Renee Montgomery and the Power of Female Allyship

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Welcome to “Change Agents,” where the biggest names in sports have a chance to spotlight someone in their life who has been personally meaningful to them—someone who they believe is the best example of an individual fighting for change and one who has inspired the athlete to do better and be better.

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I met Chantre Camack, director of event talent at ESPN, after I chose to opt out of the 2020 WNBA season this past summer. She and the network reached out to me to be featured on a panel with Maria Taylor for Disney’s Advertising Week because they wanted to give me a chance to share my story. It was a big opportunity—one that I had not been expecting—and that's when I found out that there were people fighting for me behind the scenes. Chantre was one of those people.

There was a lot going on in June with so much civil unrest on the news. I was staying involved in the protests by giving out food and water to protestors, but I felt a pull to do more. The murder of George Floyd pushed me to opt out of the WNBA season, and the day before I hosted a Juneteenth pop-up block party, I tweeted out my decision.

I felt this nervous, but also relieved, energy when I hit send. I had been going back and forth about whether I should give details to my followers about my reason for not participating in the season. I had no idea how people were going to react, but there was just so much going on in our communities. I decided I needed to be more involved.

That didn’t mean I didn’t have my doubts. I was an absolute nervous wreck. Not just for the decision, but also because basketball is my comfort zone. I've been playing the sport since I can remember and there was no telling whether I would have a guaranteed job next season if I opted out. That’s why I was so excited when I heard from Chantre so soon after I announced my decision. I figured the more people who heard my message, the bigger the opportunity to shed light on everything that was going on.

Chantre’s allyship poured gasoline on my fire, on my momentum. Her crew at ESPN gave me the opportunity to share why I thought this moment was so important and I was able to get the platforms I needed to amplify my message.

Chantre has been in the game for over 20 years and she’s worked to increase representation in media throughout her entire career. One of the best memories I’ve had in our friendship was when I started to realize everything she’s done for the industry. Chantre’s been involved in ESPN’s 30 for 30s, the ESPY Awards, an ABC show and E:60. You’ll never see her talking about herself or her accomplishments; she's always talking about what she can do for others and the industry as a whole.

It can definitely be difficult to make an impact on this market. When you look around at the sports media world, there are not the same amount of women as there are men on set. It’s not the easiest thing to talk about wanting to improve a space you’re currently fighting to be in, yet Chantre has those conversations all the time. She talks about the importance of more representation and works to get more women at the forefront. Her role in creating the opportunity for two Black women to be on a panel during Disney Ad week was monumental.

There is so much importance in increasing representation in sports. Look at how children consume television. When they see something on the TV, it gives them an idea for what they can be themselves. If a little girl sees powerful women playing in the WNBA, the NWSL and the women’s softball league, that makes her think she can do that too. Representation helps people form who they want to be, and it has to be there across the board.

I realized Chantre has been pushing for this kind of representation her entire career. We had barely even met when she advocated for me to get a bigger platform to share my story. You know how people say when you get to the top, send the elevator back down? Well Chantre’s crew does just that, continually sending the elevator back down and replenishing it as they work to get more representation at the top.

I was so honored to be chosen for these opportunities and humbled that Chantre and her crew wanted to help advance my message. It was hard for me to realize why they had chosen to help me, but Chantre made it so simple.

“We love what you’re doing, and we love your story,” Chantre told me. “Girl, why not include you?” Chantre embodies the idea that it’s not about competition. The narrative used to be that with so little representation, there can only be one spot at the top. Women are made to feel as though everyone is a threat, and that they need to be the only person to get that one spot.

People like Chantre are helping shift this mentality. Our competition isn't the woman next to us—she’s an ally. Chantre has shown that once you get a spot at the highest level, you can force everyone else to move over. There doesn’t have to be just one. Getting a seat at the table gives you an opportunity to get more women in those spaces with you.

Imagine if we all started to help each other in the same way? Chantre did something for me and then I do something for someone else. That rhythm will just keep on going and that’s how we will get representation. It’s not going to happen overnight, we have to build and work on it.

Those are the types of people that I want to be close to and surround myself with, and that's the type of woman I want to be.