September 2, 2020 

She Got Next, Episode 5: Pepper Persley talks to Tianna Hawkins, Washington Mystics

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LAS VEGAS, NV- SEPTEMBER 24: Tianna Hawkins #21 of the Washington Mystics shoots a free throw against the Las Vegas Aces during Game Four of the 2019 WNBA Semifinals on September 24, 2019 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (NBA Content Network)

On the latest episode of She Got Next with Pepper Persley, Pepper is joined by Washington Mystics forward Tianna Hawkins. The two discuss how personal the Black Lives Matter movement is for Hawkins, what it means to be a parent in 2020 America, along with the Washington season and the WNBA’s efforts as a whole, on and off the court.

Plus, the podcast begins with Pepper’s own take on the events of the last week. Take a listen!


PEPPER PERSLEY: Welcome to this episode of “She Got Next” with me, Pepper Persley. On this episode, there is an inspiring and important interview with Washington Mystics forward Tianna Hawkins. But before that, some words. On August 26, the Washington Mystics boycotted their game against the Atlanta Dream, following in the footsteps of their brothers in the NBA. This was most certainly a powerful message of “enough is enough.” The WNBA always displays unity. And this is definitely no different. On August 27, they again didn’t play, and instead of doing so, they locked arms and stood there together, the entire league, in unity. It is so important that we respect and hear their message. This is a tough time and even if they’re professional athletes, they still deserve time to reflect because they are also human beings.

PERSLEY: And now, my interview with Tianna Hawkins of the Washington Mystics.

PERSLEY: Awesome, thank you so much for being here again, and welcome to “She Got Next,” Tianna. I know this conversation will be a very important one. I feel that I have to talk with you about what happened on Wednesday, August 26. What can you tell us about the Mystics’ decision not to play that night?

TIANNA HAWKINS: Um, the biggest thing — I can say is that, you know, we had our group that came together and agreed on, you know, sitting out and standing up for social justice. I think we wanted to use that opportunity to have our voice be heard, and let everyone know that we are tired. You know, the senseless killings of Black people at the hands of police brutality. And we just wanted our voice to be heard.

PERSLEY: Well, I really hope it was. What was it like for you to be a part of a league that is willing to stand together and link arms united for change?

HAWKINS: I mean, it means a lot, because for one, it affects everyone in this league. Whether you’re a woman, whether you’re African American, or for me personally, I have a five-year-old son, and that could have been — that could be him in the next 10 and 12 years. So of course, I want to demand change because I can’t imagine going through that.

PERSLEY: It’s terrible that’s what Black mothers have to go through. It really is. And as you mentioned, you do have a son. How do you hope the WNBA’s initiatives like supporting the Say Her Name campaign and having Breonna Taylor on their jerseys will influence and inspire him and other young fans?

HAWKINS: Well, I think he’s gonna grow up — he’ll have the opportunity to to grow up and look back and see that he was a part of this campaign even though he’s not, you know, formally a part of it, but he was here. He’s experienced what it was to stand up, he experienced what, you know, the environment of being in a situation where we are demanding change, and I think he’ll grow old to appreciate them once he becomes aware and understand what’s going on.

PERSLEY: Wow. You told me recently that it’s hard to balance everything that’s going on with being a mother and a WNBA player. Now I heard that your son is starting kindergarten with your help. Do you have — [both laugh] — Do you have some secret superpowers and/or like, magician-esque balancing act? Or are you just an amazing mother and professional athlete?

HAWKINS: I would like to say that I am an amazing mother and professional athlete, but I think that’s just, I mean, it’s just something that comes with the job of being a mom. You know, my job that pays me is playing basketball, but my never-ending job is to be a mom and, you know, I’m going to do whatever it takes, whether it’s me being the teacher for six hours or seven hours out of the day, or, you know, just whatever he needs me to be, I’m going to be that. It’s just, I’m exhausted. [Pepper laughs] But that’s because I’m not gonna sit and make any excuses. But it’s been interesting in the past few days. It’s just one of those things where I gotta get used to it because it is a different dynamic. He’s in school now, so instead of trying to find things for him to do in the bubble, it’s moreso me of trying to get him to be focused and to apply himself so he’s learning and listening to instructions.

PERSLEY: Can you just speak on the experience of having your son goes through kindergarten in the wubble? I mean, it’s incredible.

HAWKINS: It’s pretty cool. I’ll still say it’s pretty cool. I have to take my hat off to all teachers, because I’m not a teacher, and I know they have a lot more patience than I do. I catch myself a lot, you know, becoming a little bit impatient because, for one, I’m not used to being or having Emanuel in a like, quote-unquote, “school setting.” So it’s like, on one hand, I gotta take off my mommy hat and put on a teacher hat, and then the other hand is like, “Well, what do I do now?” When he’s asking like, “What do I do now?” And I have to just quickly remind him, you know, listen to your teacher. If you absolutely need help, then you ask me, you know? Because when school starts and you’re actually in physical school, I won’t be there to help, you know, help you do every single thing that your teacher asks you. So it’s just a — it’s all about finding that balance. To where he’s comfortable and confident.

PERSLEY: That balance is so important.


PERSLEY: Changing direction, having some questions about basketball. Which players did you watch or idolize growing up and how have they influenced your game?

HAWKINS: I didn’t really have a favorite player that I idolized or watched. I actually started playing basketball later on, later than the average basketball player. But I did have a favorite — I mean, I guess my one of my favorites that I used to watch when I did start watching basketball was Carmelo Anthony.

PERSLEY: He is really awesome, isn’t he? The Mystics won the WNBA championship last season. What is the best part of winning a WNBA championship?

HAWKINS: I think the best part is being able, well, for one, to say, you know, I’m a part of a championship team and just creating history and being a part of the team that brought DC this very first championship.

PERSLEY: I mean, it must be really awesome. I know this season has been very challenging. What lessons are you learning as a player and as a team that you can use to make the rest of this season and next season successful?

HAWKINS: I think the biggest thing is just trying to find that balance of — how can I put this — I think the biggest lesson that I’ve learned is finding a balance of being able to stay focused and to be able to refocus yourself mentally because, you know, it’s mentally taxing. You know, when you’re in the bubble away from the normal things of life. And on top of that, the social justice stuff, so I think it’s just being able to play through everything and still have some type of — have some type of, like, just, serenity once the day is over and once the games have stopped, and just being able to find the good in all of the bad that you feel like you’re going through.

PERSLEY: Yeah, speaking of trying to find that serenity, what are you doing to, well, find that peace after — with all that’s going on right now with the social justice and playing basketball in the wubble with COVID-19. How are you — what are you doing to find that balance and find that peace?

HAWKINS: Well, I’ve been in close contact with our team sports psychologist, and also I’ve been attending my online chat services and just praying, you know, just for some hope and just being faithful.

PERSLEY: That’s so awesome. Well, not many people have had the ability to play with a WNBA MVP. So what has it been like to play with Elena Delle Donne?

HAWKINS: It’s been amazing. She’s an All-Star on and off the court. It’s never been a day where she hasn’t been the ideal professional. I mean, she’s a great person, she’s a great leader, and she just walks that line of great leadership day in and day out, and she’s just a great person to be around. I know in the offseason, I’ll always enjoy our workouts together because she pushes me to be better. You know, and what other player, I mean, could you ask for in the world?

PERSLEY: Yeah, it’s great to have somebody who’s always there to push you and make you better because that’s the only way you grow.


PERSLEY: What has been your experience, like in the wubble with Emanuel, of course, in kindergarten and aside from school?

HAWKINS: It’s been great. It’s been great, it’s new, it’s definitely been something new and it’s just something that I’ve been learning on the fly. But for the most part, it’s been great. Emanuel has been awesome. He’s loving the attention. He’s loving seeing everybody in the wubble. His favorite pastime is to be at the pool. That makes my job easy. So whenever he starts to get a little restless and a little bored, then I’m like, “Alright, let’s go to the pool,” and he will sit in that water all day. [PERSLEY, laughing: Oh, my god.] I’m like, “Alright, let’s go.”

PERSLEY: [laughs] Oh, in the pool all day. Two more questions for you. What’s the best piece of advice you would give to a young girl who wants to play in the WNBA?

HAWKINS: My best piece of advice would be to always work hard, to stay dedicated, and to hold yourself accountable.

PERSLEY: Hold yourself accountable. Definitely something that my parents get on me for a lot. It’s so important though.

HAWKINS: It’s the key to success! [laughs]

PERSLEY: What do you want people to know about Tianna Hawkins that they might not already know?

HAWKINS: Something they don’t know about me? Oh, well, I can say in addition to being a WNBA player and a mom, I’m also a software engineer with Microsoft.

PERSLEY: Wow! That is amazing. Now, next time I talk to you I have to ask you about balancing that as well. That is amazing and crazy!

HAWKINS: Yeah, I do that part-time. [laughs] A little part-time gig.

PERSLEY: Wow. I mean, I can’t wrap my mind around doing three things like that. That’s really impressive.

HAWKINS: Yeah, it’s a lot.

PERSLEY: Well, those are all my questions, and thank you so much for your time. I really hope the message of the Mystics sitting out that game and the next game on Thursday will get to all our listeners and viewers watching this and listening to this interview. I really think the message was a powerful one. And also, that balance is key — sometimes it’s tough to balance, but it’s really important. [HAWKINS: Yeah.] But yeah, thank you so much for your time. Good luck in the rest of the WNBA season.

HAWKINS: All right, thank you so much, Pepper.

PERSLEY: Thank you to the Washington Mystics and Tianna Hawkins. I really enjoyed talking with her. I hope her message got through to you. It’s a really important one. Again, you can always find me on Instagram at @dishwithpepper. And please subscribe to The Next so you can hear important and inspiring podcasts like this one. Thank you so much for listening, and please tune in to my episode next week.

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