July 28, 2022 

Fighting two fights: Layshia Clarendon is working toward a return to the court and a more inclusive world

'I hope trans people are supported under Title IX'

It hasn’t been the summer Layshia Clarendon originally envisioned, and yet, maybe it’s exactly what they needed.

After more than two years of a global pandemic, which included playing a full season in a bubble, a racial uprising and ensuing efforts with the WNBA Social Justice Council, Clarendon, who uses he/him, she/her and they/them pronouns interchangeably, told The Next a hiatus from the league has afforded some much-needed rest.

At first the idea of taking a break came with guilt, but they’ve since let themselves be okay with it.

I’m working on my foundation (Athletes for Impact), but it’s been just a chance for me to step back some, actually rest and recalibrate for the fight and I think that’s just as important,” Clarendon said Tuesday in New York City, where Adidas announced NIL deals with 15 student athletes, all women, across seven collegiate sports.

Of course Clarendon is speaking of more than one fight.

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There’s the quest to get back on a WNBA roster. There’s also the endless pursuit of equal rights across not only the sports landscape, but the political landscape as well.

To state what might seem obvious, student-athletes like the ones just signed by Adidas wouldn’t have that opportunity without Title IX being passed 50 years ago. But in the wake of the anniversary celebration is the backdrop of Roe v. Wade being overturned and anti-trans legislation becoming more prevalent across the United States.

“We’re in a very, very strong dichotomy in our country right now… I think it shows why these legislative battles are so important,” Clarendon said.

While Title IX has led to inclusion for many thus far, he feels the future holds much more potential.

“I hope trans people are supported under Title IX, so these bills that are getting passed and states that are affecting, you know, the seven-year-old who wants to play soccer are just null and void.”

She points out that there are only so many people who are going to become professional athletes, but there are proven benefits to children being part of a team and belonging.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – JULY 26: Moderator Ally Love (2nd R) guides a conversation between Layshia Clarendon, Hudson Taylor and Jeanne Schneider at the adidas 50th anniversary of Title IX celebration on July 26, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images for adidas)

Clarendon, meanwhile, is on the outside looking in when it comes to a WNBA team, as the Minnesota Lynx waived them at the start of the season due to injury concerns.

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Spots are scarce enough in a 12-team professional league, and even tougher to find when you factor in a hard salary cap limit that can sometimes work against veteran players.

So Clarendon was glad to hear Commissioner Cathy Engelbert reveal recently that the WNBA is targeting expansion in the next two to three years. They called it “imperative” as talent is “bursting at the seams” and just a pair of new teams would mean 24 chances to make it.

Beyond that, Clarendon notes the timing is right from a business perspective, in seeing companies like Adidas backing women financially.

“I think there’s real opportunity with some people who do want to invest in women’s sports right now,” Clarendon said.

Regardless of when that materializes, Clarendon hasn’t left it all on the court just yet.

“I’m kind of… digesting everything… recuperating, so I can get back out there and throw some more punches.”

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