Since I’m the shortest one to take the podium here, we have to adjust.
Thank you so much, Donna, for this incredibly inspiring award. And for that tremendous introduction. This is by far the most fun I’ve ever had accepting an award. And despite the video, I trust you’re honoring me for something other than my basketball skills, because those have been way over-hyped. I like to think I’m a better point guard than my predecessor, John Bolton—but that’s about all I am prepared to boast. Now you know if you want somebody in the Obama Administration who truly has got game, you need to look to Reggie Love or Arne Duncan. Or even Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, who played college ball and is cocky enough to talk the President on national television.
In fact, Donna, you probably didn’t even get the right Rice. My brother, John, who started at guard at Yale, has long been part of the NBA family. He’s here today, and spent four years at the NBA as director of consumer products marketing for NBA Latin America and as managing director of NBA Japan. He’s since taken the league’s commitment to excellence and channeled it into one of his great passions: helping young people realize their career potential. His highly successful non-profit, Management Leadership for Tomorrow, prepares minorities for entry-level jobs and MBA programs that put them on the fast track for leadership positions in business, and start-ups, and nonprofits. And I’m really proud that Management Leadership for Tomorrow is the #1 source of minorities at our nation’s top business schools. I hope you all will check it out.
I’m also really pleased that my seven-year-old daughter, Maris, is here with us today. She is a budding hoopster and a real WNBA fan. She is also one of the most fearless and determined people I know and, thankfully, she inherited her father’s height. So I think we all ought to watch out for her.
I want to also congratulate the Phoenix Mercury through you all for their championship season. You all may know that on Monday, President Obama will meet them at the White House. And during their visit to my hometown of Washington, DC, Mercury players will participate in a service project with local youth—part of a tradition begun by President Obama when he welcomes championship teams to Washington, DC.
And I mention that, because that’s the WNBA spirit. I’m grateful to Donna and to the rest of the WNBA leadership for all you do to support today’s girls and tomorrow’s women. Our daughters need role models who can inspire them to play to the best of their abilities, to compete to the limits of their strength, and to win on their own terms. This remarkable league helps do that—through scholarships, through the Junior WNBA, through programs such as “Be Smart, Be Fit, Be Yourself” and “Read to Achieve,” and through other community outreach programs.
And as you might expect, I’m particularly impressed by the Girl Up campaign, in partnership with the UN Foundation. Maris was already on their High Five at your wonderful presentation. And as a fan and a mother, I’m grateful for all of these terrific efforts.
It’s also gratifying that we are here today celebrating a successful women’s professional sports league. Yes, the players are incredibly strong role models; and yes, the fan experience is tremendous; and yes, you do many great things in the community. But you also built a premier women’s sports business that has persisted and grown into a brand that is very strong. And that sends a powerful message not just to the business world but to the global community, and it inspires young women to aspire to work in women’s sports—not only as athletes but also as executives and maybe even owners like our very own Sheila Johnson.
All of your efforts make a big difference in young women’s lives. Sports are just simply too important to be left to the boys. Determination and drive are habits girls must learn early on and use for a lifetime. These really are the fundamentals—the skills I learned on the court—long before I ever sat at a negotiating table.
One of the great things about sports is that they remind us of what humanity has in common, not what may drive us apart. America’s great athletes provide a powerful example, and they are part of what the world admires most about our great country. The United States has long made sports part of our global outreach. During the Cold War, as maybe a handful of you may recall, we sent the Harlem Globetrotters to tour the planet. In 1979, in the early years of America’s dialogue with China, my hometown Washington Wizards—back then the Washington Bullets—became the first NBA team to visit China. And, today, the State Department is sending current and former NBA and WNBA players around the world to conduct drills and talk with young people about education, about teamwork, about diversity. This commitment goes all the way to the top: President Obama recently took a visiting group of young Russian basketball players—boys and girls—to the White House court to shoot some hoops. And he was so moved by their visit that he didn’t mind that some of them out-shot him. Well, maybe he minded a little bit.
But diplomacy these days isn’t just about people like me sitting in stuffy conference rooms; it’s also about people-to-people exchanges that break down barriers and build up goodwill. So the WNBA’s theme this year has it right: sports truly are a global language.
These days, I try save what little game I have left for the floor of the Security Council. But I’m still a competitor and a true believer in the importance of athletics. As you know so well, sports teach you how to work in teams. Sports build discipline and confidence. Sports build your strength and grit. My years as a student athlete taught me to insist on excellence and demand fair play, and I still draw on those values and strengths when I’m calling plays today.
The WNBA, driven by women of tremendous talent and accomplishment, does great work to instill in girls a fierce will to win. But let me challenge you today to do even more for girls around the world. We face, as many of you know, an epidemic of rape and sexual violence in places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in Darfur, in Sudan. In war zone after war zone, women and girls are killed, maimed, abused, and scarred. Girls are forgotten because they were born in the wrong place, the wrong social group, or the wrong region—or simply because they were born female. Girls get left behind when they lack access to health care, to vaccines, to food, clean water, or shelter. And girls get left out when they don’t have the education they need to realize their dreams. So we need you to continue your tremendous work to lift up the most vulnerable. And we need all of you to pitch in.
Now Donna was kind enough to remind you of what one of my most valued mentors and close friends, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, frequently says: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” But there is a special place in my heart for women such as you, who inspire girls to come to play, to come to compete, and to play to win.
Thank you all so much for this tremendous honor, and thank you again for all you do.
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