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How the Minnesota Lynx Are Successfully Combating Sexist Comments on Social Media

Trolls be warned, the Minnesota Lynx don’t mess around.

Greg Esposito

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While running the Phoenix Suns’ social media efforts for five seasons and the Phoenix Mercury’s accounts for one, I came in contact with plenty of ignorant and sexist opinions.

At first, I was shocked and appalled by them. Over time, I became somewhat numb to the fact that so many people were willing to say such horrible things because they either couldn’t comprehend that the entire world could see what they were saying or, the scarier reason, they just didn’t care.

The toughest thing to come to terms with was how exactly to respond, if at all, to such comments like “she should get back in the kitchen and off the court,” “these guys suck and are playing like a bunch of girls,” or “the WNBA is boring because they can’t dunk.”

These were the tame ones. Sometimes I’d take it head on but, more often than not, I’d choose to ignore them because of the alarming rate at which they seemed to take up real estate in the team’s feeds.

Now that I have a daughter, I wish I had done more — to point out these “keyboard warriors” and more to help educate those who may have just been ignorant to the realities of female athletes and athletics.

One team that has found the direct approach to taking on sexist trolls is the Minnesota Lynx. You probably have seen their tweets that call out ignorant claims while attempting to inform others. They are the brainchild of Shahbaz Khan, who serves as Senior Manager, Digital Content for both the Lynx and the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Khan doesn’t look at the strategy as waging war as much as an effort to try to legitimately change the discourse on social.

“It’s less of a decision to go directly at folks and rather a decision to educate and acknowledge the massive ignorance and misunderstandings around the WNBA and with that, the Lynx,” Kahn said. “Social has given a voice to millions, and I’m proud to be a part of it, but in sports culture, the conversations around women and women in sports are severely disappointing.

“We’ve tried to do our best to have a strategy in place that empowers everyone in the industry and adds to the work, success, and mentality of the folks involved.”

The key to that being able to implement such a strategy is organizational buy-in from top to bottom. In Minnesota, that wasn’t an issue at all.

“Our leadership group has trusted in our group fully to navigate, strategize, and ideate around the social landscape,” Kahn explained. “We have a revamped social team with several diverse skill sets and talents (all team members on the social side have been hired in the past six months). Since my arrival, and since our team has continued to grow, we’ve gotten full buy-in from staff.”

The Lynx took it to a whole new level, though, in their response by getting head coach Cheryl Reeve to actually record messages used to respond to trolls. It wasn’t a tough ask to get her involved since it aligns perfectly with her own view on the league.

“Coach Reeve is a glowing advocate for the W,” Kahn said. “She cares deeply about equal representation, so getting her buy-in on the strategy and thoughts involved was not an issue at all.”

As with any aggressive stance against less than progressive opinions, there’s an inevitable mixture of backlash and praise. The Lynx social staff deals with all responses by never getting too high or too low — a strategy every social media professional should implement.

“As with anything on social, there are mixed reviews,” Kahn said. “Online commenters who feel the need to hide insecurities behind anonymous personas have continued to spew ignorance, while others who advocate for the betterment of society have praised it. I’m a little biased as to which commenters and replies I prefer.”

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Social media seems to bring out the best and worst of our society — and professional sports social is no different. While we’ll never be able to completely eliminate ignorant and offensive comments, that doesn’t mean each team or brand shouldn’t do their part to help.

The approach the Lynx have taken — humorous, biting and informative — should be the template from which most teams take a cue.

Proud husband & father to a young daughter. Student of social media & #SMSports. Social and Digital Media Columnist For Front Office Sports and host of the podcast The Solar Panel. Former Senior Digital Manager and voice of the Phoenix Suns social media channels.

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Kyrie Irving Expected to Sign with Roc Nation

Kyrie Irving is expected to sign with Roc Nation, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation.

Michael McCarthy

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Photo Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Kyrie Irving is expected to sign with Roc Nation, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation.

Irving, who was most recently repped by Jeffrey Wechsler of 24/7 Sports Management, joins an NBA client roster at Roc Nation that includes the likes of Kevin Durant, Josh Hart, Justise Winslow, Danny Green and Caris LeVert.

The switch in representation comes on the same day that Irving took the first step toward his prospective free agency this summer.

According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, Irving is not opting into his $21.3 million contract for the 2019-20 season and will become an unrestricted free agent.

By not opting into his contract, Irving can sign with any NBA team when free agency opens on Sunday, June 30th.

If he signs with a team other than the Celtics, he will be eligible to sign a max deal worth $139 million over four years.

If he were to stay with the Celtics, Irving can sign a five-year deal worth $188 million.

An industry source speculated that Roc Nation could be waiving the fees on Irving’s contract in order to retain his marketing rights.

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Meet the WNBA’s New Boss

Deloitte CEO Cathy Engelbert will become the first commissioner of the WNBA and the first woman to lead a Big Four professional services firm in the U.S.

Front Office Sports

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Photo Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else.

For the first time ever, the WNBA will have a commissioner. Before now, all of the league’s previous leaders like Val Ackerman and Lisa Borders were given the title of president. 

Cathy Engelbert, the current CEO of Deloitte, will take control of the role on July 17th and will report directly to Adam Silver. 

What should you know?

1. By the time she is done at Deloitte, Engelbert will have spent more time at the company (33 years) than the WNBA has been a league (23 years)

2. Engelbert is the first female to lead a Big Four professional services firm in the U.S.

3. She is the fifth person to lead the league after Val Ackerman (1997-2005), Donna Orender (2005-10), Laurel Richie (2011-15) and Lisa Borders (2016-2018)

4. Engelbert has spent the past four years in charge of Deloitte’s U.S. operation.

Basketball is in her blood…

Although she might be an accountant by trade, Engelbert is no stranger to the game of basketball. 

According to Bob Hille of Sporting News, she played at Lehigh for Hall of Fame coach Muffet McGraw and was a team captain as a senior. Her father Kurt also played and was drafted in 1957 by the Pistons.

What are they saying?

“Cathy is a world-class business leader with a deep connection to women’s basketball, which makes her the ideal person to lead the WNBA into its next phase of growth. The WNBA will benefit significantly from her more than 30 years of business and operational experience including revenue generation, sharp entrepreneurial instincts and proven management abilities.” – Adam Silver on the hiring of Engelbert

“I think that’s probably one of the reasons I was selected for this role, to come in and bring a business plan to build the WNBA into a real business and a thriving business, quite frankly.” – Engelbert to ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel

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Adam Silver Wants More Gender Diversity

The NBA commissioner states his desire to get more women into the sports industry. The NBA currently has a 31.6 percent ratio of women in team management.

Front Office Sports

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Photo Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else. 

If Adam Silver has his way, 50 percent of the new incoming NBA officials will be women.

That number applies to coaches too, Silver said speaking at the Economic Club of Washington.

How do the leagues stack up?

The following numbers, outside of MLB, come from 2018 reports put together by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida. MLB is the first league to have a report done on it this year.

1. NBA – 31.6% of team management are women / 37.2% of team professional admins are women

2. NFL – 22.1% of team senior admins are women / 35% of team professional admins are women

3. MLB – 28.6% of team senior admins are women / 26% of team professional admins are women

4. MLS – 26.5% of team senior admins are women / 31.6% of team professional admins are women

5. WNBA – 48.6% of team VPs and above are women / 58% of team managers to senior directors are women

6. NHL – No report done

Quotes from Silver… 

“It’s an area, frankly, where I’ve acknowledged that I’m not sure how it was that it remained so male-dominated for so long. Because it’s an area of the game where physically, certainly, there’s no benefit to being a man, as opposed to a woman, when it comes to refereeing.”

“The goal is going forward, it should be roughly 50-50 of new officials entering in the league. Same for coaches, by the way. We have a program, too. There’s no reason why women shouldn’t be coaching men’s basketball.”

That’s not all Silver wants to see change…

Silver, who has been adamant about getting rid of the one-and-done rule, provided some clarity as to when that might be achieved.

According to the commissioner, the 2022 NBA Draft will likely be the first one since the 2005 NBA Draft to allow high school players to go straight into the league rather than playing a season in college first.

Citing “active discussions” with the NBPA, Silver noted that they are still “a few years away.”

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