Last week, Breanna Stewart announced that she had a signed a signature shoe deal with Puma. She will become the first WNBA or NBA player with a signature shoe, as well as the first WNBA player with a signature shoe since Candace Parker’s 2010 adidas signature.
In a conversation with the Boardroom’s Nick DePaula, Stewart expressed an appreciation for the significance of this honor and opportunity. She said:
The idea that I deserve a signature show is something super exciting….Obviously, I was honored that they would offer that and now I’m just excited for what’s to come….I’m just really excited to get the respect that women’s basketball deserves.
According to DePaula, the prospective Stewie 1 likely will not debut until next season, which should give women’s hoops fans and sneakerheads plenty of time to save up. Until then Stewart will take the court in Puma’s RS Dreamer or Court Rider.
However, it is important that celebration for Stewart and her coming signature not discourage critical reflection about why she, and not others, received this opportunity.
Stewie’s signature reflects on-going issues with equity in women’s sports
At first, it is obvious why Puma tapped Stewie to be the face of their basketball brand. At 26 years old, she is well on her way to becoming the most accomplished player in women’s basketball history. Clearly, through her ability and achievements, she earned this honor.
Nevertheless, approximately one year ago, athletic brands, including Puma, declared that they were dedicated to supporting Black communities and elevating Black athletes. The WNBA, led by the WNBPA, modeled how sports organizations can honor the concerns and amplify the experiences of people, especially women, of color.
It thus seems the time is right for these brands to invest, re-invest, and invest again in the Black players of the WNBA, who epitomize the athlete-activist ethos that Puma, Nike and adidas purport to champion.
It is not bad or wrong that Puma chose Stewart to headline their brand. But, after all that was proclaimed about racial justice and equality in 2020, it is curious that it is a white woman who received a signature shoe when the (domestic) league in which she plays is majority Black.
Black WNBA players also deserve a signature shoe
These considerations are not intended to impute Stewart, who also was at the center of a similar situation when Sports Illustrated named her one of its 2020 Sportspersons of the Year. She has been an exemplary athlete-activist and ally, consistently using her more privileged position to highlight the issues facing people marginalized due to their racial, ethnic, gender and sexual identities.
Rather, the critique is of Puma and American sports culture, which continues to instinctively center and value white women athletes rather than consciously, intentionally and carefully choosing to see and celebrate Black women athletes.
Representationally, athletic brands have begun to better incorporate images of Black women athletes in their advertisements. For example, Nike debuted their “We Play Real” ad while adidas has billboards in Los Angeles featuring Nneka Ogwumike and Erica Wheeler. However, this representational equity must be followed by material and financial equity.
Nike could create a signature shoe for A’ja Wilson. Adidas could re-up Candace Parker’s signature. Jordan could drop exclusive, women-specific kicks to be repped by their roster of WNBA players.
If this was the reality, then Puma giving Stewie her signature would not be a “problem.”
Better yet, if Puma also gave Skylar Diggins-Smith, the brand’s original signee, a signature shoe, it would not be necessary to, once again, reflect on issues of race and equity in the WNBA and women’s sports.
Overall, Stewart’s shoe deal with Puma is a step forward. As she said, it is overdue evidence of “the respect women’s basketball deserves.” However, additional steps are needed so that all women equally are respected in basketball, sneaker and sports culture.