October 7, 2020 

She Got Next, Episode 9: Pepper Persley talks to Gabby Williams

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PALMETTO, FL- SEPTEMBER 11: Gabby Williams #15 of the Chicago Sky handles the ball against the Dallas Wings on September 11, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida.


PEPPER PERSLEY: Hello everyone, and welcome to this episode of “She Got Next” with me, Pepper Persley. On this episode, there is an important and powerful conversation with Gabby Williams of the Chicago Sky. Hope you learn from this interview.

PERSLEY: Talk about what happened on Wednesday, August 26. I really want to talk with you about your experience. So what was it like for you to be able to be a part of a league of players that are standing together, linking arms as a united force to be reckoned with?

GABBY WILLIAMS: You know, it’s all one. It’s all intersecting. And that was a stance I think we took on that day. Like you said, August 26. And it was great that we all did it together — 144, every single player was connected, and we all had each other’s back. And that’s the only way we can progress is if we’re together as a unit.

PERSLEY: I always say that. I mean, my favorite part about what you’re doing is the unity. Because I mean, I wouldn’t want to see and be inspired any other way. I know that this season is dedicated to Say Her Name, and we all know Breonna Taylor and Sandra Bland. But is there a person or people that we don’t know that we need to know about?

WILLIAMS: Oh, yeah, I mean, there’s so many, especially regarding mental health victims. Here, I have some good names for you that we can talk about. So lot of these women, such as Michelle Cusseaux, who we also mentioned in our Say Her Name campaign, you know, they’re responded to with violence and brutality, when really they just need a specialist. They need someone who’s trained to be there. But instead, we’re sending police because that’s mostly all the town has funded. We’re sending them to basically situations that they aren’t trained to handle. And as a result, we see Black women lose their lives.

PERSLEY: I know you mentioned a website at the beginning, but you cut out so I was hoping you could repeat it.

WILLIAMS: Yeah, well, I mentioned Michelle Cusseaux. And you can learn a lot more about her if you go to aapf.org. And this is where the Say Her Name campaign is — it’s its main website. So I think there’s a lot of names you can learn about there. And all the women’s stories are there as well. And you can learn how people can get involved in this campaign.

PERSLEY: It’s terrible that there has to be a website of names. I mean, you said, “I’ve always been a very passionate and outspoken person. I think it’s important to use my platform to bring attention to things. That’s just a part of my personality. I’m just a very passionate person, I question everything.” What brought you to be so passionate about social activism?

WILLIAMS: I think it was once I learned and once I educated myself truly about, you know, basically that the education that I was getting in school wasn’t always correct. In school, we learn, basically, slavery ended in 1865. And we had more — after Martin Luther King, there was no more racism. And it’s just now it’s like, this doesn’t add up, because I’m facing racism today. And everyone’s — all my teachers and these textbooks are telling me that racism is dead. And so when you start doing your own research, you get a different lens. So you see the world — and I think that’s why the world is changing so much now, because now everyone’s starting to see this lens, and they’re starting to realize it from everything, from not only the, you know, our Constitution, or certain laws we have were what the police actually stand for, and all these things. We’re also learning little things like, micro-racisms, the color of a Band-Aid, you know, things like that, we’re starting to learn how the world wasn’t really made for Black people. And that’s what made me so passionate was, you know, once you’re educated, you just see the world differently.

PERSLEY: Yeah, and because of COVID, with all the social media that people are using more often now, you really do see it. And I remember going to school one day and something happened and my finger was bleeding or whatever it was, and I went to the nurse’s office and there were band aids in different colors. And it was just, like, the little things, and when I went to get my materials kit, a couple days ago, actually, for school, there — the skin color crayons are in there. And it’s just like the little things that make all the difference.

WILLIAMS: It is, it makes you feel included.

PERSLEY: Yeah. In your recent The Undefeated video, you said, “I think we’re reaching a point where on top of the physical exhaustion, the mental, emotional and spiritual exhaustion is hitting us as well. And we’re just drained.” So how are you dealing with all these different types of exhaustion this season?

WILLIAMS: I’ve learned — and I’ve had to learn this the hard way — you can’t take care of others until you can take care of yourself. And I think a lot of us in this league and outside of the league have been putting so much fight and so much effort into fighting this, and standing up for what we believe in. But it’s difficult, you know, and it’s traumatizing to see people who look like you, constantly being harassed, killed, you know, all these things. And, you know, it drains you, and you don’t have the energy that you had before to help others. So I had to learn to take time for myself and to take care of my own mental health, physical health. And that way, it actually makes me — when I take this time to myself, it actually makes me better. And when I do take the time to help others, I’m 100%, versus me only being partway in it. And I think that’s a lesson all of us in the league have had to kind of learn the hard way, that we need to check on ourselves, and that will give us more energy and allow us to be even more productive in this fight for others.

PERSLEY: It actually does make a lot of sense, ’cause — just for an analogy, like, if you’re — I want to say, like, if your iPad is at 10%, and you keep using it, it’s going to get drained. But if you’re 100%, you can use it for longer, like, kind of like that. Right?

WILLIAMS: That’s a good analogy. [PERSLEY: Thank you.] That’s a good analogy. Or, you know, once you eat your breakfast in the morning, then you can cook for everybody else. But you gotta eat your breakfast first, you know, you gotta make sure you’re fueled, and you can help others more.

PERSLEY: You also said that it’s a reminder that Black people are asked to be perfect in order to have a chance to live. What do you mean by that?

WILLIAMS: So I mentioned that we’re standing up, we’re asked to stand kind of in what we call a crooked room. Right? So what that means is, we’re asked to, you know [inaudible], and it’s just a reminder that Black people are held at a higher standard, because there’s an eye on us more, where we’re more policed in our neighborhoods. And we just face a certain discrimination, that — it doesn’t give us as much wiggle room as it does for someone who’s not a person of color. And so we have to be very, very careful in the way we move. And even at that we are still, you know, being followed around in stores when you walk in, we’re still getting randomly pulled over, all of these things, we’re still getting harassed. And that’s what I meant by, you know, we have to be, we’re asked to be perfect, but no human is perfect.

PERSLEY: And Black people are human.

WILLIAMS: Black people are human. That’s the part a lot of people don’t tend to agree with.

PERSLEY: Yeah, gosh. So just to circle back around to what the WNBA is doing, and specifically your team, can you tell me about Sky Takes Action?

WILLIAMS: Of course. So what we did is, we found five organizations that were Black minority-led, grassroots and organizations that we believed are doing the work that we wish we could do if we were there. But you know, obviously, we’re in this bubble. And so it was our way to dedicate this entire season to helping others. And so we picked five organizations, and for every point we score, we’re donating $10. So tomorrow will be our last game, and we’ll be announcing the grand total of what we’ll be donating as a team.

PERSLEY: I can’t wait to hear the grand total. And it’s really amazing that that’s what you’re doing. And so if you don’t mind, what are the five organizations you chose to donate to? So some of our viewers and listeners can donate as well?

WILLIAMS: For sure, so we have By The Hand, which is an organization that [Diamond] DeShields actually worked with, and what they do, it’s kind of an after-school program and just helping kids, taking them by the hand from the time they’re in kindergarten or whatever age they are up to just getting them ready for the next part of their life, whether it be, you know, in education, athletics or just teaching them what they’re going to need in the real world. We also have Movement for Black Lives, which focuses on policy change. So, you know, that’s more in the municipalities and in the government and saying what kind of laws need to be changed, what kind of things need to be introduced to our local officials. We have Firehouse Community, which works with — it uses the arts as a way to rehabilitate gang members and tries to put an end to violence and inner-city violence going on in the south side of Chicago. We have BYP100, which focuses on violence against women of color, queer women of color, trans women of color, femmes. So sometimes these groups that are forgotten even within our own own community, even within the Black community, so we’re trying to shed a light onto that.

PERSLEY: Wow. So I encourage everybody listening and everybody viewing to donate to all of those organizations. I hope that I can make sure that my family does as well. So another question about Sky Takes Action, what do you hope will be the outcome of this initiative?

WILLIAMS: I hope it just educates people on how they can get involved in the community, whether it be donating money, whether it be donating your time, or just listening and learning, because we have to change the way that we live, we have to change our daily habits in order for us to cause change. Because if we do nothing, then we’ll go backwards. And we’ve seen that happen. We see things that I think my grandparents didn’t expect me to be dealing with. So it’s all about what we do daily, and how we change our lens, how we change the way we view ourselves and the world. So I think that’s the ultimate, ultimate goal.

PERSLEY: Changing everybody’s minds. Everybody’s. I know I recently asked you about the WNBA’s effect on young fans. And you spoke about the importance of representation of strong Black women, so Black girls like me can see themselves, and you inspire so many Black girls, including me. And I even have a picture of you up on my wall from your time at UConn. Who inspires you, Gabby Williams?

WILLIAMS: I’m inspired every day by the women in this league. I think we’re all existing in a space that wasn’t meant for us, you know? The world of professional sports was not created with women in mind. Yet, we’re here. And we’re thriving. And we’re taking advantage of it. And the fact that just being here, we’re going to be facing a lot of inequality and a lot of discrimination, just the fact that we are women basketball players. And on top of that, we are Black, and we are women. And a lot of members are part of the LGBTQ community, so there’s discrimination in that. So just us being here is a fight. And I’m inspired by that. I’m inspired by the fact that we’re able to push the boundaries and push the limits every single day. And we do it for girls like you, you know? I see so much of myself in you when I was your age. And that keeps us going is when we see girls looking up to us and wanting to do the same thing. And that’s really the motivation and the inspiration behind it all, is just to make the world better for our daughters.

PERSLEY: It’s working, whatever you’re doing, it’s working, and it’s inspiring me and so many others, I know that. Now let’s talk a little bit about basketball. How did you get started with basketball and what led you to UConn?

WILLIAMS: I started because my older sister, mainly, we came from a bit of a basketball family, everybody. My mom didn’t play basketball, but my sister did, and she played at the University of Nevada. She’s seven years older than me, so I was a lot younger. So everything she did, I thought was just so cool, and I’m sure I was so annoying, but I wanted to be just like Kayla Williams. So that’s what kept the ball in my hands.

PERSLEY: Wow. So many feelings. So many professional basketball players have siblings that have inspired them, which is pretty awesome. Um, how has your game evolved since your days at UConn?

WILLIAMS: I think I’ve — at UConn, I was very much an interior player, very much a post, which is crazy now because I almost like, I’m just a guard now. So I had to move out to the wing a bit more. And even when I do play the four, I still play it a lot like a guard. So I think my game is completely changed since I’ve been at UConn.

PERSLEY: Not many have played with one of the best point guards ever. So what has your experience been like playing with Courtney Vandersloot?

WILLIAMS: She’s the best point guard in the world, hands down. I think her court vision, her basketball IQ, [inaudible]. On the next play, I cut, I get this layup. “Okay, Gabby. You’re going to set the screen and then you’re going to be here, this person is going to get open.” She’s just so smart. But she also obviously is so skilled, she’s able to handle the ball well, handle pressure, and stay poised and make these amazing decisions and on top of her craftiness, I mean, she just has everything in her package to be the best point guard ever.

PERSLEY: I know you always see her in the huddle talking to the team when you’re watching games. The Sky’s ball movement is, without doubt, some of the best in the league. So how do you fit in, and what’s your role within that ball movement?

WILLIAMS: It’s still very similar about my game to how it was at UConn, is I’ve always been a facilitator. And having a great point guard really helps that. But we also have a lot of good vets, you know, with Allie [Quigley], and Stef [Dolson]’s got a really good basketball IQ, Kah [Copper]’s an amazing playmaker. So is Diamond [DeShields], you know? So we just have a lot of good playmakers and smart players, I think.

PERSLEY: I can definitely see that on the court. Um, you’ve always been known for your defense. So what do you enjoy most about playing D?

WILLIAMS: I think it’s cool that it’s a challenge for me, because I feel like I’m guarding a different position every game, so I could be on the point guard or I can be on on their scorer, I can be on their shooter, I can be on their post. So I just look at every game as a new challenge. And I’m going to be a disadvantage, but I’m also going to have an advantage against someone and that’s what’s kind of my game. So every game is a new challenge.

PERSLEY: Yep, you can guard one through five, which is pretty impressive. Players often talk about the moment when they realize it was no longer college. So what was your “welcome to the WNBA” moment?

WILLIAMS: I think it was when we played Minnesota for I think the second time of my rookie year. And the first time I think we did okay, against the whole, you know, keeping Maya in check a little bit. But the next game I mean, Maya just went off and she was my defensive responsibility. [laughs] And I think it was the first time really in my career that a player just — I just could not stop her in any way. I couldn’t stop her in the post, I couldn’t stop her on the wing. And I was like, this has never happened to me before. I usually figure it out by now. But Maya’s about to have 30 on me. You know, it’s no one’s fault but mine. So that was my “welcome to the WNBA” moment, that as good as I thought my defense was, it wasn’t.

PERSLEY: Wow, a “welcome to the WNBA” moment from Maya Moore.


PERSLEY: What an experience. What is your favorite wubble activity, of course, other than basketball?

WILLIAMS: I was thinking the other day, it’s the first time I’ve been able to longboard since I was like, probably in high school. Because, you know, in Connecticut, it was too cold and too many hills. So I’m really gonna miss just, like, riding my longboard to practice, and the nice weather, and through the trees with my music on, it’s like, such a moment of peace for me, that I’m really gonna — I’m really gonna miss skateboarding around.

PERSLEY: Riding the skateboard. Wow. That seems like a really fun activity, especially with the weather in Florida. Yes. And my last question, what’s the best piece of advice you would give to a young girl who wants to play in the WNBA?

WILLIAMS: I would say you have to love it. And the more you love it, the more you love everything about it. And the more you’re thankful for every time, every moment you spend on the basketball court with your teammates, that will get you to the next level. Because the players who are able to come to practice with a positive attitude or are ready to stay after and get extra shots or go lift or whatever it is, those are the players that make it. But if, you know, if you’re not enjoying it, you’re not going to want to stay with it, you’re just not going to have the motivation. So basketball is a really, really special sport and it’s a really special experience. And I think about it a lot, just how lucky I am to be a part of this league. And I have to take a lot of moments of reflection during the tough times and just remember what made me want to do it. So if you’re — and even if it’s not basketball, you know, just find something that you’re really passionate about and just stick with it. Because the thing that you love the most is what you’re going to be most successful at.

PERSLEY: Find the love, find the love. I love that so, so much. Well, those are all 15 of my questions. Thank you so much for the support for the words and for being on my show.

PERSLEY: Big thank you to Gabby Williams and the Chicago Sky for making that powerful conversation happen. I really enjoyed talking with her. As always, you can find me on Instagram at @dishwithpepper, and please subscribe to The Next to continue to hear powerful conversations like this one, and tune into next week’s episode. Thank you all for tuning in.

Written by Pepper Persley

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