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Spotlight on WNBA Dyslexia Advocacy: A’ja Wilson and Jewell Loyd
Women’s History Month 2023
To commemorate Women’s History Month 2023, Siena is honoring WNBA stars Jewell Loyd and A’ja Wilson for their work and advocacy related to dyslexia.
The National Women’s History Alliance chose the theme of Women’s History Month 2023 as Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories, highlighting those “who have been active in all forms of media and storytelling including print, radio, TV, stage, screen, blogs, podcasts, news, and social media.” In telling their stories of dyslexia and advocacy off the court, Loyd and Wilson have worked for causes related to education, learning differences, girls’ and women’s basketball, and more.
WNBA Dyslexia Advocacy
Loyd’s and Wilson’s career paths have been quite parallel: both have played in NCAA Women’s Championship games, both were #1 overall WNBA draft picks, and both were Rookies of the Year (Loyd in 2015, Wilson in 2018). Between them, they have 3 WNBA championships (Loyd in 2018 and 2020, Wilson in 2022). They’ve also been teammates several times, winning gold at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and at the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup in 2018 and 2022.
A guard for the Seattle Storm since she was drafted first overall in 2015, Jewell Loyd has done a lot of strong advocacy and community work stemming from her learning differences. In 2015 right before the WNBA draft, Loyd wrote about her dyslexia journey for The Players' Tribune:
After being diagnosed [as an adolescent], it took time to figure out what worked for me, but I did. And if I close my eyes right now, I can see the back of my future jersey: Loyd. I won’t know what the front will say for another few hours, but the title I want to carry above all others? Role model.
Basketball was, for Loyd, a “sanctuary” while she was in school, and she applied the same determination and focus she needed on the court to her studies and adjustment to her learning needs.
Loyd’s dyslexia advocacy and role modeling were writ large—literally—in 2016. She was featured in an interactive, three-panel billboard in New York as an Honorary Diplomat for Eye to Eye, a nonprofit mentoring program in which elementary and middle school students with learning differences work with high school or college students with learning differences.
See the video of the billboard here.
During Women’s History Month 2022, Loyd partnered with 94 Feet of Game and We The Best Foundation for the Future of Basketball Is Female campaign, helping provide 1,000 scholarships for female basketball players, along with access to foundational basketball skills.
A fellow WNBA role model and dyslexia advocate, A’ja Wilson has been a forward for the Las Vegas Aces since being drafted in 2018. She wrote about her dyslexia journey for The Players’ Tribune in 2018, sharing that she actively sought accommodations when starting at the University of South Carolina:
Before school started I sat down with my parents and an academic advisor from South Carolina, and we decided that every professor should know about my dyslexia.
I never had to just go up to Coach [Dawn Staley] and tell her. But she knew, even before the recruiting process had ended. Freshman year, it was kept pretty quiet. I was doing all right in college thanks to having better resources—and honestly being able to record lectures instead of having to write everything down. That helped a lot.
Wilson later cofounded the A’ja Wilson Foundation with her parents. Through her foundation and public presence as a WNBA star, Wilson supports children with dyslexia and their families to, according to their mission statement, “empower them to reach their full potential through educational programming, workshops, camps and grant opportunities.”
Moreover, the A’ja Wilson Foundation does a lot of work to prevent bullying of students who learn differently through education and mentoring programs. Learn more about the A’Ja Wilson Foundation’s recent work on their Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook channels, especially under the hashtags #SpeakUp, #ChooseKindness, #DyslexiaAwareness, and #PowerToEmpower.
In using their public visibility as professional athletes and role models, Loyd and Wilson continue to advocate for dyslexia awareness and support to help students across the country.
Additional Links and Resources
Learn more about them here:
- “Jewell Loyd Talks about the WNBA Draft, Being Dyslexic and Finding Comfort in Basketball” (SB Nation, 2015)
- “Niles West Product and WNBA Champion Jewell Loyd Never Let Dyslexia Define Her” (Chicago Sun-Times, 2019)
- “The Incomparable Journey of Jewell Loyd” (Sports Illustrated, 2020)
- “How Jewell Loyd is Giving Back to Chicago and Inspiring the Next Generation of Female Hoopers” (Slam, 2022)
- “How Team USA's A'ja Wilson is Using Her Own Life Experiences to Support Others in Similar Situations” (IOC, 2021)
- “South Carolina’s A’ja Wilson Opens Up About Her Struggle with Dyslexia” (Slam, 2018)
See The Siena School blog for other heritage month spotlights related to our innovative dyslexia education, including NFL linebacker Rashan Gary, writer and activist Victor Villaseñor, poet Amanda Gorman, figure skater Meryl Davis, film director Ann Hu, and astrophysicist Dr. Maggie Aderin-Pocock. See also this 2021 blog post on dyslexia awareness and advocacy at Siena.
Spotlight on the NFL's Rashan Gary
“I teamed up with Made By Dyslexia to advocate for those who think differently.” —Rashan Gary
Black History Month 2023
To commemorate Black History Month 2023 and the importance of strong advocacy and raising awareness of what dyslexia is, Siena is honoring Green Bay Packers linebacker Rashan Gary for his dedicated dyslexia advocacy.
Gary was born in northern New Jersey in 1997 and attended college at the University of Michigan from 2016 to 2018. He was diagnosed with dyslexia in middle school, sharing in 2021 that “it’s not going to affect me because it’s my superpower. So that’s why I challenge anybody with dyslexia to keep pushing forward and keep chipping away.”
Gary regularly uses his platform as a professional athlete to be the kind of role model he didn’t have growing up. He’s strongly dedicated to “raising awareness about dyslexia and advocating for educator awareness and the critical screening resources are important to me,” as he shared in a recent Instagram post.
Rashan Gary’s Dyslexia Advocacy
Since 2020, Gary has used the NFL’s My Cause My Cleats program to raise awareness for Made By Dyslexia. As the NFL shared in this press release, “Players combine forces with artists and cleat manufacturers each year to create these custom-designed cleats that showcase their causes in a way that resonates personally to the player, their fans and the cause.”
My Cause My Cleats enables players to support causes important to them through one-of-a-kind, hand-painted cleats to wear in a regular season game on a particular week. The cleats are later auctioned off for charity.
Laura Haas, who designed Gary’s cleats for 2022, shared that her own neurodivergent thinking is “kind of my superpower,” and she wanted to highlight “joy and individuality” in her design. (See here for the Instagram post.) Gary’s cleats from 2020 and 2021 likewise highlighted how his dyslexia is a strength for him, as well as how the dyslexic brain might see and process information.
- Watch the NFL’s 2022 ad featuring Rashan Gary here.
- See here for a photo gallery of Gary’s 2022 cleats.
- See here for Gary’s video from 2021 about his cleats.
Additional Links and Resources
Gary has been a visible public figure since he was a nationally recognized high school football player. He understands how important it is to use his platform to advocate for dyslexia awareness and support. Gary has also worked with the Michigan Dyslexia Institute to talk about his journey and inspire others to see superpowers, creativity, and perseverance within themselves.
Other NFL players with dyslexia have raised awareness through My Cause My Cleats, such as Spencer Drango of the Cleveland Browns, Lawrence Guy of the New England Patriots, and Max Scharping of the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Siena School blog has other heritage month spotlights related to innovative dyslexia education, including writer and activist Victor Villaseñor, poet Amanda Gorman, figure skater Meryl Davis, film director Ann Hu, and astrophysicist Dr. Maggie Aderin-Pocock. See also this 2021 blog post on dyslexia awareness and advocacy at Siena.
Learn more about Siena’s commitments and ongoing initiatives for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging.
“Be the BEST version of you that you can be. No one will ever do it better. We have dyslexia, and we can accomplish ANYTHING we put our minds to.” —Rashan Gary
Winter Break Podcast Recommendations
Keep your high school and middle school students excited about learning and knowledge over winter break with these podcast recommendations from Siena students and faculty.
Podcast Recommendations for Teens
Check out these history, culture, and society podcasts for your teen:
- The Daily Show with Trevor Noah
- Footnoting History
- Forever Ago
- Let's Be Real with Sammy Jaye
- Outside Magazine Podcast
- Pop Culture Happy Hour
- Spilled Milk Podcast
- Stuff You Should Know
Is your teen interested in science and related topics? Give these podcasts a listen:
- 60-Second Science
- Are We There Yet?
- Brains On!
- Hidden Brain
- How I Built This
- Science Friday
- Science Rules!
- Wow in the World
Teens interested in books, music, and storytelling can try out these podcasts:
Give these family-friendly podcasts a listen:
More Podcast Resources
Common Sense Media lists these Great Podcasts for Tweens and Teens, and Parents magazine recommends 9 Great Podcasts for Teens.
See Siena’s blog for winter break book recommendations and summer break book recommendations. See also this earlier blog post about podcasts from Siena Reading Teacher Leslie Holst.