The Seattle Storm is a women’s basketball team owned by women, coached by women, and managed by women — so it’s no surprise that the team is passionate about issues that affect women.
But now, the team has taken its support for these policy issues to new, unprecedented heights. On Thursday, the Storm became the first professional sports team to publicly support and partner with Planned Parenthood.
“Access to affordable, quality health care, including a full range of reproductive care, is a critical precondition for anyone — especially girls and women, to pursue their dreams and grow into their best selves,” Storm co-owner Dawn Trudeau said in a press release on Thursday announcing the move.
“The essential services provided by Planned Parenthood make the organization a natural ally and partner for the Storm.”
This “first-of-its-kind” partnership is multifaceted.
On July 18, Force 10 Hoops, the ownership group of the Storm, will hold a Stand With Planned Parenthood rally before a game against the Chicago Sky. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN2, representing the team’s only nationally televised home game of the season.
The Storm will also hold an online auction next month to benefit Planned Parenthood, which will include memorabilia from players, and it will donate $5 of every ticket sold for the game to the reproductive health care provider. The team is encouraging businesses and corporations interested in supporting Planned Parenthood to purchase tickets that could be donated to local Seattle women and children groups.
The idea for the partnership came from the owners of the Storm, businesswomen Trudeau, Lisa Brummel, and Ginny Gilder. The three women were growing increasingly frustrated by political attacks against Planned Parenthood and wanted to find a way to make a “meaningful impact” on the national health care debate.
“It was organic,” Trudeau told ThinkProgress. “We just talked about how this was something we felt was important right now. I think it’s just one of the values that the three of us shared at the beginning, and it’s been a core value of our partnership. It was a natural fit to combine the goals.”
So the Storm owners approached Chris Charbonneau, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and Hawaiian Islands (PPHNI), to see how the two could work together.
Charbonneau said that while she’s often approached by individuals who want to support the organization, she’s rarely approached by entire businesses — and she’s certainly never been approached by an entire sports team.
“It was a little bit of a surprise,” Charbonneau told ThinkProgress. “I think it’s wonderful. There aren’t a lot of women’s teams that would embrace an issue like women’s contraception and education, but the Storm is. They’re very much about the success of women.”
Planned Parenthood has been under the political microscope in recent years, and since President Donald Trump has taken office, there has been an increased push to defund the organization and to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, which would likely cause tens of millions to lose health insurance. Charbonneau says that since November 9th, girls and women have been coming to clinics in a state of terror. While PPHNI usually does about 700 long-term contraception insertions a month, since the election that number has nearly tripled to 1,900 a month.
“All these young women are saying, I need something that will last longer than this administration, in case my health care disappears,” she said. “The fear has been hard. We have two houses of the federal government plus the President of the United States gunning for us. They may never figure out something like health care, but they will do everything in their power to make a statement like defunding Planned Parenthood.”
So for Planned Parenthood, a partnership like this couldn’t come at a better time. She hopes it opens up a broader conversation about what it takes for women to get the education they need, what it takes to get women to succeed and lead their best lives, and how things like contraception are not just health care issues or controversies, they’re economic issues.
“Those are bread and butter issues for people who care about women and women’s equality, which the Storm obviously embodies,” Charbonneau said.
But the partnership comes with a risk for the Storm, which is launching the team directly into the middle of a polarizing political issue.
Trudeau said the ownership team is very cognizant of that, and was very clear with players that they were under no obligation to speak up about this — that this was something the owners were taking on, not expecting of the players. However, Trudeau said that so far the players and coaching staff have showed a lot of enthusiasm about the initiative. While the WNBA does not dictate what each team can be involved with in each community, the Storm said it did tell the league about the initiative and has received no pushback.
Trudeau and her co-owners take the social responsibility side of their job incredibly seriously. They believe this is the time to fight for women and gender-nonconforming people who may be harmed by Congress’ proposed policies — and they feel the potential rewards from this partnership far outweigh any potential risks.
“We considered the blowback,” Trudeau said. “This is something that we have been very thoughtful about doing. We’re doing this to help make sure that all women and girls have access to health care.”