Forbes dropped its annual 30 Under 30 in sports list Tuesday, highlighting the young forces carving personal and unique paths within the sporting world. Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons headlined the diverse roster, but among the honored were three powerful LGBTQ figures: Washington Mystics guard Natasha Cloud, UNC Wilmington basketball coach Matt Lynch and former National Women’s Hockey League player Anya Packer.
Cloud chose to sit out the bubbled 2020 WNBA season to focus on the national fight for racial justice and equity after winning the 2019 WNBA championship. Her pull-no-punches The Players’ Tribune essay called out the silence of other athletes on the issue following the murder of George Floyd. She joined other WNBA stars in urging the league to oust Atlanta Dream co-owner and U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler after she said Black protesters that took to Atlanta streets following Floyd’s death were practicing “mob rule.” Cloud also personally participated in protests in Washington D.C.
The Mystics star also worked to help fellow WNBA players that chose to opt out of the 2020 season by advising Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving in setting up a $1.5 million fund to supplement the income of those players. She also became the first female basketball star to sign an endorsement deal with Converse’s relaunched Hoops brand. The sneaker giant committed to using its partnership with Cloud to give a louder voice to the causes she promotes.
Lynch came out as gay earlier this year in a powerful Coming Out essay after a coaching change spurred his exit from UNC Wilmington’s basketball program. He served as an assistant coach and director of basketball operations at the university prior to his exit. Lynch has seen his profile rise in the months since telling his story, including an appearance on the Tamron Hall show. He made a number of public speaking appearances as well and continues to supplant himself as a role model for LGBTQ athletes while exploring future coaching and professional opportunities.
I’m shaking, have you SEEN the other honorees on this list?! This is the greatest honor, and I will not stop driving real change in women’s hockey! I’m beyond hyped for what the future holds, and proud of what got us here! #InvestInWomen @NWHLPA @NWHL https://t.co/RMsN4ZBL5O pic.twitter.com/EFLx8aDTE5— Anya Packer (@battaglinoa) December 1, 2020
Packer transitioned into player labor advocacy after ending her professional hockey career. She joined the fight for higher compensation in women’s sports, negotiating an equitable revenue split with the NWHL. The deal resulted in player salaries rising by nearly 30% just two years after the league announced it would have to slash player salaries. Packer also took a stand against controversy hockey analyst Mike Milbury after he criticized Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask for choosing his family over the NHL bubble and comparing fanless NHL games to women’s college hockey. It’s no wonder that Packer landed on Sportsnet’s top 25 women in hockey list earlier this year.