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Lichtman: Why I’m proud to be playing professional volleyball in Texas

Cassidy Lichtman chairs the AU Volleyball Player Executive Committee. (Jade Hewitt/Athletes Unlimited)

A year ago, I spent seven weeks in Dallas playing in Athletes Unlimited’s new professional women’s volleyball league, the first such league to exist in this country in over thirty years. After spending five years playing in professional leagues overseas and for the U.S. National Team, I could not have been more excited to finally have the opportunity to play professionally on American soil. We were well into planning a return to Fair Park for season two when the Texas legislative session ended in September.

We are a league made up of women, including many women of color, with a commitment to civic leadership and advancing racial equity where possible in the course of our business. AU has already supported initiatives or instituted internal policies around voting, transgender inclusion in sport and a woman’s right to make decisions about her own life and body. Many of the laws passed after our season ended fly in the face of everything we represent and made us reconsider whether Texas was the right home for our upcoming season.

I chair the Player Executive Committee, a group of five of our athletes who work closely with the AU leadership to make all decisions regarding our league. We do not speak for all of our athletes on all topics, but we do make many decisions on their behalf. In September, though we had hotels booked and many plans in place, with our hearts heavy over what was happening in Texas, we strongly considered pulling out of Dallas and finding a different venue.

The first thing we did was to connect with local advocacy groups to get their perspective on the benefits of a boycott in comparison to the ways we could help if we were on the ground. Those groups encouraged us to stay and we decided that our greatest contribution would be to use the platform we had while we were here and support the businesses and people of Dallas in ways that we could not had we left.

That being said, for me personally, it was not an easy decision. Part of me wanted to turn my back on Texas like it turned its back on so much of what I believe in, like it turned its back on people who look a lot like me and my teammates. But that’s not how our country should work. The laws in Texas might not affect us when we are outside of its borders, but they will still affect the people within them. And as we’ve seen in the past few months, the movements behind these laws are not constrained by state borders anyway. Similar legislation has been passed throughout the country and is being defended in front of the Supreme Court. We cannot simply look away as our neighbors’ rights are stripped from them just because they have not yet come to our door to take our own.

I took a moment, therefore, to think about some of our neighbors in Dallas — the child who can’t play the game we love because their gender does not match the one on their birth certificate; the girl who is not ready to be a mother, and the healthcare worker who gets death threats for trying to help her; the teacher who is afraid to even mention race in their classroom; the people who fight every day to ensure that every person is afforded their constitutional right to vote. Though we may be angry and tired and scared, I know there are people in Dallas who are as well, and they are right in the middle of this whether or not they asked for it. When I think about those people, it makes me want to go stand in the middle of it with them, not leave them on their own.

Our PEC, in collaboration with AU, ended up deciding that we’re coming to Dallas, and walking into the current epicenter of a fight that has spanned generations. We will celebrate our women along with the ones who came before us, support businesses owned by women and people of color, and encourage civic engagement and voter registration. And we’ll play some really great volleyball, because that’s part of the work as well.

Gloria Steinem said that “Women’s sports are one of the few places where women learn that our bodies are instruments, not ornaments.” In some ways, just stepping on the court as a female athlete still feels like a revolutionary act. We have 44 amazing women, of all different backgrounds, colors and sizes, who have incredible control over their instruments, and I can promise you it is worth a visit to Fair Park this spring to see it.

Cassidy Lichtman is an outside hitter for Athletes Unlimited, Chair of the AU Volleyball Player Executive Committee and the founder of P/ATH, a non-profit that focuses on using sports as as vehicle to teach skills around empathy, equity and empowerment. Follow her on Twitter @CassidyLichtman.

Cameron Brink likes Caitlin Clark for 2024 WNBA Rookie of the Year

Cameron Brink poses with Caitlin Clark at 2024 wnba draft in new york
Cameron Brink poses with fellow draftee — and possible WNBA ROY —Caitlin Clark. (Photo by Emily Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Cameron Brink already has her rookie of the year pick for the upcoming WNBA season, and it’s Indiana-bound star Caitlin Clark

In the latest edition of Kelley on the Street, host Kelley O'Hara caught up with Brink in New York hours before the Stanford phenom went No. 2 overall to the Los Angeles Sparks at the 2024 WNBA Draft. When O’Hara asked who would win the WNBA's rookie of the year, she answered without pause.

"Caitlin Clark," she said, while a fan commented that she thought Brink would take home the award. Brink later added that the extra foul granted to WNBA players will be "good for me."

"I hope it’s me," Charisma Osborne, who was later drafted by the Phoenix Mercury, said when asked her ROY prediction. "But, I don’t know — we’ll see."

Watch more of Kelley on the Street:

Dash winger Maria Sanchez confirms trade request a day shy of NWSL deadline

María Sanchez of Houston Dash during a NWSL game
In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the club worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)

Maria Sanchez issued a statement on Thursday, confirming recent reports that she has requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

In it, she revealed that the club has been aware of the request "since late March."

"This has all taken a toll and isn’t an easy thing to talk about, but I want to confirm that I’ve requested an immediate trade," she wrote. "My expectations and reasons have been clear. I trust that my current club’s management will honor my decision in a timely manner and proceed with accepting a trade."

"I’m eager to refocus and dive back into what I love most: playing football," she concluded.

Reports of Sanchez's trade request first surfaced on ESPN last week, and were later confirmed by multiple sources. 

In December of last year, Sanchez signed a three-year contract with the Dash valued at $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. It was the largest contract in NWSL history at the time — a figure that would be eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

Sanchez spent the offseason as a restricted free agent, meaning that Houston could match any other team's offer to retain her rights. Should the Dash trade Sanchez, her current contract terms would remain intact, limiting potential buyers to teams able to afford to take on an inking of that size.

The Dash has yet to address the trade, instead reiterating to ESPN that Sanchez is "under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close tonight, April 19th, at 12 a.m. ET. The window will stay closed through the next 11 regular season games, reopening on August 1st, 2024.

Seattle Storm debut state-of-the-art $64 million practice facility

Jewell Loyd #24 of the Seattle Storm during warms up during practice on July 11, 2020 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida
Jewell Loyd, seen here practicing at Florida's IMG Academy, and her team are in for a major upgrade this season. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The four-time league champion Seattle Storm unveiled their new practice facility on Thursday, with Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel dubbing Interbay's Seattle Storm Center for Basketball Performance the team’s "new home."

"It's just such a special space," Brummel told Fox 13 Seattle. "I think when the players get here, it's gonna be overwhelming."

The sprawling 50,000-square-foot, $64 million property is just the second designated practice facility to be designed and built expressly for a WNBA team, with the Storm further noting that 85% of all design and engineering team members involved in the project's construction were women and people of color. The finished product holds two professional indoor courts, two 3x3 outdoor courts, a state-of-the-art locker room, and players' lounge, plus designated areas for strength and conditioning, kitchen, dining, and nutrition, and recovery. 

"This facility reflects our commitment to providing our athletes an exceptional environment that supports their growth, health, and performance," said Storm co-owner Ginny Gilder in an official team release. "It’s built for women, by women, embodying our dedication to leading the way in professional women’s sports."

For their part, the team can't wait to make the faciilty their own.

"It's amazing," Storm guard Jewell Loyd told Fox 13. "Not having to drive everywhere around, knowing you have access anytime of the day to get into the gym, to workout." 

Head coach Noelle Quinn said she predicts the team is "never going to leave this building."

"Which is a good thing for me," she continued. "You talk about having an edge in performance. We want our athletes to not only perform on the court, but get whatever they need."

All of the Storm's staff and operations will now live under one roof, and the team also has plans to launch a youth basketball program operating out of the building.

Mystics relocate game to accommodate Caitlin Clark fans

Maya Caldwell, Erica Wheeler, and Lexie Hull of the Indiana Fever celebrate Caitlin Clark
Get ready — Caitlin Clark is coming to town. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Caitlin Clark effect is quickly making its mark on the big leagues, as WNBA host teams around the country rush to upgrade their Fever games to larger arenas in order to accommodate surging ticket sales.

With Clark mere weeks away from her Indiana Fever debut, both the Las Vegas Aces and Washington Mystics have officially relocated their scheduled home games with head coach Christie Sides' squad. On Thursday, the Mystics became the latest to adjust their plans, moving their June 7th matchup from Entertainment & Sports Arena in Southwest DC to the more centrally located — and much larger — Capital One Arena "due to unprecedented demand."

The Mystics home court's capacity taps out at 4,200, while Capital One Arena — home to the Wizards, Capitals, and Georgetown Hoya's Men's Basketball — can fit nearly five times that crowd at some 20,000 spectators.

"The move to Capital One Arena will allow for additional fans in the stands as well as premium hospitality options, including Suites and the all-new all-inclusive courtside Hennessy Lofts," the team announced via Thursday's press release.

The Aces were one of the first teams to switch venues, aiming to take on the Indiana Fever in front of as many as 20,000 fans inside T-Mobile Arena on July 2nd. That’s a sizable a boost from their home venue, which holds just 12,000.

For those still planning to face the Fever in their home arenas, ticket prices have skyrocketed. Previously scheduled construction has already forced the LA Sparks to relocate their first five games — including their May 24th clash with the Fever — to Long Beach State's Walter Pyramid. The temporary venue is quite the downsize, holding just 4,000 in comparison to Crypto.com Arena's near-19,000. As of Friday, the get-in price for that game started around $400.

Despite fans launching a Change.org petition urging relocation, the Chicago Sky say they're unable to move their June 23rd Fever meeting from Wintrust Arena's 10,000-seat facility to the 23,500-seat United Center due to a concert. Tickets for that game start around $325 as of Friday.

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