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WNBA rookie Satou Sabally is soaking it all up in the bubble

Dallas’ first-year phenom on what she’s learning on the court and through her work with the social justice council


As a member of one of the top basketball teams in the country at the University of Oregon, Satou Sabally vowed to use her platform to combat social injustice when she went pro. Inspired by today’s prominent athlete-activists, including LeBron James, Colin Kaepernick and Serena Williams, the Dallas Wings star rookie is well on her way.

As her on-court education as a rookie with the Wings continues to unfold, so too is her off-court activism, where she is learning from one of the most socially active sports leagues in the country in the WNBA.

Sabally, the No. 2 pick in the 2020 draft, is the youngest member of the WNBA’s new social justice council. For the 6-foot-4 forward, adding her role on the council to the full plate rookies have during this truncated season isn’t a distraction or burden. It’s just the opposite.

“I did not want basketball to take over my life and distract me … from what’s going on outside the bubble, what’s going on in a lot of people’s lives,” said Sabally, who has averaged 11.2 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 2.2 assists through nine games this season.

Sabally talked with The Undefeated about what she’s learned after her first games in the WNBA, how working with the social justice council has affected her own activism and why focusing only on basketball wasn’t an option.

What have been the biggest adjustments for you on the court?

Definitely the size and physicality. I really have to get used to people being taller than me and being able to block my shot when I go all the way to the rim. I really have to dig in deeper and use my body a lot more and just finding different alternatives to score.

Are you learning more with each game?

I’m definitely learning so much each and every game. And my confidence is definitely rising after each game, because I watch film after every game, I discuss it with the coaches. … I think I can take something positive out of every game.

I messed up the game-winning situation one time against Chicago, and I just have to move on forward. And you really can’t be mad about things at all, because you just have to have the next game, like the other day. Really just being positive the whole time is really important to me.

Has there been any pressure being on a team that has needed your production from the moment that you joined them?

I always try to say that I don’t feel like pressure is the right word, because I feel like other people experience a lot more pressure than I do in their regular lives. I’m doing what I love and I’m playing basketball.

I’m just trying to stay level-headed, be more aggressive in the game and just do me and not think about all the talk that’s going on and all the conversations around the rookies.

Has there been another WNBA player that has helped with your adjustment to the league?

I live with Marina Mabrey and Arike Ogunbowale, so they’ve definitely helped me a ton. And Angel McCoughtry actually, after the game against Las Vegas, she reached out to me, gave me her number and gave me the option to call her anytime, and that is really greatly appreciated. She’s a legend.

McCoughtry recently said that one of her biggest things for rookies is to soak up the situation of being around everyone in the league at once.

When she actually said that on TV, I saw it too and I was like, ‘Wow, this is like a person that actually means what she says.’ And I think it’s great. I think it’s great that we are around all these great women, vets. I was in contact before the season with Nneka Ogwumike, and she’s also offered me her help and advice. It’s just great to see that a lot of women are there to support other women and other players, because they know the rookie [season] is a hard year.

You decided to join the social justice council in addition to your on-court responsibility. Why was that so important to you?

While we were playing, people in Seattle were protesting, and it looked like a war zone. All the pictures that I saw I was like, ‘OK, I at least have to do something.’ So it makes me really proud that I’m part of the social justice council. And being in there, I’m really in a position to learn. I’m watching a lot, I’m listening. And it’s obviously weird because I have a lot going on. But even at Oregon, I’ve always done both and it’s good for me to just continue it and keep using my brain and the things that I’m interested in, and things that affect everyone.

How has your work with the social justice council impacted your own activism?

Really being able to organize things. … A lot of times it’s hard for people to actually get things going, but they organized the call with Breonna Taylor’s mother. That was amazing. We’ve learned so much. It was just amazing to be able to talk to her. Stacey Abrams, Kimberlé Crenshaw, who coined the term intersectionality, which affects us all. And we’re all Black women, and I think we need to learn about that.

Just being able to access that information, and being inside all the talk about organizing folks and what is important, and having that from professionals who do the same thing as I do gives me hope. I feel like that’s the main reason why I’m in that, just to know that this is all possible, and that you don’t just have to be a rookie and forget every other thing.

You mentioned the conversation with Breonna Taylor’s mom. How did that affect you?

It really gave me hope and it gave me motivation. She’s a strong individual that has been pushed to the spotlight without her wanting to be in that spotlight. And she was a human first. A lot of people always forget that these are humans that we’re talking about, and they just see the people. You see Breonna Taylor’s face everywhere, but you forget she had a mother, she had a sister, she had this whole family that is hurting, still, because there’s still no justice.

The cops are still outside, free, living their normal lives, and they killed someone. They’re responsible for a murder. Just being able to see that she’s a human and the realness of it really just made me even more emotional, and more eager to do more.

Detailed view of the back of the jersey of Satou Sabally of the Dallas Wings showing the name of Breonna Taylor during the second quarter against the Phoenix Mercury at Feld Entertainment Center on Aug. 10 in Palmetto, Florida.

Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

You spent your collegiate career at Oregon. One of the biggest hot zones for the movement right now is Portland. Have you been able to keep up with what’s going on there?

My sister actually drove up there, and there’ve been a lot of protests also going on in Eugene, and I’m just superproud of it. I’m just so proud to see that Portland is such a hot spot even, because it shows me that there are a lot of good people out there on the streets doing the right thing and being on the right side of history.

And everyone, whoever is not able to go or cannot make it or for whatever reason has not been able to attend a protest, it’s real. And the pictures that you’re shown, it does not seem like it’s in America. People are always having all that pride, it’s safe and this and this and this, and then there are pictures that I was in shock. They’re not backing down, they’re not being pushed down, and I think it’s great that there are so many people. And it just makes me even prouder to be a Duck alumni, because Portland is just so close to us.

Is there any story in particular that you’re hoping that the league or social justice council will highlight during the season?

It’s hard to pinpoint one story, and I like how they continue to highlight different names and different stories, because a lot of people … first of all, people tend to just switch off if they always hear the same thing. And the amount of people, the amount of Black women that have been killed, it’s shocking. People don’t even realize that. People always forget that women, first of all, are being treated wrong, and that Black women are treated wrong as well. And there’s not enough conversation around it.

How do you keep up that conversation so that the movement doesn’t lose that energy?

It’s hard. I feel like everyone wants to just go back to normal, but the normal to me never existed. I think it’s still important to push conversations, to have tough conversations with your fans, with your peers, with the people around you, and one tool which almost everyone uses is social media. It doesn’t take a lot to retweet something. … Don’t get tired of seeing everything, seeing every, every, everything, because every day someone you know is being treated wrong. And I think as long as this happens, we need to see it and we need to deal with it.

Sean Hurd is a writer for Andscape who primarily covers women’s basketball. His athletic peak came at the age of 10 when he was named camper of the week at a Josh Childress basketball camp.