Tamika Catchings was a four-time All-American for the University of Tennessee women’s basketball team. A six-time WNBA All-Star and four-time Defensive Player of the Year for the Indiana Fever, Catchings is also a two-time U.S. Olympic gold medalist.
Catchings spent Wednesday visiting ESPN through the traditional Car Wash, and engaged with employees on the opportunities that have been afforded to her and past generations because of Title IX, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this June.
Catchings is on the advisory panel of espnW, ESPN’s first dedicated content and digital business initiative designed to connect young women with the sports they love and follow.
FR: You have been with the Indiana Fever your entire career, which is unique for professional athletes. What does it mean to be a part of that community and to have that support?
TC: I think for me it has been a great 11 years. It is amazing to see the growth of our fan base, and the diversity of it. It is about the support — through my foundation and all the things I am able to do on that platform. It has been a great ride, a great journey.
It has gone fast. Even when people ask me how many years have you been in the league — I have to think about it — it has been over 10 years playing. God – I am old!
FR: What has Title IX meant to not only you, but also your teammates at different levels through the years?
TC: Opportunity — that is what it means for all of us. For the younger ones that are a little bit removed from the beginning, they kind of had a little bit more afforded to them with the WNBA already being established and had something to look forward to. The WNBA didn’t start until my freshman year of college. When I look back at me as a kid, I was in third grade when I started playing basketball, my sister and I were on an all-boys team and our dad was our coach. And you look at it — would we have had that opportunity if it weren’t for Title IX, the scholarships and to play in the WNBA? The people that paved that path for us to be where we are at, and to have these opportunities.
FR: Who do you see as someone that paved that path?
TC: Ann Meyers, Nancy Lieberman-Klein, Teresa Weatherspoon, Lisa Leslie and Dawn Staley… There are so many of them have done so much!
FR: You’ve been involved with espnW from its inception, what attracted you to working with this new business?
TC: It represents something that is strictly for women. When you think about ESPN, really up until a few years back when women really started getting publicity — for the WNBA and for all women’s sports — golf, softball, tennis, volleyball. There are so many leagues ESPN can cover, so it is an opportunity to be a part of something special.
FR: ESPN has been partnered with the WNBA since its inception and the coverage continues to grow each year. Do you find yourself watching other teams compete when you are not playing? Has this exposure help grow the game?
TC: I find myself watching the highlights. I think my first real encounters with ESPN were with [current ESPN analyst] Kara Lawson in college. I remember coming in to our room, as she was my roommate, and every time she was watching ESPN. I would ask her if she watched anything else, and if this was all we had to watch. Every time she started coming into the room, we would sing Da-Nuh-Nuh, Da-Nuh-Nuh.
I think about where we are at with the WNBA and the exposure ESPN has allowed us. The growth — when we started there weren’t very many games on that you could watch, and now in the summertime, pretty much anytime there is a game being played, you can see it. It has afforded us more fans, different people that we wouldn’t have reached before and bringing more fans to the games.