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Engelbert excited about gradual return to normalcy

The WNBA is back and out of a bubble. Players are getting vaccinated and there is hope for increased fan attendance as the season goes along. However, commissioner Cathy Engelbert still wants to remain “vigilant.”

WNBA Finals - Game Three
Cathy Engelbert (center) led the WNBA through a successful bubble season in 2020.
Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert held a press conference with media members on Tuesday, shortly after the 2021 league schedule was released, and said the following:

“We’re working with the player’s association and teams to create a plan to safely conduct our season amid this pandemic. We’re excited about the ability to return to our home markets, so we’ll be in our 12 arenas. But we know we need to stay vigilant to minimize risk as much as possible.”

Engelbert said she has worked out allowing reduced fans (about three-quarters) with nine of the 12 WNBA teams and is close to getting a 10th done. She is hoping that after the Olympic break the number of fans allowed will increase.

Of course, the vaccines are the main reason that things are moving in a positive direction.

“We think the vaccine offers a lot of hope for the future of the protocols and the loosening of the protocols,” Engelbert said. “We do have different protocols if you’re fully vaccinated versus not. ... We are working to help teams provide opportunities (for players to get the vaccine) now that the eligibility had opened up in certainly every state that our teams play in. And as we get to training camp we’d love to continue to facilitate players wanting to get the vaccine and that’s what we’re working on with teams right now.”

Second to the health and safety of all involved with the WNBA season is still social justice involvement.

“I think we’re in a better position to make sure our players feel that they are continuing with their strong voice, with their strong platform and their focus this year,” Engelbert said. “Ultimately the players want to be about change and they want to have their hand in that change. Whether it’s civic engagement and voting rights or health equity or other issues. I really look forward to seeing what they do this year.”

WNBA expansion was also discussed. Engelbert said that the pandemic has slowed the progress of expansion plans, but added that it is something that is on her list for the future. She said that around this time next year she’ll be able to talk about where that is headed.