New sea­son has WNBA deal­ing with ugly pub­lic­ity

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY CLIN­TON YATES clin­ton.yates@wash­ Ex­cerpted from wash­ing­ton­ sports

On an over­cast Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon in the Acela Club, the Wash­ing­ton Mys­tics are bag­ging up snacks for char­ity. On the ta­ble are candy bars, fruit cups and juice boxes. Kara Law­son leads the pack to the as­sem­bly line, rocking a dope pair of Nike Air Maxes. Their goal for the day is 805 meals. “I mean, can we get some mu­sic?” some­one says. “Y’all got that new Boosie?” Ivory Latta jokes. Emma Meesse­man asks Ste­fanie Dol­son to sing the group a song.

It was just an­other WNBA Cares event at Ver­i­zon Cen­ter, but go­ing into this sea­son the en­tire league and this team are in a dif­fer­ent po­si­tion. Hav­ing made the play­offs the past two years af­ter a five-win cam­paign in 2012, they’ve got as good a shot as any team in the Eastern Con­fer­ence.

Yet for per­haps first time, con­tro­ver­sies are the big­gest story lines of the WNBA as the sea­son gets un­der­way. In April, Brit­tney Griner, one of the league’s big­gest stars, was ar­rested along with her wife, Glory John­son, an­other player in the league, in a do­mes­tic vi­o­lence in­ci­dent. John­son then an­nounced she was preg­nant, af­ter which Griner said she was try­ing to get the mar­riage an­nulled.

The New York Lib­erty made the quizzi­cal de­ci­sion to bring in Isiah Thomas as pres­i­dent and part owner. If you for­got, the NBA Hall of Famer was em­broiled in a law­suit when he was pres­i­dent of the New York Knicks that re­sulted in a 2007 ver­dict find­ing Thomas and Madi­son Square Gar­den li­able for sex­ual ha­rass­ment.

All of this leads to the ques­tion: Is any pub­lic­ity good pub­lic­ity for the WNBA?

“In the WNBA, I think we deal with real is­sues. Just like the other sports leagues do,” Law­son said Wed­nes­day. “I don’t know if that sur­prises peo­ple or what­ever, but if you want to be cov­ered like a real sports league, then your is­sues are go­ing to be out there.

“Ob­vi­ously I don’t think ei­ther of the cases are the best thing, but I think it’s ac­tu­ally a pos­i­tive in the sense that we’re be­ing cov­ered for all of our flaws, too. Which is what you should be as a league and as a player.”

For the Mys­tics, specif­i­cally, there’s an ar­gu­ment that any­thing that helps get peo­ple in the build­ing is a plus.

In a town that loves its bas­ket­ball in all re­spects, the Mys­tics are still fight­ing for rel­e­vancy.

Latta just hopes peo­ple can see past the neg­a­tive head­lines. “We got some hoop­ers out there. It’s a great league. We do need re­ally good cov­er­age. . . . I just feel like we work as hard as any other ath­letes on the floor, day and day out.”

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