For basketball legend Candace Parker, creating an equal playing field for women means bringing the men along, too.
"When we're really trying to reach across the aisle, it means including everybody – because that’s what we're talking about," Parker said. "We're talking about inclusion, gender equality."
When Parker started planning her skills camp with Foot Locker x Adidas Asterisk Collective, she originally pitched an all-girls event. That idea didn’t last long.
"I think it's just as important for guys and girls to understand that leaders can come in different shapes, sizes, backgrounds, whatever," Parker said. "And you can't just preach to girls, because that’s not going to create change."
Parker's camp ended up including girls and boys playing and learning together, along with an off-the-court chat led by herself and Los Angeles Sparks teammates Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike and Alexis Jones. The talk focused on gender equality, including a moment where Chiney instructed all the boys in the room to turn to a girl and tell her, "I got your back."
"We're at a time now where people continue to ignore the fact that women make less than men doing the same exact job – that’s where I have an issue," Parker said.
This past year, the WNBA Players Association opted out of its Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), a move Parker says demonstrates the players' willingness to "bet on" themselves in a step forward towards equality.
"I'm an extreme realist – we should not make 200 million dollars like Steph Curry or like LeBron. I am not saying equal pay in that sense," Parker said. "But I do think that there are different systems and things like that that are set up within our CBA that aren't equal playing fields – not in terms of dollars, but in terms of quality of life and just fairness between the WNBA, the Players Association and the League."
During a time where there's an intense focus on progress for female athletes, Parker is constantly reminded that there's still a ways to go.
"I'd be lying to you if I told you it wasn't difficult sometimes sitting in meetings where you're the only female and African American at a meeting," Parker said. "But it's the way it is right now. I think it's just about taking a step forward and making people understand, I am not trying to be one of the boys when I am on the show. I’m trying to be one of the players."
In the meantime, Parker stays encouraged by the little wins along the way.
"My brother played 10 years in the NBA and my nephew grew up watching him play and now I’m playing," Parker said. "And for jersey day, he wore my jersey to school. And it broke my brother's heart – but for me, it's great to see when he’s in a circle of his peers and they ask who his favorite player is, he says me."