Gloria Nevarez, the West Coast Conference commissioner, brings brains, talent, and a diverse background to her job. Though she is labeled as the “first Latin American woman” to be commissioner, Nevarez always aims to mention all aspects of her identity.
“Technically, I’m half Mexican, a fourth Filipino and a fourth Irish, so what do you call that?” she asked The Undefeated. “The first Mexican-American… Or Latinx. Or am I offending my Irish and Filipino background by not mentioning either? It’s a lot to figure out how to say it.”
Nevarez never expected to become a pioneer and role model. She simply enjoyed playing sports.
Nevarez played basketball at the University of Massachusetts and later earned a law degree at UC Berkeley School of Law. She reconnected with sports and worked an externship in the Cal athletics department Numerous stints in various commissioner and compliance roles eventually helped her land her job with the WCC.
Becoming WCC commissioner was not easy. Nevarez battled both implicit and overt sexism. She told The Undefeated that in order to get a job like WCC commissioner, one needs to have connections in all sports, but mainly men’s basketball and football, which she said are difficult areas for women and minorities to break into.
But it was not just the struggles of networking that posed obstacles. Nevarez was introduced by a new boss in 1999, as “much better looking” than her predecessor. “People laughed,” she told the LA Times. “I’m thinking, you know, I have a top-10 law degree.”
Navigating the sports world became even more difficult when Nevarez was sexually assaulted by a senior administrator. Instead of reporting the incident, she turned it into a teachable moment.
“I called him [into my office], and in a shaky voice, ‘This is what happened. You shouldn’t do that. I deserve to be respected.’ … I felt like I had an edge on him after that.”
Nevarez employs that kind of leadership in all aspects of her job as WCC commissioner and has implemented sweeping changes to improve the organization. By revamping television contracts, branding, sponsors, and encouraging social justice action, Nevarez has achieved important victories, including warding off the “existential threat” of Gonzaga’s departure from the conference.
The WCC also became the first Division I conference to implement the “Russell Rule,” which requires that final candidate pools for head coach, senior administrator, athletic director, and full-time assistant coach must include a traditionally underrepresented person.
“Our goal is that the diversity of our student-athletes is reflected in those that lead and mentor them and provides a holistic inclusive education during their time at WCC institutions,” Nevarez said to ESPN.
For Nevarez, succeeding in the sports world, which is still heavily male-dominated, despite the fact that half of the student athletes in the WCC are women, requires grit.
“You have to tackle things head-on,” she told The Undefeated. “Tough conversations. One-on-one disagreements. You’ve got to step in.”
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