WNBA Star Gabby Williams And The Power of Telling Stories

The Chicago Sky forward speaks with En Fuego on just how different life is heading into next WNBA season and the Ford Show Some Muscle campaign.
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Gabby Williams has her cat. So, there's that. 

During a year when we've embraced what we have been able to and missed a great deal of what we cannot, the Chicago Sky forward is beyond grateful to be reunited with her bundle of adorable.

“I've gotten used to it, which is making me a bit worried because I feel like it's something I shouldn't be used to, but at least I have my cat here,” Williams tells En Fuego.

Here is Sopron, Hungary, where she plays for Sopron Basket in the Hungarian National Championship.

As for what she has acclimated to, that would be loneliness. For a WNBA star, life is one series of isolated situations after another. From the bubble to a season in Europe.

It’s hard. It’s demanding. It’s something that Williams is conquering with great fortitude. She chats with me over Zoom, another thing that all of us have grown accustomed to over months.

But the strength with which she speaks and power with which she plays are apropos of another recent venture. She has teamed with Ford for the #ShowSomeMuscle campaign.

It’s a campaign that urges women to tell their stories not to highlight the achievement but to amplify the journey, to put a name and face to perseverance.

The WNBA has become a leader in the muscle department, a crucial cog that has moved not just the sport but the country into a direction thanks to activism and fearlessness.

Last season was a departure from normalcy. The very nature of athletes playing a season in a bubble—devoid of fans, away from family—was an absurdity that became normalized because of the necessity of keeping the players safe.

But the COVID pandemic wasn’t nearly the only thing affecting the country. Unemployment numbers skyrocketed, children were not allowed at school and the very nature of systems was being shaken loose to show just how much inequality had been holding it all together.

It was time for a reckoning. And the WNBA headed into the bubble away from friends and fans but towards a common goal with one another.

And it’s in that space that they demanded the most basic of tenets be accepted. Black lives matter.

“To a lot of people, we're just entertainment. But now you have to listen to us speak,” Williams said on MSNBC’s “Into America” back in July.

Athletes were told for years to shut up and dribble. There finally came a time when the athletes declared we aren’t dribbling until you listen. The shockwaves of a profound summer still reverberate.

“Now people are understanding that if you disagree with my rights as a human being, that's not like disagreeing about ice cream flavor,” Williams tells En Fuego over Zoom. “This is about my human being. I cannot be around you. I (can't) see you as this kind of person if you can't see me as a human either.”

Warm-up shirts touted social justice messaging, the bubble court donned “Black Lives Matter” in big, bold letters. And games were postponed when the sport needed to pause to let the nation catch its breath.

“This is the first time where we had to really put some pressure on our organizations, on our team owners, on the league, on our fans, on any on the media outlets that, OK, you guys aren't allowed to pick supporting us as basketball players, but not as human beings. And I think we took that stance this year and said, look, if you guys are going to make money off us, if you guys are going to ask us to play, then you're going to hear what we have to say as well.”

If playing at the top of your sport is a dream come true, playing amid a pandemic is the malaise that follows a disjointed slumber.

Williams is in Hungary now. A European sojourn from the states would normally mean reveling in the travel. It would mean walking the streets, trying new food, leaving the hotel for some previously unknown spot.

But that’s changed.

Leaving the hotel means you are out for the essentials. Rocking a facemask, Williams and her fellow teammates go to practice and games and then back home. But for the guard averaging a team-high 16.5 points per game, there is a bit of home across the pond. She has her cat, a friend that couldn’t join her in the bubble.

“It's very lonely, but I'm sure everyone is feeling that way because everyone's in their own kind of confinement,” Williams says about life as an athlete during a pandemic.

The 24-year-old explains that the best part of travel for her is embracing the culture. But these days everything is kept at arm’s length.

“I'm just thankful that I have my cat here, honestly. But yes, it's a bit lonely to be an athlete right now.”

Williams isn’t just making the best of it. She’s excelling. Like other players proved last season and are determined to do this coming season, the platform is now part of the gig.

An important aspect of that is bringing those precious and powerful stories that exist up to the surface. In that way, her partnership with Ford is continuing the hard work of taking empathy mainstream.

“The #ShowSomeMuscle campaign is all about women sharing their stories and showing their strength, no matter how that is,” Williams explains.

“I think there's specific strengths that women have just by being women because of what we have to go through. That's on every level, whether it's athletes, whether it's just your everyday person, your fan, your health worker or whatever it is; women are showing strength in some way and everyone has a story. I thank Ford for giving that opportunity for women everywhere to share those stories. (It) can be really uplifting because I think women motivate other women the most.”

Williams has seen the power of recognizing great leadership and determination. “Seeing especially my colleagues in the WNBA do what they did, it really inspired me to do more. So I think this campaign can really help a lot of women out there.”

She encourages anyone to join the discussion, you simply need to go to Williams’ Instagram and share with her how you #ShowSomeMuscle.

Another wonderful part of a still-unfolding story is that ratings jumped for the WNBA last season.

Having a larger audience at home meant basketball fans were finally afforded more of an opportunity to watch and appreciate something they may have been missing.

When it comes to the WNBA, Williams states, "people are interested."

"It's just I think a lot of times media outlets tend to make it not the priority, which makes the audience believe that it's not a priority either. Giving us that spotlight and giving us that stage, we finally got to show the world that we really do,” Williams said.

Uncertainty still clouds the upcoming season and the specifics on how it will play out. But there is no doubt that Williams will be a major part of the action on the court and the change that comes off of it.

And here’s to hoping she gets to do it all with her cat nearby.