the harassment of aerial powers shows homophobia is still rampant in sports

andre iguodala started it but he doesn't seem to have any intention of ending it

the harassment of aerial powers shows homophobia is still rampant in sports

Hi, everyone! As many of you know, I’ve been curating a very queer and very thirsty kind of WNBA content on Twitter and in this newsletter for the past couple years. I’m thrilled to announce that it finally has a home: last week, I debuted my weekly WNBA column at Autostraddle! Please send me any and all queer content you’d like to see featured; we’ll be covering real stuff, like the W’s trans-inclusive activism, alongside thirst traps and queer “Daddy” content.

I’m absolutely tickled. I am creating the kind of content I want to see in the world and the response has been overwhelming in the best possible way.

the harassment of aerial powers shows homophobia is still rampant in sports

Last week, NBA player Andre Iguodala tweeted to his over 1 million followers that “Number 23 from the mystics is nice!!!” Number 23, Aerial Powers, is indeed “nice.”  Through four games, Powers is averaging 18 points and six rebounds per game. In a season when the Mystics are without MVP Elena Delle Donne, Natasha Cloud, and Tina Charles, Powers has been one of the players to step up and produce, ensuring that the Mystics are a threat with or without their biggest names.

In fact, Powers has made herself into one of their biggest names.

But Powers took issue with being called by her number and not her name. She responded to Iguodala, tweeting, “Put some respect on my name or keep this tweet to yourself!!” This might have been the end of it — W players are tired of being ignored and disrespected. Knowing a male player is watching the game is not enough anymore; the bar has been raised. Powers said her piece and demanded she be given the respect and recognition she deserves.

(Frustratingly, Iguodala isn’t the only one who isn’t giving Powers the respect she deserves. During a game broadcast, right after Powers sunk a long three during the third quarter, putting her at over 20 points during that game, one of the broadcasters said, “As a fan, I’m really missing me some Elena Delle Donne right now.”)

But Iguodala subtweeted a response in which he implied Powers had “no manners.” The tweet is wrapped up in all kinds of misogyny, expecting that Powers should be grateful he acknowledged her at all, despite the fact that the “compliment” he was offering erased her identity from her game.

His response prompted Powers to issue a fuller statement via Instagram.

Women across the world are fighting for equality in every facet of the word. The WNBA is over being marginalized. Women are over being marginalized.

The NBA players are our brothers. They, more than anybody, know our fight and struggle to have the same recognition, visibility and opportunity as they do. So when you say a statement about our gameplay that was meant as a compliment but don’t include the persons name, it takes away credibility from them and their hard work on the court and makes it seem "less than".

The same humans under my pics and tweets with bad remarks will grow up to think this same way. This is the problem. We already have enough #28s in the world that think just because I was given a "compliment" I should be grateful. Women are done having grace, giving deference, feeling validated just because a man said so.

But in being a woman who refused to be deferential to a man, who refused to accept his half-hearted compliment as the validation the world thinks she should have been craving, Powers has enraged NBA fans. Iguodala’s followers have flocked to Powers’ social media accounts — including the YouTube account she shares with her girlfriend, AzuréRae — to hurl racist, misogynist, and homophobic abuse at her. Meanwhile, Iguodala has been silent.

If Iguodala really considered himself an ally, which I assume he did when he sent a tweet calling out Powers’ impressive gameplay (you know, as the father of a daughter), he would speak up when his followers tear down the woman he claimed to respect. He would tell them to stop, he would condemn their words, he would apologize to Powers and attempt to hear her out.

Perhaps Iguodala doesn’t care about the homophobia being lobbed at Powers and AzuréRae right now, though, because he’s homophobic himself. In 2016, during a child support hearing, he reportedly said he didn’t want his daughter to play basketball for fear she would “turn into a lesbian.” He later clarified his comments by saying he knows many W players who are lesbians and didn’t want his daughter to endure “the same struggles” those players had (worth noting: a clarification is not a denial).

Last season, Powers talked to Lindsay Gibbs about how the Mystics locker room created a safe space for her to come out. After spending her first three seasons in Dallas, Powers had not told any of her teammates she was a lesbian. But last season, during her first year in D.C., the support of her teammates helped Powers feel ready to talk publicly about her relationship and her sexuality.

Any queer person knows that there is a risk when speaking publicly about your queerness. For a league like the W, which is chock-full of queer players and is therefore a fairly safe place to be openly gay, coming out might feel like less of a risk. But the response from NBA fans — and the lack of response from Iguodala — shows what WNBA players are still up against when they choose to come out publicly.

Women athletes still deal with stereotypes that they are all gay, or that they are overly masculine. Those insults are used to denigrate them or invalidate them. It’s hard to knock Powers down for her gameplay; she’s an incredible basketball player. So men insult her in the only ways they can: they hurl homophobic and misogynist remarks, insulting her looks and attempting to invalidate her relationship.

Because at the end of the day, men are threatened by women who do not need them, do not want them, do not cower to them. A woman who has completely divested from — and therefore does not care — about cishet men is the greatest threat of all to straight masculinity and so these men do what they know how to do: they attack.

This incident shows how far we still have to come. While society-at-large is making strides in supporting women athletes and NBA players have been more vocal than ever about supporting the W, homophobia is still a huge problem in sports, one that often goes unaddressed. This is particularly true for men’s sports, where the number of professional male athletes who have felt comfortable being publicly out is negligible. But Brittney Griner has spoken openly about the homophobia she experienced in Baylor, and that a lot of WBB players experience on the collegiate level as a whole.

It’s not enough for male athletes to be supporters of the women who ball. They need to back that support up with continued learning and advocacy: apologize when they make a mistake and support the athletes they claim to lift up in every facet of their lives, from their gender to their sexuality.