decision actually come about?

Sue Bird I mean, pretty naturally, pretty easily, you know, just like other leagues, I’m sure you’ve heard, there was like this other negotiation that had to happen— like, are we actually even going to play? Is it going to be a bubble?—And from the start, the non-negotiable was making our season about more than basketball, like having it be a social justice season.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham And it was about wearing the messages on your jerseys, but what were the commitments there that people may not have seen?

Sue Bird

Brittany Packnett Cunningham And on the court, you all actually held a 26 second moment of silence to honor Breonna Taylor who was 26 when she was killed by the police in her home. Why were actions like this important to you?

Sue Bird Again, I think women are forgotten in all of this and because we were one of the few sports to be on TV, that gave us a platform and it gave us an opportunity to shed light. So like you said, we took some moments of silence for Breonna Taylor, but each week we actually would honor and shed light on another female who was senselessly murdered, or, you know, we, became pretty close with Professor Crenshaw, the person who basically started Say Her Name. And so every week we would have Zoom calls and again try to pick whether it was a specific person or like a movement that we wanted to bring to light and we would honor that and show that before every game that week.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham You’re of course, speaking of professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, who not only created the Say Her Name campaign, but coined intersectionality, which is what we’re all about here at UNDISTRACTED. And speaking of that, right? You’all’s approaches have been so intersectional. The league is incredibly diverse in background, sexual identity,—you talked about the presence of Black women in the league—obviously, y’all are not diverse when it comes to height, but pretty much everything else. But that can make way for some tough conversations amongst each other and in negotiating with the league. How do you all come together to really hold your ground on the things that matter?

Sue Bird Yeah, I mean it’s, well, first of all, I’m 5’9” so, and Brittney Griner, who I think is the tallest is 6’8”, so we do have a little diversity. That’s all the shorter players. No, but you know, it’s pretty easy. I think the beauty of our league is, you know, if I had to make like a quick generalization, like you said, very diverse and with that is always going to come differing opinions and different backgrounds. But I don’t know, we’re always on the same page. It feels like, you know, and what there might be the need for like a side conversation here or there. For the most part we’re pretty much all in alignment in terms of like our values, I guess. And so that makes, you know, sitting at the table across from the league, talking about wanting to have a season dedicated to social justice, you know, when the Milwaukee Bucks decided to not play, obviously with James Blake being shot.

>It made it easy for our league to come together quickly. Because again, we’re all on the same page and be like, “this is what we want to do.” So in that way, we’re lucky, because it does make those moments of like quick decisions, quick organizational stuff happening, it makes those much easier.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham I mean, you’ve noted before, as you are in this conversation, that activism has kind of always been a part of the DNA of women’s basketball, make you all, as women players have been involved in activism for years, I’ll say it so you don’t have to, before a lot of the men were speaking out. Why do you think that is?

Sue Bird You know, it’s like a perfect storm of sorts. I think for us, we’ve just gotten so used to it. We’ve gotten so used to fighting for ourselves, for each other, for our league, because we had to, and I’ve kind of gotten to this place with it.

And I’m like half joking when I say it, because I do think it’s part of our identity, but it’s like, we had to, like, we would have loved to have just played basketball and just have been as a league, like judged based on our play and our talents on the court, but nobody’s let us, it’s always been about everything else, but the basketball.

And I can honestly say that as someone who’s playing the WNBA for close to 20 years, from day one to now, is it changing? Absolutely. But we’ve always had to fight. So when people tell me to shut up and dribble or stick to sports it’s actually comical. Like, I literally tried. I literally tried to be a basketball player and this society, this culture, like wouldn’t let us

And also another thing is, and this is something that I’ve actually learned from Megan in hearing her speak. It’s like in women’s sports, you’re never like stepping on someone’s neck to try to get the job. It’s not like that. When you’re on a team, you’re surrounded by greatness and you know that, and if anything, you’re just trying to constantly like raise each other up, you know, if your teammate does well, you want to be the first one to tell them that, you want to give them those prompts publicly. And I think that kind of has extended into this part of it, which is we just want to support each other. It’s kind of..It’s again, back to what you just said. It’s literally in our DNA as athletes.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham You’ve always been a phenomenal basketball player. And hearing you talk about how committed you are to one another in the league is so powerful, but I want to bring it personal for a second because you haven’t necessarily always been this outspoken. Like you said, you tried to just stick to sports. What made you start wanting to speak up more?

Sue Bird A combination of things I think. And some of it was just like, I came out of college in 2002. It was a different world. You know, we were told, not in words, per se, but like basically told to like be more feminine and do this and be that. And in that point in time, I knew I was gay. So it’s like, I pushed that as far away as possible from like my persona, I guess, or like my brand, I hate saying the word brand, but it kind of fits. So I just, I didn’t want to own that because I thought that that was bad, you know? And it’s just a combination of like growing up, opening my eyes and truly seeing what was happening around me, being more comfortable with who I am as a person. I think that’s probably the biggest factor—just really taking ownership in a positive way of who I am and the things I stand for and not caring about people who kind of come at me in that way. It’s always a work in progress in that regard, because I mean, I’ll be the first to tell you, I don’t like it when people say negative things, but I know when I’m standing up for the right things and what I believe in, that negativity is going to come and I don’t mind it like, meaning I don’t care. It’s not going to stop me, but it took a while to get there. And now I think I kind of grew up, luckily at the right time, because of where our league is and where our society is and kind of how it’s clashed. I mean, intersectionality shows up in a lot of different ways in our league. And it’s kind of the timing of it is interesting in terms of what’s happening in our world.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Is there anything in particular kind of, as you were going through that evolution that you wish you would have spoken up more about? Or do you just kind of feel like it was all part of the learning?

Sue Bird Yeah, good question. I think the answer is probably no, maybe I wish I would’ve done it sooner. Actually, I just wish I would have been more honest about who I am sooner because I think the confidence Ive found in that, it’s what allowed me to like find my voice, be it for myself, you know, defending myself, but also defending others. And that word allyship kind of comes up and it is important in a lot of ways.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham How do you get beyond the performance of allyship? What does that actually mean to you?

Sue Bird You know, to me, I think it’s, it’s a couple of things. I think it’s going to be different for each person. The ways I can show up might be different from the way somebody else can show up. But I mean like a quick guideline, I guess, would just be like, listen, right?

Like stop talking and listen and continue to listen and continue to stop talking because I think sometimes people just want to, you know, show they understand show, show, show, and what ends up happening is you dominate the conversation when you’re trying to do that. So you really have to take a step back, maybe two, three, four, five, and just listen. It’s that simple. And also just kind of understand that there’s going to be hard moments and maybe you get called out and that’s okay. Meaning you’re learning, it’s a learning process. Assuming it says something egregious, I feel like, you know where I’m going with this. It’s like, if you make a mistake and someone calls you out, yeah, it might hurt your feelings for a second, but that’s like part of the process and you can’t let that immediately like send you back to square one. You got to keep pushing.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Why do you think people are so afraid of that process?

Sue Bird I think it’s hard to admit to things that might not paint you in the right light. I think it’s hard for our country to admit to things that happened in the past, whether you were alive or not. I think it’s hard for white people to take ownership of certain facts because it might make it seem like they didn’t work hard for what they had. It’s like, no, no, no, you worked hard. You worked hard. You just had a head-start. And I think there’s like something in that that makes people feel like it takes away how hard they worked for what they’ve achieved in life. And then admitting you have a head-start somehow takes away from that. I personally don’t feel that way.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham So you talked a little bit about some of the things you would have spoken up about sooner, but you most certainly were not afraid to stand up to a Atlanta Dream co-owner and Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler who criticized the league for its support of Black Lives Matter. Now I know you’ve stopped saying her name—frankly, I hope the voters in Georgia stop saying her name very soon— but what do you say to people like her, who think, that you all should just stick to sports? I know you say you’ve tried, but what is the message?


Sue Bird Right. Well, what was so interesting and unique about that was obviously because it was an owner of a team. And to me, I’m like you bought this team, you knew what you were buying. You knew what this league was about. You knew that the players and what we represented, so that that’s always been kind of, I don’t know, it doesn’t make sense, but, so what was happening was she was making something we were doing political while simultaneously telling us to keep politics out of sports. That’s what got us all kind of in a tizzy at first it was like, wait, what? We’re just trying to say Black Lives Matter. She was trying to talk about political movements. And we were saying, this is not a political movement. This is humanity. This is us trying to say, you know when I have sitting next to me, I guess, technically not, it was a Zoom call, but you get my point in my little square, I’ve got, you know, Layshia Clarendon on my right saying I could be Breonna Taylor.

And then you’ve got Nneka Chinwe Ogwumikeon on my left telling their stories and their experiences. It’s like, This was about more, this was about way more than political movements. This was about, like I said, like treating people fairly, it’s like such a no-brainer to me. It’s like being a good one, like being good people, having a good society and country.

So in that scenario, it just felt like we were being used and it felt like things were being twisted. And so we had to defend ourselves.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Hm. I mean, you’ve been talking about Black Lives Matter, but you’ve also been advocating for equal pay in women’s sports for LGBTQ issues. Like you said, you’ve actually came out in 2017, correct?

Sue Bird Yeah, that’s correct.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Yeah. In terms of equal pay, I’d love to know because you’ve clarified that you actually don’t think WNBA players should quote “get the same amount of money as NBA players.” So, what does equity look like to you?

Sue Bird Yeah, I think a lot of people…there was like this meme going around where it compared me and LeBron James, and I think what happens is people think us in the WNBA are like, “Hey, I deserve THAT money.” Who doesn’t want to have that kind of money?! I mean, you’re set for life, but that’s not what this is. We want the same opportunity to build a business, to then become successful and make that money. We want to have, you know, the same media coverage. We want to have the same opportunities for corporate sponsorships and people think these things are readily available and they’re just not, I don’t think women’s basketball..It’s always been looked at as a bad investment. When in reality, a lot of sports are bad investments. And then all you hear is, “Oh, they’re going to lose money.” Well, a lot of NBA teams lose money too, a lot of NFL teams lose money too. But at the start of it, nobody was saying that. And then, so people look us as like we’re a charity.

I don’t want that either. Like, I want the opportunity to build a business because I understand that’s what professional sports is. And that to me is what equity, like you said, even that does not equal pay a little bit that’s to me is what it is because we need a chance to even get to that point.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham So this past season, I think has taught all of us a lot about, or reminded us rather about the power of athletics when it meets activism. What in particular has this past season taught you about the power women athletes have the power of the WNBA to make really substantive, positive change.

Sue Bird Yeah, it’s really taught us that we have this strong, powerful voice. And it’s also taught me. I had like 30 things racing in my head right now. We’ll see which ones get out. Our fan base is truly committed to us. And so I think us standing behind Reverend Warnock, our fan base immediately was like, boom we’re in. And I think that connection we have with them is, I don’t know, it’s just, it’s strengthened, but it’s also just goes to show you just how devoted our fan base is.

And also just, you know, athletes in general, female athletes, we do have a platform. People like to try to say we don’t and they try to tear our sport down. Simply because we can’t dunk, but which is, you know, a whole other podcast, but you know, it still shows that when we have this platform, when we use it for good, we can make a difference.

I think it also shows you that women can, I mean, listen—we get shit done. We get shit done. It’s becoming so glaring. When you look at leaders of other countries who are female and what’s happening, I think when you look at the WNBA, even though we’re such a smaller example, I mean, we’ve only 144 players, but when things needed to get done, we got it done.

And we were ready for whatever. And listen, we have a live mic in front of our face when we’re in a season and we made the most of those moments, everything from what t-shirts we wanted the arena to the talking points that we had for the media afterwards. And then we went up and balled out too. So that kind of helped.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham I mean, you referenced those t-shirts, you wore “Vote Warnock” t-shirts in an effort to support Raphael Warnock who of course is “she who shall not be named’s” opponent. And now that racist is headed to a runoff talk about power.

I know I’m like low key…I was watching that race, like closer than the presidential race. I’m like, Oh my God, he’s winning because he technically, I mean, yes, you have to get 50% otherwise there’s a runoff. So I knew, a win would be to get to the runoff, but technically he won from a numbers standpoint and that’s just incredible. And the fact that us at WNBA played any part in that is amazing.

Our work’s not done. Now there’s two races in the Georgia Senate. Now they’re going to go to a runoff and, you know, we could really play a role in flipping a seat to Blue. And I mean, that would be bigger than the championship, bigger than the engagement—sorry, Megan—but it would be huge.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham I mean, like you said, this is all much bigger than sports.And apparently engagements.

Sue Bird Maybe just for like a week and then, and then I’ll go back to the engagement being big.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham We won’t tell her. It’s fine. I’ll keep your secret. Sue, thank you so, so much for joining us and for all the work you’re doing.

Sue Bird No thank you for having me. I appreciate it.


Brittany Packnett Cunningham WNBA basketball legend Sue Bird.

Well, it turns out that the WNBA’s “Vote Warnock” campaign may have actually made a big difference. According to new research from The Washington Post, the WNBA support for Warnock boosted his campaign at a crucial point. Images of players in the shirts were shared over and over and over again on social media, which led actually to a 20 point increase in grassroots funding. Nice job, y’all! The Georgia runoff elections have already begun. Voting will conclude on January the 5th. Republican incumbent senators, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue will face off against their Democratic challengers, Raphael Warnock, and Jon Ossoff, respectively. If both of the latter win, Democrats will claim control of the Senate with Madam Vice President Kamala Harris casting the deciding tie-breaking vote.

Hey, Georgia voters. We love you. We thank you. And we’re here for y’all cause it’s up to you.


Brittany Packnett Cunningham So Sue is a legend, but frankly it’s the honesty for me. I think so many of us let fear, stop us from getting started on this journey of fighting for justice. And I love that Sue just told us the truth. It’s been a journey. She tried to just play basketball. She tried to shut up and dribble, but the injustice of this world literally wouldn’t let her, so she listened, she learned and she acted because the truth is someone else’s freedom is waiting on you to live your purpose. If you’ve got privilege, it’s your job to spend it every day we wait is another day lost. So instead of trying to be perfect, let’s be determined. Let’s be teachable. Let’s be ready. Let’s be willing. Let’s be committed. I don’t really care how you got woke and I’m not here to judge whether you’re awake enough. I’m just here to help make sure you don’t go back to sleep.

That’s it for today… but never for tomorrow!


UNDISTRACTED is a production of The Meteor and Pineapple Street Studios. 

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Thanks for listening. Thanks for being. Thanks for doing.

I’m Brittany Packnett Cunningham. Let’s go get free.