A Conversation with Christine Simmons
Christine Simmons is President and Chief Operations Officer of the three-time WNBA Champion Los Angeles Sparks. A proud UCLA graduate, she serves as President of the Board of the UCLA Alumni Association, and in 2012 was named Alumnus of the Year by the UCLA Black Alumni Association. Among other philanthropic activities, Christine volunteers for Bright Futures for Thomazeau, a small, grass-roots nonprofit that provides aid to Haiti.
As someone with volunteerism in her blood, Christine is naturally empathetic and compassionate. Like most women, this is only one part of her. As President and COO of the Los Angeles Sparks, the reigning WNBA champs, she has mixed her love of sports with her passion to create better communities—especially for girls and women.
Starting as an undergraduate at UCLA and “volunteering for almost everything,” Christine has lived a philosophy of “do more—do good—do well.” She has always seen her career along the lines of social entrepreneurship: the use of successful business strategies to create positive social and cultural impact. In fact, after college, one of Christine’s first jobs was in economic development, bringing minority businesses and corporations together to create shifts in economic landscapes and paradigms.
Christine continues to support social entrepreneurship in her current role with the L.A. Sparks. “This team is more than a WNBA basketball franchise.” In her vision, the Sparks provide an avenue of support for women and girls. The team, essentially, “promotes the ability of girls and women to become leaders and create legacies for themselves and their families for generations.”
Being “somewhat of a rebel,” Christine is insistent about creating communities that support education and provide increased exposure to girls, women, and communities of color. Yet even with her drive to break barriers, she never expected to run a sports team. As she now “occupies this elite space,” she has only one goal: to continue this legacy for other girls and women. The everyday work is to “educate and expose girls and women to opportunities that they never knew existed. We all knew we could become a doctor or a lawyer. What about owning a sports team? We didn’t know about these professions.”
Overall, the Sparks incorporate a variety of strategies to support girls and women. The goal is to put women and girls in front of people and in places where they usually would not have access. For example, “every game, a girl shadows me,” according to Christine. And there are the annual #wearewomen game and #wearegirls workshops which celebrate the leadership and community of local women and girls. “In the current environment, girls can’t just be involved. They have to lead. We have to let girls know they have a voice.”
Is this a movement? Christine truly believes that this work must grow beyond her—that she is only one element. Everyone at the Sparks sees the bigger picture, including the players. “We are not just a professional sports team. We are about breaking barriers, making history, and creating social impact. It’s not about women’s basketball as compared to men’s basketball. Eventually, all these questions will stop.” Christine sees herself “as a tireless advocate for equality, in all shapes and forms.” The focus is “generational social and economic impact to create a legacy.”