If we’re thinking about what the WNBA will look like in the future, look no further than Gabby Williams. As a point forward on the wing for the Chicago Sky, Williams has helped usher Chicago into a new era of championship contention. And as a long outspoken advocate for social justice across the board, she is a bright voice in a league that is increasingly looked to as a leader in social engagement in sport.
A new partnership with Ford as one of the faces of the auto company’s #ShowSomeMuscle campaign only furthers Williams’ place at the intersection of all of this. Williams is the face of Ford’s plan to reimagine the “muscle car” with the Mustang Mach-E, a new all-electric concept pushing the boundaries of what brawn and power are in our society.
Williams is also leading Ford’s social media challenge to encourage women to share their personal stories of perseverance and resiliency online, which she started on Thursday and nominated her former Sky teammate Cheyenne Parker among others.
During a break from her Hungarian team, Sopron Basket, Williams spoke with Dime about the Ford partnership, her work in the Chicago community, and what’s next for the Sky following an extension for head coach James Wade, and the reported signing of the legendary Candace Parker.
As an athlete you have a lot of opportunities come up, so what stood out about this Ford partnership and why did you choose to be part of it?
I felt really honored that they thought of me, but for me, I’m just really excited that it’s giving an opportunity for women everywhere to share their strengths, because I think that we can empower one another, and I do think there are so many stories out there that can inspire others. I couldn’t say no to an opportunity like that and it’s just so exciting to be part of this.
It seems like there are a lot of companies that are trying to be genuine about the way that they open themselves up to women and to female customers or female partners. What does that mean to you, do you think it’s trending in the right direction, and how do you hope this fits into that?
I do. It is going in the right direction. Ford being Ford, such a huge company — and especially as the campaign talks about with muscle cars — always seem to be very masculine and for men, but the campaign is promoting that no, this can be feminine, too, and this can be for women as well.
It’s huge, because as an athlete, that’s what I am. I’m a (female) athlete in a man’s world, in the industry of sports, so I can relate to that a lot, and I think many people have some kind of experience with that as well.
I know you’re involved with Chicago’s “Sky Takes Action” campaign, and there were a lot of WNBA teams that tried to put things together last season that would continue past 2020. What inspired you about the campaign and how will “Sky Takes Action” continue into 2021?
We knew when we started this that it was going to be not just 2020. We wanted to do something big this year especially because we all just had so many emotions and things we were passionate about, but we were setting the foundation for what we hope can happen with the Sky, where every year can be something new and we can add onto what we’re doing.
We’ve all become close to the initiatives that are dear to our hearts, and this summer was about learning how we can make change, so now we feel better-equipped to tackle these things in the future and in the years to come.
It’s a wide variety of groups you partnered with. Was there any interaction or conversation in choosing those that sticks out to you a few months later?
I just felt really inspired by the feedback I was getting from these organizations. Like, of course we wanted to help and make them as happy as possible, but (the response we got) just felt really good from the leaders. They were just so excited to be part of it, and every time I get to reach out to one of the heads or whoever I’m working with, they’re always just so excited, and it keeps me going.
We see a lot of these partnerships with teams where a lot of it is organized by some corporate person within the team, but it sticks out to me that you and your teammates were on the ground communicating directly with the leaders, so I wonder what the response was like from them to see that you guys really did care on a detailed level about what was going on?
That was the really cool thing about it, is we knew exactly what we felt passionate about, like the school system. Diamond DeShields and (Bears linebacker) Sam Acho are really connected with By The Hand. It was our baby and we wanted to protect it, and I think that’s why we did it on such a hands-on level. We didn’t want to put it in the hands of other people, because we knew what we cared about, we knew who we wanted to help and what we stood for. And so it was an opportunity for us to speak out about the issues we were most passionate about and we wanted it to be our voice, not anyone else’s.
Let’s talk about the 2021 season. There was a recent Clubhouse event in which I believe Sue Bird mentioned that the Justice in Policing Act might be a focus for the players this season. What form do you expect the league’s organizing to take when you come together in May for the season?
I expect it to be a bit similar to this past season. We may be a bit more organized because hopefully we have more time. But I expect something similar where teams have their own initiatives that they work on within their communities, but I know we’ll do some things at a league-wide level as well.
Is that something that’s still being crafted among you guys?
Yeah, we have no idea what the season is even going to look like, so it’s hard to plan. We don’t know if it’s a Bubble, we don’t know if we’re traveling. You can only organize so much when you don’t even have the season organized yet. It’s a bit difficult.
On that note, (head coach and GM) James Wade just got an extension from the Sky. You guys have had a lot of success under him and he seems to have connected with you guys, so what stands out to you most after these past couple seasons with Coach Wade and what was your reaction to the extension?
I was really happy for him just personally. I think that’s a great opportunity for him and he earned it. And I also know what the organization means to James, and I think he really does take pride in us, he really does care for us as people and as players, and he wants to see the organization as a whole do better. I see that he genuinely wants to make a difference in Chicago, so it’s great.
It’s not official yet, so I understand if you don’t want to say anything, but reporting indicates that Candace Parker is headed to your team, which is home for her. It sounds like you guys were part of getting her to commit. What can you say about that situation?
I can’t say too much, but overall it’s an amazing addition. I’m excited to see what kind of team we’ll have for the summer, and I’m just looking forward to it and I know she’s going to bring so much that we don’t have and so much that we need. It will be huge for us.
I wanted to ask you to close what your goal for the season is, but it’s probably the same as it has been, which is to win a championship, right?
Yeah, of course. Especially with James, he makes sure to instill that mentality, that we’re not playing for anything less and this has to be the motivation, because James doesn’t want to see us settle. James genuinely has that confidence in us and wants to see us have that in ourselves, so we’re going to go into every season contending for a championship.