August 19, 2020 

She Got Next, Episode 3: Pepper Persley talks to Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, Los Angeles Sparks

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Connecticut Sun forward Alyssa Thomas (25) defended by Los Angeles Sparks guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt (10) during the WNBA Semi-Finals between the Los Angeles Sparks and the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Connecticut, USA on September 17, 2019. Photo Credit: Chris Poss

Veteran wing Tierra Ruffin-Pratt joins Pepper Persley on this week’s She Got Next. The two discuss TRP’s perseverance in the league, her legacy of fighting for racial justice, and much more. Take a listen!


PEPPER PERSLEY: Hi everyone, and welcome to this episode of ‘She Got Next’ with me, Pepper Persley. Today I’m here with arguably one of the best defenders in the WNBA, Tierra Ruffin-Pratt. I’m so excited to talk to you today. Thank you so much for being here.

TIERRA RUFFIN-PRATT: Thank you for having me.

PERSLEY: Thank you. Are you ready to get into the questions?


PERSLEY: Awesome. You were undrafted, but still made your way to the WNBA. What does it mean to you to be a WNBA player considering that’s part of your story?

RUFFIN-PRATT: I wouldn’t trade my journey for anything. It’s been — it’s had its highs and lows, but I think it’s made me who I am. Being able to remain in the league for this, my eighth season, after being undrafted, I can’t thank God enough for it. It’s a blessing in itself to even remain in this league because it’s so cutthroat. That is, you can be here today, gone tomorrow. So you never take it for granted, and every time you step on the court, you do the best that you can because you never know. One game could be your last game. So I enjoy my process and my journey, and I’ll continue to grow and try to remain in this league as long as I can.

PERSLEY: Well, I can just say that it’s very impressive that you’re going into your eighth season, and I really enjoy watching you play. You said before that you take pride in your defense and your ability to shut people down. What makes you such a great defender?

RUFFIN-PRATT: As you just said, like, I take pride in it. I always want to be the best at what I do. And I put my all into it every single time I step on the court, so I think that’s what makes me a great defender.

PERSLEY: I can definitely see that awesome defense when you’re playing. [both laugh] What is your team doing to build chemistry in the wubble?

RUFFIN-PRATT: I just think we’re taking everything one day at a time, one game at a time, trying not to get too high or too low in the process. We’ve done a couple team bonding events where we just got together to get dinner, we got together for Coach Fisher’s birthday, did a little dinner, and stuff like that. So we’re just trying to remain together. These are times where people are actually allowed to, like, hang out and kind of do things as a team. So in LA, it would be hard ‘cause everybody would get to go their own separate ways, go home. But again, here, it just makes it a little bit easier to stay together and do the [inaudible], like, stuff.

PERSLEY: Oh, I actually never thought that way. Thank you for that perspective. I’ve seen you and your team in the pool a lot, but what is your favorite activity in the wubble — other than basketball, of course?

RUFFIN-PRATT: [laughs] I don’t know, I like the pool a lot, so — I’m actually at the pool now as we speak. [Pepper laughs] I was doing a pool workout, got lost — lost track of time and just jumped on the call a little bit late and I was jumping out of the pool. [PERSLEY: It’s okay!] I spend a lot of time at the pool, just getting some extra cardio in, trying to recover. That’s one of the best ways to recover is getting in the pool, taking my mind off … [inaudible] … stuff like that. So I spend a lot of time at the pool … [inaudible] … or probably be in my room watching movies and stuff like that. Keep it real simple, keep it real chill.

PERSLEY: Yeah, I know you mentioned recovery, and I know it’s really important to recover with your schedule almost every other day, around 70%, is off of every-other-day games. So I definitely know that that’s very important. And the Sparks are hoping to win their franchise’s fourth championship. What do you see in your team that will make that happen?

RUFFIN-PRATT: Oh we got great players, great young players. We got great vets, we got a great coach. So we’re just trying to build that chemistry and put it all together and go. Half of our team’s new, half of our team’s returning from last year, we got a good core group that’s been together for a few years now. So just putting it all together. It’s putting the pieces, like putting the pieces of the puzzle together. You don’t always have it the first try, but once everything is together, it’s perfect.

PERSLEY: Awesome. Now I’m going to transition into questions about activism and social justice. I know that racial injustice has affected you personally. How has that personal effect fueled your activism?

RUFFIN-PRATT: Oh, you’re breaking up, what’d you say?

PERSLEY: I know racial injustice has affected you personally. How has that personal effect fueled your activism?

RUFFIN-PRATT: Oh yeah. My cousin was killed when I — when I made my way into the league. So it’s been kind of something that me and my family have been fighting for for a while. But that was like, seven years ago. So it’s been something that me and my family have tried to put a lot of time into and tried to be the voice for those who can’t speak for themselves. On both ends of the spectrum, whether it’s cops killing Black people, white people killing Black people, Black people killing Black people, we’re just trying to find a way for it to stop because lives are being lost and some are not receiving justice for it. And sometimes lives are being lost and another life is being put behind bars. So, just trying to find a way to level the playing field and end all the kilings that’s been going on here in the world, and mainly in this country. It’s something that — we won’t stop, because it’s not gonna end, like, right away. So we just have to keep fighting and hope generations after us continue to fight for the same things, and hopefully one day we’ll live in a world where things won’t happen.

PERSLEY: Thank you for that answer and telling us a little bit about your story and activism and what you do. You are on the WNBA Social Justice Council, so I have a couple of questions for you about the Council. Who are some of the council members other than the WNBA players, and how often does the council meet, and what sort of things do you discuss?

RUFFIN-PRATT: Um, we have some good, like, advisors, one being Kimberlé Crenshaw, Stacey Abrams, those people are on our calls and helping us better use our platform to keep building and be as great as their platforms that they have. Just using some of their different methods, different sponsors, different things that they do to try to build into — what we’re trying to do is to build to something greater than just in the WNBA, we want it to be bigger than just the 144 players that are in this league. We want it to be worldwide, we want it to be able to test people that have greater platforms than us. Just try to make some changes in this world, change laws, change different things and get people out to vote. We’re just trying to be able to get our voices out there and make it known that we want change, and we’re not going to stand for what’s going on in this country, and we’ll do anything in our power to make some things move and make some things happen.

PERSLEY: Thank you. And I know you mentioned some of the people who are helping you out. One of those people that you were on a call with, I know, was Michelle Obama. What are your takeaways from the league’s conversation with her?

RUFFIN-PRATT: I thought it was a great conversation. Just having a lot of our WNBA players on there to listen to her, and what she does with her platform, and how she’s building and growing and using her voice. It was amazing. I think we all got a lot out of it on how we can be better, how we can use our platforms, how we can use our voices. Just to know that we’re not in, like, by ourselves, you know, like, we’re not doing this all this by ourselves. There’s a lot of people out here fighting the same fight, and the more people we have that come together to do things like this, the greater things there’ll be. Because individually we can do a little, but together we can do so much more. So just leaning on those people that have a platform, and trying to help bring together everybody for the same cause.

PERSLEY: And to bring it back to the Social Justice Council, how will the Council help players’ ideas become the league’s social justice initiatives?

RUFFIN-PRATT: We’re trying as best as we can. I think this season made it somewhat kind of easier because, like, the spotlight was on this once sports came back. And not just the WNBA, but the NBA as well are using their platforms. Like, we have the Black Lives Matter on the court, that was players’ idea. Having Breonna Taylor’s name on the back of our jerseys, that was players’ ideas. So anything that people have or want to do within the bubble or outside of the bubble, we will try to do what we can to make it happen. We’re thinking of some other things right now, we’re just trying to get the names out of women who’ve been killed by by police, and then a lot of the things people don’t know. Even myself, I was oblivious to all of the killings of women in this country because we don’t hear about them. A lot of times we are overshadowed, those women are overshadowed, by something that has happened to a man that was in the same context. Like we just did — this week was Michelle Cusseaux, and we watched everything about her. And her killing happened, what, five or six days after Michael Brown’s death, but we didn’t hear about it. Michael Brown was the platform and they use his name, but there are women that have been killed that people don’t know about. So we’re trying to get that out there and be a voice for those who can’t speak for themselves, talk to their families. Like, still trying to get justice, like Breonna Taylor, and people of that nature. So we’re just trying to help build a platform and continue to build a platform for those who can’t speak for themselves and those who don’t have a voice and don’t have the platform to speak or be reached, or to reach other people, bigger than just them and their family.

PERSLEY: Well thank you for helping kids like me be more aware of the injustices happening to specifically Black women in this country. I have two more questions for you. What are you hoping to accomplish with this season dedicated to Say Her Name and social justice?

RUFFIN-PRATT: I think what’s important is the stuff that we’re doing now, just being able to get those names out and be the voice for those who can’t speak. The Say Her Name campaign, it’s been something that’s been out there, but we haven’t really heard much about it. [PERSLEY: Yeah.] So I think bringing — we’ve started to bring awareness with Breonna Taylor, but it’s so many more. It’s not just Breonna Taylor, it’s not just Sandra Bland. So many more women that have been killed and their lives have been taken and no justice. [inaudible] Nobody has been held accountable for their deaths. And it’s not fair, like, even the male counterparts of them that have been killed, they haven’t received justice, you still know their names. And people are still fighting for them. People are still saying Trayvon Martin’s name, still saying Mike Brown’s name, still saying, like, George Floyd’s name, but you don’t hear about those women that were killed around the same time as them. So we can continue to make the information known and have it out there. I think we’re doing our job because if we’re touching one person, and one person is able to touch another person, and we’re trying to create change that way, it doesn’t have to always be something so big. And a thousand, 10,000, 100,000, a million people are touched. It’s just one person — and change their thinking and change their ways, then they can touch another person, they can touch their family, they can touch the people that they’re around. And that’ll continue to feel like one person at a time. If I touch one person, my one person touches another person, then we’re trying to create change in that way. I think a lot of people think there has to be this big monumental thing where if you can’t reach a million people, then you’re not reaching anybody, you know? But really, if I can touch my neighbor, or my white friend and tell them like, this is how we feel, or this isn’t right, or this is why we should think this isn’t right, and they understand why, and then they go back to their families and try to change their families’ views and opinions, then we’re doing something. That’s one family changed, and that family changed, and another family can change. So no matter how many people you’re talking to or getting to understand why things are the way they are, or why we want things to change, as long as you’re trying to change one person. Like, that’s all that matters.

PERSLEY: Well, you’ve definitely touched me, and I will use my platform to help as well, even if it is small right now.

RUFFIN-PRATT: Thank you, I appreciate that. And it will grow. It will be getting bigger and bigger, I’m sure it will.

PERSLEY: Thank you. My last question is, what do want people to know about you, TRP, that they might not know?

RUFFIN-PRATT: Well, I’m pretty low-key, I like to do my thing real behind-the-scenes. Like, I’m not a big out-in-the-open type of person. Like I said, I’ve been doing this social justice stuff for a while now. This isn’t, like, the beginning for me, it’s just — I just felt that it was time for me to speak out because these things that are happening has hit me personally, so a lot of people are speaking out, just off the strength of, they’re Black or they want to see change. But me personally, I’ve already experienced this, so I know what it feels like to go through. And a lot of people only see the beginning. And I said, I was telling a lot of people on the Council, so when I do my interviews, it doesn’t just stop when people stop talking about it. Like, the families still have to go through things. But after that, like, fighting for the cops or the person who killed their loved one to be arrested, that’s one thing. But then you have to go through trial, and you have to go through sentencing, then you have to go through this and that. But at the end of the day, it’ll never bring your loved one back, so I just want people to know that this is a fight that’s not gonna stop right here with me. It’s something I’ve been fighting for over seven years now, and I’ll continue to fight so we make some changes in this world and in this country. Because this is my life, like it’s not, I’m not doing this for fun. I’m not doing this for fame. I’m not doing this for publicity. Like, I’ve lived through this, my family has lived through this. So like I said, if I can touch one person and change one person’s life, then I’m doing my job. I know I’ve lived my life right. It’s bigger than basketball for me. So as long as people see me as more than a basketball player, more than an athlete, then I’ve lived my life the right way.

PERSLEY: Thank you so much for all you’ve done. And just to touch on what you said, I’ve heard so many WNBA players say this is more than a hashtag, this is more than one protest, and I believe that, and I can tell you do as well. Thank you so much for being on my show. I really enjoyed talking to you and getting your perspective, and getting your perspective specifically on social justice and activism.

RUFFIN-PRATT: Thank you so much for having me, Pepper.

PERSLEY: Thank you again, and thank you all for listening.

Written by Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.

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