August 5, 2020
Debut podcast: She Got Next, with Pepper Persley, talks to Chicago Sky’s Diamond DeShields
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Welcome to The Next: A basketball newsroom brought to you by The IX. 24/7/365 women’s basketball coverage, written, edited and photographed by our young, diverse staff, dedicated to breaking news, analysis, historical deep dives and projections about the game we love.
Subscribe to make sure this vital work, creating a pipeline of young, diverse media professionals to write, edit and photograph the great game, continues and grows. Subscriptions include some exclusive content, but the reason for subscriptions is a simple one: making sure our writers and editors creating 24/7/365 women’s basketball coverage get paid to do it.
PALMETTO, FL- JULY 28: Diamond DeShields #1 of the Chicago Sky shoots the ball against the Los Angeles Sparks on July 28, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida.
Here at The Next, we are dedicated to promoting the work of young journalists, making sure you get all the best perspectives from a diverse group of committed observers of women’s basketball.
That’s why we’re proud to present our first foray into podcasting, with Pepper Persley, who will be presenting a weekly show on all things women’s basketball and social justice.
Pepper is nine years old, but she has already impressed a wide swath of the women’s basketball world, journalists and newsmakers alike, with her preparation and dedication to the craft.
In this debut episode, Pepper talks to Diamond DeShields of the Chicago Sky about her on-court growth and the Black Lives Matter movement. Pepper also responds to A’ja Wilson’s letter to young Black girls in The Players’ Tribune, and reviews Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s latest book.
We’re honored to have Pepper join our dynamic staff breaking new ground in 24/7 coverage of women’s basketball.
PEPPER PERSLEY: Hi everyone. Thanks for tuning in to the first episode of “She Got Next” with Pepper Persley. I’m Pepper Persley, and I’m a nine-year-old journalist who focuses mainly on the WNBA. I’m very excited to be a part of The Next and I hope you’ll enjoy this podcast. This episode will feature my special interview with Diamond DeShields. But before that, I’ll give a book recommendation, talk about A’ja Wilson’s inspiring letter to Black girls and more.
PERSLEY: My book recommendation is Becoming Kareem: Growing Up On and Off the Court. It’s a great book with an inspiring message and it’s written by a basketball legend. Here are my three takeaways. Number one, as a teenager, he experienced things that are still happening right now in our country, like rioting, protests and injustice, which is very upsetting. Number two, even with strict parents and a so-called “locked-up childhood,” he still found a way to be very positive. And number three, he highlights the importance of not only having good basketball coaches, but having great life coaches. And here’s a paragraph that really spoke to me:
PERSLEY [reading]: “Tilting the glossy photo in a harsh classroom light didn’t change anything. I was Black, and my classmates weren’t. I knew two other kids in my school, but not in my classroom who were also Black. But I hadn’t seen myself as the same as them, yet not different from them either. I just hadn’t realized how different we looked from the other kids. I didn’t bring up this startling discovery with my parents. They never mentioned it. No one at school had mentioned it either. Maybe no one else noticed. Or maybe it was supposed to be secret. Maybe I had a secret identity, like Superman. Maybe my superpower just hadn’t kicked in yet.”
PERSLEY: Definitely go check out that book. Now, I’d like to share something else with you. A’ja Wilson wrote a letter for The Players’ Tribune called “Dear Black Girls.” The letter really spoke to me as a young Black girl. This is my response to that letter:
PERSLEY: Dear A’ja, Thank you. It means so much that you shared your story in your “Dear Black Girls” letter. Even just the first four sentences, I knew you understood. I knew you cared. I knew I wasn’t alone. In this time, it was truly what I needed. I experienced microaggressions in my last couple of years at school. Now, what you went through as a kid isn’t necessarily on the same level of what happened to me, but second grade was really the first year I stood up to these microaggressions. We were studying Dutch that year when Dutch Day came around. Dutch Day is basically a day celebrating the Dutch. I didn’t feel comfortable celebrating the Dutch because of their connection to slavery. So I represented my Native American heritage. That same year, when our class was drawing self portraits for the school tea towel, I noticed that they weren’t in color. I was upset because my color is a very big part of me. So I decided to tell my teacher I wanted my portrait to be in color. She understood, but it didn’t happen that year. This school year, when the class was drawing self portraits, I was able to color my portrait with my skin color. I was so proud. That same year, I shared some of my ideas with my school. I shared some of my ideas about what my school could do to acknowledge the Black people who lost their lives to police brutality, and the Black Lives Matter movement. One of my ideas was 30 seconds of silence to acknowledge those live. During 30 seconds, instead of acknowledging the Black people who lost their lives, there were pictures of two white people. Why would my teacher do that? I was mad, no kidding. The microaggressions and racism that Black people face is horrible. Thank you for this letter. And thank you for not backing down. I’m here, too. I see you, too. I got you, too. I will keep on fighting. With love and justice, Pepper Persley.
PERSLEY: And now here’s my interview with Chicago Sky All-Star Diamond DeShields.
PERSLEY: Hey, how are you doing?
DIAMOND DESHIELDS: Hi. What’s up?
PERSLEY: Not much. How are you?
DESHIELDS: I’m good. How are you?
PERSLEY: I’m good. Thank you. My name is Pepper Persley, I’m a nine-year-old journalist, and I really started interviewing during quarantine. And you were actually on the list of people that I really wanted to interview. I really enjoy watching you play and I’m very excited to interview you today. And thank you so much for doing this.
DESHIELDS: Thank you. Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
PERSLEY: Are you ready to get into the interview?
DESHIELDS: Yeah, for sure. Let’s do it.
PERSLEY: Awesome. Was it competitive in your house growing up and what’s it like growing up with professional athletes around you?
DESHIELDS: Oh, it wasn’t as competitive as people think it was. But it was really cool growing up with professional athletes because, you know, we were just able to motivate each other and support each other through some of the things that athletes experience over the course of their lives and careers. You know, it’s like, having a bad game, we were able to come home to a house full of athletes that kind of understood how that felt.
PERSLEY: Well, growing up, which players influenced your bold and creative style of play?
DESHIELDS: I think I was — I don’t know, I think I was just motivated, I was pretty self-motivated as a kid growing up., just wanting to prove that I could play with my brother and his friends and so that required me to have a certain level of competitiveness and a certain skillset. And I think I just wanted to prove it to myself more than anything.
PERSLEY: Thank you. I know you’ve been battling a knee injury. How are you feeling? And I wanted to know, is it a challenge recovering when you have games almost every other day?
DESHIELDS: Yeah. It’s definitely been a challenge. But it’s been a good challenge because you know that if you can overcome it, then you put yourself in a pretty good position both mentally and physically. I just, I love obstacles because they tell me a lot about myself and being able to overcome those obstacles is very, very rewarding. So I’ve just been trying to stay disciplined in my approach, and trying to make sure that I’m taking as best care of my body as I can.
PERSLEY: Can you talk to us about playing with a backcourt like Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley?
DESHIELDS: Yeah, I mean, they’re great. They’re definitely probably one of the best, arguably one of the best backcourts in the league right now. And hands down, I believe Sloot is the best point guard in the world. So to be able to play with those two legends, having legendary careers and being able to do the things that they do on the floor, is something that I have really, really taken to as a young player, and it’s really inspired me and it keeps me motivated.
PERSLEY: A lot of people believe that the Sky are a championship contender. What have you and your team been doing to live up to those expectations?
DESHIELDS: Well, we just try to treat every day the same. We try to stay pretty levelheaded in our approach. We know that things like that get said when you are off to a good start or you, you know, have some buzz around your team, but we just — we’re a very tight-knit group. And so we just keep everything very close to the organization and we just keep our approach the same, we don’t get too high or too low.
PERSLEY: Walk us through a day in the life in the wubble, and what have your experiences been?
DESHIELDS: Pretty simple. I mean, wake up, go to breakfast, I go to breakfast with my teammate Azurá every morning. And then we go to practice, and then we come home and everybody usually chills at our villa. So we just will watch Netflix or some games and just try to get off our feet as much as possible. But like I said, my team is very tight and very close. So we just spend the day together whether it’s an off day or a game day.
PERSLEY: Last year, you were an All-Star. What does it mean to you to be a WNBA All-Star?
DESHIELDS: It was really, I mean, it was cool to be an All-Star for my first year doing that. It was rewarding. I feel like I worked really hard to get to that point. And it was just nice to be recognized in that space.
PERSLEY: Awesome. Two weekends ago, the league played for Breonna Taylor, and this past weekend, you played for Sandra Bland. Why is it important for the league to say her name and take these actions?
DESHIELDS: It’s really important because Black women are often left out of the conversation when it comes to, you know, police brutality and all the murders that take place underneath that umbrella. So I think it’s very important for us to continue to shed light on the Black female lives that have been lost to police brutality, and as Black women, understand that that could very well be us. Just trying to continue to push that narrative forward and be vocal.
PERSLEY: Just to add on, our country is struggling with issues like racism and police brutality. What does Black Lives Matter really mean to you?
DESHIELDS: Black Lives Matter is the minimum. It means that Black lives are to be cared for, are to be protected, are to be fought for. And although this country is built on systemic racism, it’s a long, long journey that we have to take to get to that point where everybody feels that way. But Black Lives Matter is the minimum. Black lives are beautiful. Black lives are excellent. Black lives deserve to be protected.
PERSLEY: Thank you. What do you hope children or young fans will learn and take away from the WNBA’s activism this season?
DESHIELDS: You said what can the fans take away?
PERSLEY: Children and young fans.
DESHIELDS: Oh, I just hope the young fans continue to be vocal, man. I think that the youth is gonna be the one that spur this change that we want to see in the world, and so I hope that all the young fans can continue to be vocal and stand up for what they believe in.
PERSLEY: Thank you again. And what do you want people to know about Diamond DeShields that they might not already know?
DESHIELDS: I’m not sure. You know, I do want people to continue to watch the Chicago Sky and watch what we have going on. I think we have a really special team.
PERSLEY: Thanks again Diamond, it’s so great to have a chance to talk with you. And good luck to you and the Sky the rest of the season.
DESHIELDS: Thank you. Thank you so much.
PERSLEY: Yes, thank you.
PERSLEY: The activism in the league on and off the court is so inspiring and important. I want to restate what Diamond so clearly said: Black Lives Matter is the minimum. I hope you enjoyed this episode of “She Got Next” with me, Pepper Persley. And you can find me on Instagram at @dishwithpepper.