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A Conversation With Swin Cash

Swin Cash, an NCAA champion, Olympic gold medalist, and WNBA champion, now works as the VP of basketball operations for the New Orleans Pelicans. She discusses all that and more in this edition of ONYX.

Swin Cash has experienced success at all levels in life. Cash is a two-time NCAA national champion, a three-time WNBA champion, and a two-time Olympic gold medalist. She played professionally for 14 years and worked in broadcasting during the offseason throughout her career. 

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She’s now the vice president of basketball operations and team development for the New Orleans Pelicans in the NBA. Cash met with Monica McNutt — analyst for ESPN, the ACC Network, and FS1, and host of MSG PM — to have an honest conversation about being a Black woman in sports.

How, or what, is it that you love most about being a Black woman in sports?

“I think first of all, I just love being a Black woman. Even though there are so many challenges and things that we are faced with throughout our life, the resilience, I feel like it’s in my DNA from my ancestors and you can feel that at times. It’s something that’s inside of you, and it makes me feel proud to know that. That I come from people that have been through a lot, but still, have persevered. And I think being in sports, there are a number of challenges, not only for women of color but women in general. And so, you know, when I was younger, my mom and my grandma used to say, “you know when the world looks at you, they see two strikes against you. One, you’re a woman, and two, you’re a Black woman. You can’t use that as an excuse because it’s always going to be there. It’s not going to change. So what are you going to do about it?’ So I really took that challenge, I think, as I got older in life. And so I celebrate that every day, being able to engage in a space in my authentic self.”

So you answered the flip side of that question in your answer because on the other side is how are you most challenged? Is that how you’re most challenged … that when people see you, they see those strikes that your mom talked about before they know about your credentials?

“Yes, absolutely. I mean, I think it’s, it’s funny. I always laugh when people say, ‘you know what? I don’t see color. We’re all the same.’ Like yes, as a human being, we are all the same, but you have to see color; that’s part of the world that we live in. So acknowledging, who you are is okay. Like I tell one of my closest friends, she is white, she’s a conservative, we have great conversations, have been friends for a really, really long time. And we can acknowledge those things without feeling like, you know, there’s conflict that’s there. So the biggest challenge I would tell you is sometimes being the only person in the room. Because you have to have enough courage. You have to have enough confidence in not only your ability, but your purpose of being there to be able to speak in those spaces and know that it’s who you are.”

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The truth is not every woman looking for a position (in sports) will have Olympic gold medals, NCAA championships, a longtime, tenured career with the WNBA. How would you encourage a woman who doesn’t have your path?

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“I am a big believer in building relationships. I am a relationship builder, and I tell people this all the time. I didn’t get offered my job because (David Griffin) was like, ‘you know what? I need to pull an Olympian to be the VP of basketball operations.’ It’s because we both were working in television. I knew he came from the Cleveland Cavaliers, but we were just talking about hoops. When you sit around and you’re talking, you just build relationships in that camaraderie. And literally, I was walking out of the studio down at Turner and he was like, ‘Hey, you know what, if I get one of these jobs, I’m coming to talk to you about coming with us.’ And I was like, ‘alright cool.’ And literally two weeks later I get a ping from like ESPN  and it’s like, ‘Oh, David Griffin has been hired in New Orleans.’ And I said quit playing. And there goes my phone.

It’s just one of those things where I tell women all the time, like I started communicating a relationship with Adam Silver when I first got into the league and he was working at NBA TV at the time in Jersey, and he was overseeing all of that. But Adam was so smart. He was one of those people that just wants to bounce stuff off other people, and I wanted to get to know him. And over the years, I had no idea that Adam was going to become the commissioner. But because you foster relationships, you’re able to call people and people you know ascend to different positions. And you never know. I always say this about women, too. When you’re in the room, you also need to be advocating for other women that you know are qualified.  Like we’re not saying give us jobs, give all women jobs. What we’re saying is that there are a number of women who are qualified, but their names are not being spoken in those rooms where decisions are being made. So that’s why what I take as far as my responsibility now, when I say revolving door, is to present. Because I know qualified men and qualified women, but a lot of times if there’s not a Swin Cash at the table, if there’s not another woman at the table, those names may not get presented. And that’s where we have to be better.”

So this is a thought that’s been on me since our good friend LaChina Robinson sat alongside Billie Jean King and those  in the Women’s Sports Foundation talked about the access or the disparity in access between Black young girls and our counterparts in terms of playing sports. And so, we all hear this saying sports are a microcosm of society. From your perspective, what does that say about society’s relationship with Black women and Black girls in particular?

“Well, that’s definitely a great question. What it says to me is that there’s so much work to still be done. People always talk about how far we’ve come, and I always say look how long it took to get here. We’re not trying to wait another how many years to have that next step or another step. Right now, the time is now. Our demands are now. We have to be better. Organizations have to be better. We can’t operate in the same space and think that we’re going to get different. You have to operate in this authentic space, understanding that if you want more, in order to get more you have to do more.

Sports is a microcosm of a lot of things. But our society in the way that Black women are treated is very well-documented.  It’s easy to see the things that go on. It’s easy to see, you know, a sister like Maria Taylor that is celebrating another milestone in her career minding her own business, but somebody that’s in another state wants to talk about how she dressed. That was so triggering for me because I remember it being a 23-, 24-year-old when I first came out and I’m working in media covering the NBA and that was so hype, but I also love fashion. So I was changing my hair at times on TV, changing my outfit, you know, coming in like fashion. And I remember a producer, an older white man, saying to me, you are so good at your job and you know this game and stuff, but just keep in mind you want people to listen to what you’re saying and not so much looking at you.’ And at 23 years old, you’re like, what? Like what do you mean? I should be able to be my authentic self as a woman, and if I want to have hair extensions, if I want to wear makeup differently, you’re asking me to tone something down so that I am more appealing for somebody to listen to me and not be attracted to me. Well, bro, that’s not gonna happen. See, so then that becomes the next issue of now more women are having platforms to speak up about it. But for years this has gone unchecked and continues to go unchecked. So I’m happy to see that not only women, but men are starting to stand up for women who have to take this verbal misogynistic mentality from men that we shouldn’t have to take.” 

We always ask our guests for three words. If they could give a young woman listening or even whoever may be listening, three words to hold onto as they were navigating their journey for the sake of this conversation in the sports space, what three words would you give them?

“Authentic, confident, and be unapologetic.” 

This interview was edited for clarity. 

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