Ep What A Time to be Alive!
It was the women's college basketball season, Summitt's final season as the acting head coach for the Tennessee Lady Vols. Robinson was standing on the sidelines of the Thompson-Boling Arena after the Lady Vols finished a shoot-around before their game that evening.
I was like, What do I do? Then all of a sudden, she came up to me, and she said, 'I have something for you,'" Robinson said.
It was the strawberry jam, one of Summitt's specialties. Robinson was floored.
More than anything, I learned that [women's basketball] is as important as you make it. And Pat always made it important.
With a sharp eye for the game as a former Division 1 athlete she played for Wake Forrest from and an engaging on-air personality fans were drawn to, she easily could have taken the "mainstream" route to the NBA, or college football.
But at a time when women's sports remained under-covered and underappreciated, Robinson chose the broadcaster road less traveled. She chose women's basketball. It's a choice that Robinson pulled from the book of Summitt, who was once offered a coaching job for Tennessee's men's team and declined, famously quipping, "Why is that considered a step up?
I was offered a position as an NBA sideline reporter with a team, and I ended up turning it down," Robinson told [Vice Sports] in an interview last month. To me, women's basketball is great, just as great as football, and just as great as men's basketball.
She still has that Summitt-made jar of jam. And women's basketball is still an under-covered sport.
There's no shortage of reasons for this. Large media conglomerates like ESPN, which thrive on business models designed to generate revenue based on viewership, cater first to the demands of viewers.
Women's basketball, so the story goes, is not one of the highest demands on that list. That conclusion, however accurate, remains painfully shortsighted. It doesn't account for the ripple effect that comes with the media's undeniable responsibility in establishing visibility.
Fans watch what's watchable; they can only hear the stories that are being told. When women's sports make up only 3. Silence in media coverage can translate to silence from fans for the women's game.
Part of the problem is the shortage of opportunities for women, and particularly women of color, to cover female athletes. In its biannual survey of more than newspapers and websites belonging to Associated Press Sports Editors, the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports found that women held just The numbers for minorities are even worse: in the same survey, African-American women made up just 1.
Which all makes Robinson one the few African-American women to share the stories of female basketball players on a daily basis. Not everyone that I work with, whether it's production or talent, they're not all as passionate about women's basketball as I am. Most of that is that they're looking at the amount of money generated, and comparing it to other major sports.
That's what is what is most important to them—and that's fine. But to me, equality is what is important. Women deserve equal coverage. They deserve equal media opportunities. They work just as hard. Courtesy LaChina Robinson The lack of equal coverage has not gone unnoticed by the players themselves.
In , the Minnesota Lynx's Maya Moore, one of the most prominent names in women's college basketball from her time at UConn, published an article in the Player's Tribune detailing the invisibility that female professional players face on a daily basis.
Amidst the ongoing calls for equal coverage, Robinson teamed up with the Connecticut Sun's Chiney Ogwumike to create what most other professional sports already enjoy: a platform dedicated to talking about the women's game.
We were both working at NBAtv as studio analysts. We were like, we need a place where we can just talk," Robinson explained. We need to hear from more players, more coaches, more coverage of the WNBA. We just wanted a different forum.
The project eventually landed in the hands of Laura Gentile, senior vice president of espnW, and Carol Stiff, ESPN's vice president of women's sports programing, who were willing to give it a shot. Robinson and Ogwumike didn't know what to expect.
Robinson and Ogwumike picked up where Mowins and Antonelli left off, launching the first segments of ESPN's "Around the Rim" podcast, with a focus on the women's college basketball season, earlier this year.
When our ratings were actually pretty good, everyone got excited because suddenly it was clear—there is a need for this forum for women's basketball. I want to be the person where they will look to me and say, 'If it's women's basketball, LaChina will know,'" Robinson said.
In July, during USA Basketball's exhibition tour in New York, I watched as Robinson worked the sidelines with notebook in hand and pen at the ready, quietly chatting with Tamika Catchings, hugging Breanna Stewart and warmly wishing her luck in Rio, and pausing to snap a picture with Sue Bird.
At the game the next day, Robinson answered every question I threw her way, all the way down to Candace Parker's assist percentage.
It's her job to know the numbers, but Robinson knows that women's basketball needs more than that. She separates herself by going beyond what the stats tell about the players to knowing and appreciating who they are as people.
Years later, she's working hard to inspire that kind of respect in others, building relationships with a new generation of players and sharing their stories when others will not. It's what Moore pleaded for, and what Summitt demonstrated in her final year of coaching at Tennessee: treat women's basketball with the respect it deserves.
Celebrate it, and the fans will come. Robinson is doing just that. Subscribe to our daily newsletter.