For The Love Of The Game: When Basketball Is So Much More Than Just Basketball

Minnesota Lynx's Carley Knox.
Carley Knox. Photo by Mike Hnida.

Entering her 15th season with the Minnesota Lynx, and her 20th season in the WNBA, Carley Knox knows just about everything there is to know about basketball. Her role with the Minnesota Lynx is an extremely prestigious and powerful one: Knox is the Lynx President of Business Operations. This means, in her day-to-day job, she oversees all business operations of the Lynx, including ticket sales and service, logistics, business development with the Lynx President’s Circle and corporate partnerships, budget management, diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, season scheduling, and she is the primary liaison between the team and the WNBA on league-wide business, COO, and marketing initiatives.

Possibly the most impressive part of Knox’s work and legacy is her creation of the Minnesota Lynx President’s Circle. The President’s Circle is one of the most exclusive and innovative programs in all of professional sports, and it’s the first of its kind. Along with unparalleled access to the Lynx, this elite club offers passionate fans the unique opportunity to give back to their community. The President’s Circle has reached more than 65 non-profit organizations and helped support more than 5,000 underserved youth—because to Knox, that’s what it’s all about: giving back and creating a better world.

Knox whole-heartedly believes in the Lynx’s mission of using sport as a vehicle to fight for all marginalized groups and to change the world for the better. To her, basketball isn’t just basketball—it’s the way to make a world a better place. Knox says, “the Lynx have always been leading the way in these [social] movements, in these activisms, and I’m just really, really proud of what we’ve built here. Yes, winning 4 championships in 7 years has been phenomenal, but I’m actually more proud of our off-the-court social justice work and our activism.”

And the Minnesota Lynx have a long history of activism and a dedication to social justice indeed. They’ve always used their platform for good, from active involvement supporting marriage equality (and being there the day it was signed into law), to being the first team to stand united against police brutality, to being the first sports team to wear ‘Black Lives Matter’ warmup shirts… the Lynx don’t shy away from tough conversations. After all, that’s what pushes our society forwards, into a more just and equitable place to live. Knox says that sports are “a microcosm of society, and so I think in the WNBA, something that we’ve always talked about, is showing the world what’s possible. And when you come to our games, you see how beautiful and diverse it is, and how many different groups of people come together, and again, everyone is aligned and part of this bigger movement.”

The WNBA as we know it today is an extremely open organization; it supports a beautifully diverse group of people. But unfortunately, that wasn’t always the case. Knox knows personally how difficult it was to exist as an out lesbian—or really any marginalized group—in the public eye. She says, “I was a college athlete myself, and a college coach. I saw firsthand and experienced firsthand homophobia, you know, [and] saw firsthand racism, sexism, etc, etc that was rampant in athletics, and women’s athletics as well, that really held women’s athletics back. And so I think it’s really important for us to acknowledge that it’s not just about wins and losses, but it is about this larger movement that we’re all a part of. Everybody is aligned: from our coaches to our players to our staff in terms of these same values.”

Knox’s dedication to her dreams, and her unrelenting dedication to social justice and change helped shape the WNBA as it is now. She continues, “I was the first out LGBTQ+ athlete at Ohio University… I think that I’ve been paving the way all throughout my career. I feel like I was true to myself in my path… I think what I went through early on in my career was definitely an impetus for the work that I’m doing today.” Her identity as a lesbian and a member of the LGBTQ+ community, she says, “definitely informs my passion for speaking up when I do see any sort of injustices… and this larger cause of when I come to work every day, I feel like I’m helping to change the world, and [I’m] leaving the world better than I found it. I’m very passionate. Not just personally, but passionate about the intersectionality of what we’re doing here, and that it’s so meaningful for all of us to stand together and bring about change together.”

The whole country seems to be abuzz with excitement for women’s basketball and the WNBA right now, and this only further helps Knox’s and the Minnesota Lynx’s activism. Knox says, “this movement is palpable,” and she doesn’t think it’s a fleeting thing either. She continues, “The Caitlin Clark effect has been absolutely incredible, but so many people paved the way before Caitlin, that helped get us there, especially so many women of color in the WNBA that have been paving the way for this moment. This has been a movement all along, and so I don’t think this is a shot in the pan… I think this is the next step in the movement that so many have been fighting for.”

Women’s sports being front and center, receiving recognition and airtime, playing at sports bars, and with fans watching… all of this progress is here to stay, and so much of it is due to the hard work of the WNBA and the Minnesota Lynx, and of course, just as Knox says, “those that paved the way for us, especially all the incredible women of color in the WNBA that have paved the way.”

The door has been flung open for female athletes, for athletes of all sexual orientations, and young queer athletes have the most incredible role model to look up to in Carley Knox, undoubtably. Knox says, “I want to live a life that represents how I want to see the world, and how I want the world to be. Hopefully I’m an example for those that are coming behind me. Because I can remember when I was young, coming out to my own family, and they said, ‘oh, you’re never going to get married, you’re never going to be able to have kids,’ and I was just like: watch me.”

Seeing such a powerful, respected and adored member of the LGBTQ+ community is such a beacon of light for so many queer youth. Through all the trials and hardships of her start in the industry, Knox has created a place of peace and love for all in the world of basketball. When asked what she loves about being a lesbian, Carley Knox smiled. She didn’t have to think for more than a moment. “I love women,” she laughed. “I love my wife. I love the family we’ve created. I love our nine-year-old son. I love fighting the fight for all marginalized groups. I love being a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and being politically active and being authentic and being unapologetic… I love all of it, and I think it all intersects in a beautiful way.” What a perfect example that you can be yourself and reach your dreams; you don’t have to pick one or the other.

The Minnesota Lynx will continue to fight for a better, more equitable world, and celebrate the beauty of diversity in all its many forms.

Minnesota Lynx Pride Game vs. Phoenix Mercury
June 22 – 7:00 PM
Target Center, Minneapolis

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