Spelman x (W)NBA Takeover
Photo by Shana Stephenson;
By Rachel Patrick and Zoria McClerklin
Amidst women’s history month, the Maroon Tiger continues to highlight Spelman Alumnae who are thriving in the sports industry. We asked Shana Stephenson, Chief Brand Office of the New York Liberty, and Bria Townsend, Associate Manager in Player Development about their experiences working in professional sports.
After completing her Bachelor’s degree from Spelman, Stephenson received a Master of Science in Sports Business from New York University. She went on to fill several roles at companies such as ESPN, ARISE News and started her own marketing agency to name a few engagements during her ongoing 15+ year career in sports.
This past February Stephenson Crain’s New York Business recognized Stephenson as a notable Black leader.
Bria Townsend is a 2018 graduate of Spelman College received a Master of Science in Sports Management from Columbia University. While at Spelman, she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics. Additionally, she participated in the Granddaughter’s Club, Morehouse Business Association and became a member of the Mu Pi Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated.
When asked what lessons from Spelman she carries with her in her career, Stephenson emphasizes empowerment.
“Spelman College taught me that my Black is beautiful, powerful and valuable. As a freshman, I was not mentally and emotionally mature enough to appreciate ADW, but more than 20 years later, I carry those lessons with me in every room I enter,” said Stephenson.
In her role now she applies lessons about structural racism and its impact on Black women in society. At Spelman, she developed an ability to overcome and thrive in spaces never designed for her.
“Spelman’s curriculum, community and sisterhood empower me daily to honor all things that define me as a Black woman,” said Stephenson.
Surrounding the time of the tragic murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery a heightened unrest in the nation, especially among the Black community, led Stephenson to question whether or not basketball was a necessity and should resume after being shut down due to COVID-19.
There was space for a maximum of 20 people per team able to represent the NY Liberty in the WNBA’s “Bubble” known as the “Wubble” in Bradenton, Florida. There were 12 spots for players, 4 spots for trainers, and 2 spots for PR and Marketing team members, one of which Stephenson occupied.
“It was a difficult decision because cases were still extremely high,” said Stephenson “I was worried about daily COVID testing, and the thought of being confined to one location for multiple weeks concerned me. I was also wrestling with my own emotions,” said Stephenson.
As a Black woman, Stephenson personally wanted to play a role in helping New York Liberty players make an impactful statement. Prior to the tipoff of the 2020 season, WNBA players collectively agreed to dedicate their season to Breonna Taylor and the #SayHerName movement.
Stephenson led an initiative where Liberty players recorded public service announcements to raise awareness for Breonna Taylor’s murder and asked fans to do their part in applying pressure on the Kentucky DA to arrest the cops that killed Breonna Taylor. She curated panels with activists and thought leaders who are heavily involved in the #SayHerName movement, like Professor Kimberley Crenshaw and Sandra Bland’s sister, Sharon Cooper.
Despite the heaviness of the time, Stephenson found joy in co-organized a Brandy vs Monica Verzuz watch party for all WNBA players. Players who competed against each other every night were able to sing, laugh and dance together which served as a much needed decompress session.
Stephenson’s proud of these moments because 2020 was an exhausting year yet she emerged successfully.
Similar to Stephenson, one of Townsend’s career highlights was getting the opportunity to work with players and families in the NBA Bubble in Lake Buena Vista, Florida at the same time She described the experience as “one of the craziest things she’s ever done.”
“It led me to build relationships and have a community I never thought was possible,” Townsend said. “During this time I also created Virtual HBCU night and brought over 100 students from 60+ HBCUs to our virtual fan experience,” said Townsend.
Pouring into the next generation of women in sports is important to Townsend. She emphasizes the importance of networking effectively to build meaningful relationships. She also highlighted how important it is to find a good mentor that will give one the real deal.
Copy Edited By: Marlon “MJ” Scott