WNBA star Sue Bird shares her wisdom with Duke University students

Sue Bird went back to school Tuesday, to impart some lessons on life, equality, inclusion and activism. Oh, and she also spoke about sports.

The UConn grad visited Duke University for a Q & A with Kyra Lambert — point guard for the Duke women’s basketball team and graduate student at the Fuqua School of Business. Lambert’s teammates and members of Duke’s men’s basketball team were in the audience.

According to the student newspaper, The Duke Chronicle, Bird told Lambert her career was, without hesitation, “a tale of adversity.” As a queer woman athlete, she’s had to cope with sexism and homophobia while recovering from serious sports injuries, from a torn ACL to hip and leg surgeries.

On Sept. 3, the Seattle Storm announced its superstar point guard would miss the remainder of the season as she recovered from knee surgery.

Life isn’t easy, she said, especially for athletes.

“I can kind of look back and even make the argument that it’s what fueled me and motivated me, and I probably did better when I had people doubting me,” Bird told Lambert. “I just live my life.”

The topics Bird was asked about included gender equality and pay equity in sports. The Chronicle reported Bird saw a bright future ahead, and called on teams to take the initiative to hire and empower women. She called on men to be champions for equality.

“I think everything is trending in the right direction,” Bird said. “Across the board, I think people aren’t quiet anymore.”

Like her spouse, Megan Rapinoe, Bird is an outspoken advocate who said there’s no reason student athletes, or athletes in general, should refrain from sharing their political views.

“Look at your teams, they’re usually, like, melting pots of people,” she said. Bird pointed to her decade playing in Russia as having given her exposure to different ideas, and people from different backgrounds, something she said qualifies her to speak out.

When called upon, Bird offered advice for the next generation of female athletes, starting with being true to who you are.

“You need to figure out who you are and be the best you,” Bird said, adding that sports was one of the best ways to figure that out.

“All of the lessons I’ve learned growing up, whether in elementary intramural sports, high school sports, the friends I made, how do I be on a team and be a good teammate,” she said. “All of those things translate through life.”

Bird, 38, said she isn’t ready to retire from the WNBA and looks forward to playing next season, as well as in the 2020 Olympics.

“I’m like 105 in basketball years,” she said. “I’m looking forward to being young again.” One of the things she said that keeps her young is working while healing. Bird is a basketball operations associate for the Denver Nuggets, a job in the NBA she noted has not typically gone to a woman.

“I make sure my voice is heard,” Bird said. Of that we have no doubt.

Editor’s note: this story was updated to reflect that Duke’s Men’s basketball team was also represented at Tuesday night’s event. Good on you, guys!


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