It’s hard to define what Chiney Ogwumike does for a living.
Though she took a step back from the WNBA this season, the former No. 1 overall pick in the draft now hosts a daily, nationally syndicated ESPN Radio show in addition to a podcast with the legendary Lisa Leslie. Ogwumike is also a vice president on the executive committee of the WNBA players’ association, where she serves alongside her sister, Nneka. Add in multiple brand partnerships and her work with NBA Africa, and the 28-year-old, two-time WNBA All-Star is one of the busiest people in sports, with a profile that is only growing.
As a result, Ogwumike sees everyone from Leslie and Oprah Winfrey as mentors and idols, but even women like former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Teen Vogue Editor-in-Chief Elaine Welteroth, a wide range of people indicative of Ogwumike’s already dynamic talents as well as where she sees herself going next.
Ogwumike spoke with Dime about her radio show, Chiney & Golic Jr., showing what’s possible for Black female athletes in the sports industry, and the new conqHer campaign in partnership with Eastbay, adidas, and Foot Locker, which promotes the brands’ female sponsors’ efforts on and off the court.
We last had a conversation when you were starting up the Certified Buckets show with Spotify, and now you’re a national ESPN radio host and really spreading your wings into all sorts of different sponsorships and content opportunities. Can you tell me what the last year or so has been like for you?
I guess you could say trusting myself and trusting you know, a more authentic vision. I think this year I’ve been allowed to be authentically myself, which I am grateful for, and I think we’re starting to move towards being a world that sees value in one another, despite all the challenges we’ve been going through. So this last year has been transformational, honestly, where I’ve felt I’ve been able to be seen, be heard in a unique way.
And obviously the the conqHER campaign is kind of about sharing that story and highlighting your career and your values. So, what excites you the most about the campaign and working with adidas and Eastbay on it?
I think you cannot be what you cannot see. And this conqHER campaign is all about pushing representation and telling the stories of those who we may look past, right? And I think for me, I’ve been grinding, and there’s a whole generation of people, the rising generation, that is capable of more and capable of doing a lot at the same time, balancing work and your passions and your activism, all in one place, one home. And I think that’s it, like, you know, just finding our voices and allowing platforms to share our stories in an authentic way. I think that’s that’s pretty much the essence of what makes us different as a generation and I think we’re starting to now celebrate each other for our differences and seeing them as a collective strength instead of pointing out the differences and seeing them as weaknesses.
That’s my thing, collaboration, this year, just working together in solidarity, whether it’s the WNBA with the collaboration to tell the stories of athletes at ESPN, or just, you know, staying true to what your vision is in a year where so much has happened and so much has been tried and tested that that’s really been the differentiating factor, for me at least to help the transformation, where at least I feel like I can be me.
To pivot to the radio show as well because it is an example of that I think in terms of what I’ve listened to and whatever you guys definitely put together a unique show that, that’s very authentic to yourselves. What does that experience been like? I read a lot of the interviews you did going in where you kind of, I mean, you said things similar to what you’re telling me now which is to kind of take it a day at a time, day by day and roll with the punches a little bit. So now that you’re a few months in, what has that experience been like and what are you most proud of from the show you’ve put together?
It’s so cool to be part of something that’s different. It’s something that is literally straight from locker rooms. I am currently in a locker with the WNBA, I’m tied to a lot of the NBA family, and just now like our worlds verge so much. Even on the WNBPA, the variety of players we have there, and then we get cross-collaboration from someone like Megan Rapinoe or we get cosigned and we field notes from Hilary Knight of the NWHL, so like that to me is sort of the hidden gem of this show, just by having a seat and having a mic, now we can turn up the volume and the voices and amplify the voices of people that I just interact with that may not be in the normal purview of what sports talk radio is, right?
Like bringing on my sister, bringing on my mentor, Lisa Leslie, bringing on my coach, Derek Fisher. While these are day to day reality for me, it really provides a unique perspective. And I think it’s like super relatable. It’s just funny, Golic Jr. and I are pretty much the same person but like a complete opposite body. He plays football, he’s the offensive lineman. I’m the basketball player in the WNBA, but we sort of share the same energy that I think is a part of the movement that we see happening with our rising generation, where we keep it real.
We also try to know our facts and stay educated. He’s from Notre Dame, I’m from Stanford. And then we lean into our connections, and that sort of is a different state for us to operate in in the typical sports landscape, which is kind of really cool. So, I think, on the day to day, like getting to be a fan of football, coming from Texas, where it’s been a part of our culture and then now to step back into it, and to play fantasy football and become one of those obsessed people but also give my perspective.
I guess stepping into the role where people didn’t know who I was, didn’t know my background, now, it’s cool because people are getting to know me because I am an athlete and being an athlete is more synonymous with each other than it is with sports. I can relate to something that I see on the football field because I know what a struggle is like. I can relate to what’s happening in the WNBA, because I literally was on the bench with a number of other players, a couple weeks ago. There’s so many synergies that are happening that remove the barriers to sport. Even (being) a woman sitting and talking as a sports talk host, like, that’s a barrier removed. Having a WNBA player, that’s a barrier removed. Having two people that are under 30 or around 30 years old, that’s a barrier removed. I think that’s the cool thing about our show, Chiney & Golic Jr., is that we bring that fresh, energetic yet educated perspective that I think hopefully people will see.
A lot of what I’ve heard from people in my field, reporters, journalists, who end up on TV for one reason or another, they say that it always kind of brings an added spotlight and I’m sure that you found that as well you were just talking about you know maybe not everybody necessarily knew you before but I’m sure you’ve heard from a lot of people since. Have you heard from women are athletes that are you know in women’s sports, to tell you what it means to them to see you on the show or to have you talking about their sport or their league, have you kind of had any of those connections?
— Eastbay Women (@EastbayWomen) December 10, 2020
It’s funny because I guess one of the first things that we were faced to talk about was the Washington Football Team and culture. You know, what was happening with the women in the workplace, especially in that front office, but then also the struggles they’ve had on the field, and the intersection of society and sports and workplace.
And I’ll never forget, we brought on Jason Wright, who is the first Black president in the NFL. Amazing dude who I’ve gotten to know, on a couple different instances as well. You feel like, wow, they’re moving in a great direction but also just knowing that with his hire there were a number of other hires that even trickle down to their (Senior) Social Media Manager, Astasia (Williams). Just by being a woman in the seat, I was not stopping at the headline, and I just sort of like, “Oh, it’s cool, these other women have been brought into the front office as well,” pushing diversity, inclusion and just dope people doing their jobs. And then immediately, like right when I said that, Astasia, (who) a lot of people know in the industry, snagged that, reposted it … and ever since then we’ve been like social media buddies.
It’s just it’s funny because to me, to be seen and heard and acknowledged was something that I never thought would happen, just because it doesn’t happen often in the industry to people that look like me or people that I represent. It’s just one of those uphill battles where like you got to work twice as hard to get half as far. And so just because I see those lenses differently, it just felt good because my position by being a radio host, felt like ESPN and Disney, they see me, they see my work, they see my value, they see my perspective is valid. And for me to be able to do that for someone else to actually feel seen, like that to me was super dope.
One of the things that I think was, I guess, more profound was after we lost John Thompson, the legendary coach, I called my uncle Dikembe (Mutombo) and (asked) him if he could come on to talk about what coach Thompson, because he coached him at Georgetown, what he meant to him. And that’s the first time Dikembe spoke that day. I researched and saw story about how he, coach Thompson, sent him a one way ticket back to the Congo, because he was late for one class or something. When I asked him about that story he started laughing, and he’s like, “Chiney, I forgot about that. And you were able to help me smile.” It’s not just for the women that I champion in the WNBA or just women that are grinding in the industry. It’s for my family that is a global family.
To circle back to the conqHER campaign, I’m just wondering what you make of the way that the leisure industry or just sports in general has kind of opened itself up to fans that are younger girls, fans that are women by including people like yourself in the conversation day to day. What do you make of those changes and do you feel optimistic about it?
Every product or campaign, there are champions that are pushing for that visibility. And I want the young girls, or the young boys, that are seeing these changes to know that there are people fighting for their opportunities, and I consider myself one of those fighters. I think a lot of times, the hardest thing growing up is knowing that you may not be seen or heard, or, or your contributions may not, or your dreams may not seem valid just because of the backgrounds, you know the environment you may be in at that time or, you know, the challenges you present. I just think that everyone, the next generation should know that there’s a whole group of fighters out there that are pushing for that. And I think as women inherently that’s just what we know we have to do. And I think that’s what you see in this conqHER campaign, and I’ve said it before, as women for so long, we had to be so competitive getting to that one seat in the room. And when you get there, it’s pretty lonely, and then you have to stay there. But I think we’ve realized in our past is that we have to work together to demand more seats. And it’s not just for women, it’s for everyone.
It’s been my personal mission to let that generation know that we are fighting to make things better for all of us, so that everyone has equal opportunities for success. And I think that’s just one of those things that has been really cool to show through Eastbay, the idea that more voices need to be heard, more people need to be included. We need to be more authentic to ourselves as not just asking but for individuals to push to use our platform for positive change.
It’s funny, there’s a narrative out there that if you’re an athlete to be the greatest, you have to only do that one thing and do it as well as you can. As women, we defy that, because we’re naturally multitaskers. As the next generation, we realize that we have more contributions than people have just put us in a box for. So, this is really cool to, to actually see myself the way I want to be seen, hear myself the way I want to be heard, and I saw that reflected here.