“I’m not just a shut up and dribble athlete,” says Layshia Clarendon in a new adidas campaign. ”I’m not just a person who plays basketball. I’m smart, and intellectual, and all these other things as well.”
A decade ago, Clarendon was California’s girls basketball player of the year as she finished her studies at Cajon High School in San Bernardino, Calif. She went on to become a four-year letterer at UC Berkeley, first-round WNBA draft pick in 2003, WNBA all-star and two-time U.S. gold medalist. And for 2019, as she prepares for another stellar season as point guard for the Connecticut Sun, she’s now one of the faces of the athletic brand.
The campaign is called “She Breaks Barriers,” and in her video, Clarendon talks about labels.
“I want to be the kind of person I wanted to see on TV when I was younger,” says Clarendon. “I wish I could have looked up an interview or YouTube and been like, ‘Wow! There’s a gay black woman who’s gender non-conforming, a Christian!”
In the two-minute video, the WNBA star beams a broad smile as she boasts about her identity and bemoans the fact too few young people have had such a role model. “There hasn’t been representation like that,” she says. “Deal with it, or don’t. This is who I am.”
And who she is, is someone who stands up to be counted, including in the #MeToo movement.
“Sports culture says, we will do anything to keep our reputation and keep our male athletes and coaches winning for us,” Clarendon told sportswriter Lyndsey D’Arcangelo in a May 2018 profile for them. “It’s homophobic and sexist locker room culture that leads to and continues to create environments that say this behavior is okay.”
It was a little more than a year ago, Clarendon filed a civil lawsuit against the University of California–Berkeley, revealing she was sexually assaulted by an athletic department employee. In May 2018, the university substantiated her claim by firing the assistant director for student services, Mohamed Muqtar, a defendant in Clarendon’s lawsuit accused of having sexually assaulted her when she was 18.
In her interview with them, she talked about how rare it is that someone like her would speak up.
“I think there are other gender-nonconforming people in our league, but I am one of the only ones who openly identifies and speaks about it. Still, it’s a hard space to exist in because the binaries are deeply ingrained. For example, I painted my nails one time and people had a lot to say about it — they were used to me just being Layshia who wears boy’s clothes, but now Layshia is wearing nail polish or girl underwear and it blows people’s minds. We are so conditioned to live by those binaries, and as someone who rocks the boat in the middle it can be annoying just not fitting in at times. You live in the tension of those binaries daily.”
Clarendon also speaks openly about being gender non-conforming in the adidas video.
“It’s sometimes really hard and scary and vulnerable to move through this world that’s very binary,” she says. “I think it’s one of the biggest forms of activism and resistance we can do is show up and authentically be ourselves every day.”
When the adidas campaign launched, Clarendon’s hometown paper interviewed her as well, and the white straight cisgender reporter asked her why she felt it’s important for young female athletes to hear messages of positivity, like hers.
While that question absolutely boggles the mind, Clarendon’s answer to the San Bernardino Sun stirs the soul and makes our hearts soar.
“As girls and women, we are told from a young age that there are things we can’t do. Whether it’s math, sports, rock climbing, et cetera. Some of these messages come directly from parents, teachers, boys, men and even women. Other messages come in subliminal form. Only seeing men on TV in sports, only seeing male presidents in history class, only male coaches and so on. How can we tell girls to dream big in sports and beyond while not highlighting the amazing women out here performing?
“They need to see themselves being strong, defying odds. They need to see a gender non-conforming person or a girl in a Hijab out there in sports. As a role model I want to be the loudest voice telling girls they can run the world. I want to show them.”
Check out the entire “She Breaks Barriers” campaign, featuring Clarendon, Utah Royals defender Becky Sauerbrunn of the USWNT, 100m hurdles world record holder Keni Harrison, ESPN Analyst, Host and Reporter Maria Taylor and marathon runner Rahaf Khatib. In addition, adidas features them all in a one minute film which follows a group of young athletes “as they seek out female sports in the media, find their power, and call their shot.”