WNBA

The Lead Exclusive: A Talk with WNBA Star Aerial Powers

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“Keep politics out of sports” is a common sentiment in today’s world. Some leagues try to do exactly that, while others openly embrace the inevitable crossing of the two. The WNBA has become a leader in letting their players and teams speak out. Each team agreed to use multiple methods to raise awareness during the league’s restart. Players have been involved at various levels off the court, with many being active in their communities. Washington Mystics star Aerial Powers has been active on and off the court, leading her team to a hot start while promoting a new initiative. We recently caught up with Powers and discussed the Wubble, her team, and her off-court movement.

A Strong Start With a Strong Message

This year’s WNBA opening was a historic one, and the momentum has continued. Viewership was up 63 percent over the opening weekend. The increase has led to more major network spots for future games. The league also has been very straightforward with its support of the Black Lives Matter and Say Her Name movements:

Powers wasn’t surprised by the league’s strong start.

“Everybody’s feenin’ for something to look forward to, feenin’ for sports…the fact that everyone is waiting for something to watch, it’s been in our favor,” Powers said. She also detailed that the league’s social initiatives have affected the players “in a good way”, explaining that “it means a lot, especially right now with a lot of social injustice going on.”

Powers detailed that for the various measures to be enacted, the entire league had to agree to it, saying “this is our way to speak out, so that’s what we’re doing.”

Picking Up Where They Left Off

After being traded to Washington in 2018, Powers quickly established her role with her new team. In her first full year as a Mystic, she averaged 11.4 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.5 assists in just under 20 minutes per game. The Mystics put up historic numbers en route to their first WNBA title. They added former MVP Tina Charles to the roster in an offseason trade and were championship favorites.

As the team prepared for the bubble, they lost four of their top players. Charles, reigning MVP Elena Delle Donne, Latoya Sanders and Natasha Cloud opted out for various reasons. FiveThirtyEight listed each in their top 10 players that opted out:

via FiveThirtyEight

Despite losing all that talent, the Mystics picked up right where they left off, largely due to increased contributions from Powers, Myisha Hines-Allen and Ariel Atkins. Powers provided insight on how the team has managed to be successful despite missing players:

“What makes the bubble so unique is that it makes us closer. We’re all we have. We hang out a lot more. It translates on the court because, criticisms that may usually be taken negatively are taken positively. It’s like, “I know she’s for me. I know she has my back.” I think it’s really helped us…But the bubble has made us closer. In the situation, with some of our girls missing, I feel like our numbers have been called and we’ve stepped up in a big way. Ariel is shooting great, Myisha is doing well, I’m doing well myself. I feel like this will continue, throughout the bubble.”

Powers also said that bubble life has improved from the beginning. Meals have gotten better and the experience improved once she was able to start gaming. Powers, an avid gamer, has been streaming for over a year now and has been an active voice in the gaming community. She recently joined an initiative called, “Gamers.Vote” to promote voting in the community.

A Unique Opportunity

Powers teamed up with Gamers.Vote just before the Mystics’ pre-bubble camp. She said the group reached out to her shortly after the Wizards and Mystics held their “Together We Stand” march in June. She explained that the gaming community is made up of over 133 million potential voters. Powers felt that getting involved with the initiative was a way to “make change beyond just wearing something or speaking out” and that Gamers.Vote can accomplish that by “having people register to vote and actually vote.” “Everyone is going to be affected by voting whether you do or don’t,” Powers said. “Why not have a say in what goes on?”

The Gamers.Vote group consists of some other prominent figures such as NBA2K, Twitch and Seth Curry. I asked Powers about her interactions with NBA players, specifically in regard to social movements. She explained to me that players from both leagues are “on the same page,” pointing to the NBA’s decision to wear statements on their jerseys. She loves the unity between leagues, saying “we’re all in this together to create change and I feel like we’re doing that.” Powers went on to describe how “a lot of people are now watching games more than they ever have, video games and WNBA and NBA games. If we have a platform that people are watching, and we’re pushing for voting, it will show better results in this upcoming election.”

A Large, Diverse Community

Gamers.Vote says gamers could form the largest voter block in history. That block would also be one of the most diverse. The gaming community has steadily become more diverse as it has grown, and the effects are starting to be seen at the highest competitive levels. The NBA 2KLeague has emerged as a leader in diversity, as they recently had their first ever woman drafted.

Powers and a few other WNBA players been involved with the league. They first got involved after the league hosted a tournament. After the tournament, Powers says she formed relationships with the ladies of the community. From there, her focus shifted to “how do we get more women into the 2K realm?’ She is in the process of organizing her own tournament with one goal in mind: “more girl gamers getting out there and playing.”

The gaming community is also very diverse racially. “Everyone plays video games,” according to Powers. “If it isn’t your direct family, your friends are, and their friends are. And there’s a good chance they’re a different race than you. It trickles down.”

One of the ways Gamers.Vote promotes inclusivity is by allowing streamers of all levels to spread their message. Their website has kits that are available to all users that add their graphics and messages to streams. Powers utilizes their kits in her streams. “I have an overlay at the top right of my stream,” she said. “For new people coming into my stream they see that and ask “what is that?”” She also has a message that cycles in her chat that includes a link to voter registration. The link is critical to the process. Powers believes it’s an effective method because of how simple it makes the process. “The link makes it easier to register right then and there. The link opens a new tab, registration is quick, then they’re back watching my stream. It’s very easy to use,” she explained.

The Ultimate Goal

For Powers, the ultimate goal is to get gamers involved in the voting process. According to a 2017 study, more people watch video game streams and videos than HBO, Netflix, ESPN and Hulu combined. Since then, Twitch’s streaming numbers have nearly doubled, and are showing no signs of slowing down. Over half of the viewers are between the ages of 18 and 35. Powers feels Gamers.Vote will have an effect on the upcoming election. She explained that “if they are watching gamers, and the gamers are pushing to vote, and doing it in a fun way, now we have them getting into registration.”

Only time will tell how Powers’ work will effect the numbers come November. For now, her grind doesn’t stop– on or off the court.

For more information on Gamers.Vote, follow Aerial Powers on Twitch or visit their website.

About Richmond Bailey Caldwell

Die-hard Grizzlies fan since 2009. Aspiring basketball writer and coach. University of Georgia sport management alum. Perennial first team all-defense selection.

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