Nneka Ogwumike turned Olympics snub into opportunity to celebrate complexity: 'I am who I am because of what I've done'

·Yahoo Sports Contributor
·4 min read

Nneka Ogwumike gained fresh perspective about multiculturalism after her Team USA Olympic snub and attempting to compete for Nigeria. The Los Angeles Sparks star told Yahoo Sports exclusively that it's alright to celebrate complexity.

"There was a lot of fighting the feeling of invaluableness, and then also not falling into the dichotomy of them vs. me," she said. "At the end of the day, I am who I am because of what I've done."

The forward's shocking omission from the team did not go unnoticed, with younger sister and Sparks teammate Chiney Ogwumike leading the discourse on Twitter.

She, along with Chiney and younger sister Erica set their sights on suiting up for Nigeria. Only Erica was ruled eligible to play for the country their parents immigrated to the United States from, with FIBA determining Nneka and Chiney had recorded too much time for the U.S. before applying to switch.

Ogwumike also addressed the pressure she faced for suddenly turning her attention to the West African squad.

"The pressure to assimilate is there, it's very prevalent. I experienced a lot of conflict and perspective this summer in my Olympic journey. If I am at the caliber to play on the Olympic team, then why would I say no? You have people that were like, 'Well, why didn't you play for Nigeria?'

"The whole point is to grow the sport, and for the sport to need development. It's never been a question of my upbringing. I don't ever deny my culture, both in terms of my western influences and of course my Nigerian heritage. So, I guess that pressure is meaningful. It's less sort of pressure and more of standing true to who I am. Especially as I get older and most especially with what I've experienced in the last few months."

The United States went on to capture a seventh straight gold medal. While Ogwumike won't be associated with that accomplishment, her significance in women's sports remains unparalleled.

Los Angeles Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike and Michelob ULTRA are teaming up to bring more visibility to women's sports. (Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Los Angeles Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike and Michelob ULTRA are teaming up to bring more visibility to women's sports. (Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Teaming up with Michelob ULTRA for the "Save It, See It" campaign

As the president of the WNBA Player's Association, Ogwumike advocates on behalf of the league's 144 active players on issues ranging from equal pay to post-WNBA career opportunities. So, it's no surprise the 31-year-old teamed up with Michelob ULTRA to promote their "Save It, See It" campaign. On Thursday, the crown jewel of beers announced a $100 million pledge over the next five years to support gender equality in sports.

"Just the authenticity of the campaign to me was a big reason why I was grateful to be a part of it," the Stanford alum continued. "It's more moving forward, and anyone who is about moving forward for women in sport, I want to be a part of that.

"The cognizance that Michelob is explaining through their investment is something that needs to hold people accountable. They said, 'Hey, we're not just going to create a campaign. We're going to put money where our mouths are.' I'm hoping that holds others accountable to do the same thing."

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Joining Ogwumike as Michelob ULTRA supporters is basketball analyst Andraya Carter and track star CeCe Telfar, who, in 2019, made history as the first openly transgender female athlete to win a NCAA title.

Increasing the visibility of female athletes is easier than you think. Anytime a women's sports highlight flashes across your screen, Michelob ULTRA is asking fans to bookmark it. The more people hit save, the more potential it has for reach a broader audience.

"It's not often that you walk into a room and you see someone's name you probably can't pronounce and comes from West Africa," said Ogwumike. "That's what visibility is. It's not just on the court. It's in the office, it's in media, it's in the C-suites. For me to be a part of a campaign that doesn't just celebrate that and isn't just investing in it, but also allows me to think, 'You know what? This is a different perspective to have. For me to able to spread that message around, that's where it starts."

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