Sportswriter Jane McManus. Via Jane McManus.

The most anticipated WNBA season in decades is underway. Much of that excitement is due to an influx of new stars, including Caitlin Clark, Cameron Brink, and Angel Reese. To better understand the league and its growth, we recently caught up with veteran sports journalist Jane McManus.

McManus spent almost a decade at ESPN, appearing on many platforms, including for ESPNW. She also is a former WNBA reporter. More recently, McManus is the editor of The Year’s Best Sports Writing 2024. The book will be released in October and is available for pre-order here

Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

Awful Announcing: What are reasonable expectations for Caitlin Clark?

Jane McManus: “Caitlin Clark had an incredible college career, but that doesn’t mean she’s at the level of your average WNBA player yet. There’s a lot of growth for her. I think she can be a generational player. She’s going to figure it out. She’s going to get better, and it’s going to be fun to watch. It’s a small league. There are 144 players. They are the best of the best. A lot of them have been playing for years and playing two seasons each year, both here and abroad. There are a lot of excellent players in the WNBA.”

What needs to happen for the WNBA to grow?

“Everybody needs more investment. They did a $75 million capital raise a couple of years ago. They had one person working on marketing up until last year. Now they have 25. They need that kind of level of growth. It’s still a front office nested within the NBA front office. They don’t have their own infrastructure as a league, and that’ll come, I think, with success. They have a broadcast deal coming up. It’s coupled with the NBA. So, how much the WNBA can do to maximize it on its own is a question mark. But they need a real influx of cash from the broadcast deal to keep these charter flights going and so they can do other things to take that league to the next level. The players are already there. They need to make sure that the games are accessible and the stories are accessible.”

What do you think of the coverage and how the media talks about the WNBA?

“That’s a mixed bag. I covered the Liberty in their first year in 1997 for an outlet that doesn’t exist anymore. I paid a lot of attention because I was a basketball player. That’s how I got into sports. I love to watch basketball. It was meaningful for me in 1997 to see this league of professional women. I went to the first game in Madison Square Garden. They called the names: Teresa Weatherspoon, Sophia Witherspoon, Kym Hampton, Rebecca Lobo, all of these incredible players. And the ratings for those first two seasons were higher than they are even now. I think people forget about that.

“I’d like to see traditional media outlets come back to covering the league. I think there are two that cover teams full-time now: The Washington Post and The Chicago Sun-Times. I’d like to see more beat coverage like that. I think it’s important. I’ve seen a lot of people posting columns that are fairly ignorant. People making comments about the WNBA that don’t reflect the excellence of that league or a deep understanding of the history and traditions.”

Who covers the WNBA well?

“I like Annie Costabile of the Sun-Times. I think she does a great job. Lyndsey D’Arcangelo, who was at The Athletic until recently. Chantel Jennings does a good job for (The Athletic) as well. I think it’s important to have people like Ari Chambers and Khristina Williams, who are coming from a point of view of advocacy. It’s not straight journalism necessarily, but they do a great job of putting a spotlight on people.”

As someone who teaches journalism, what would you change?

“(I’d like to see) a little bit more investigative reporting. I don’t see a ton of investigative reporting right now on sports betting. The New York Times did a series on it, but they did it out of their news side. There are a lot of untold stories in sports right now that are more difficult stories to tell.

I think The Washington Post does an amazing job with enterprise journalism. They still do it in a way that I love to read. So, I’d like to see more of that. There are things that kind of fall between the cracks accountability-wise because media outlets have so many relationships that they’re managing. It’s not just about what they’re covering. It’s also about managing relationships with owners, brands, sponsors, and leagues.”

How did you become involved with The Year’s Best Sports Writing 2024?

“Richard Deitsch had me on his advisory panel last year (for The Year’s Best Sports Writing 2023). They called me at the end of last year and said ‘Would you be interested in editing the anthology this year?’ I said, ‘Yes’. Now we’re ramping up the marketing push.

“We’ve reached out to all of the writers whose stories are going to appear and are securing the rights for those. I read more than a hundred stories. There’s a Gmail account that anyone could send a story to. I had an advisory council. Richard Deitch, J. A. Adande, Kavitha Davidson were all on that, and Sandy Padwe. They all sent suggestions and I read all of those. The process took a couple of months, but we came up with a list of 25, 27 or so stories.”

What is the book you have coming out next year?

“I’ve just finished up a book that is going to be published in February 2025 on the economic space around women’s sports. It’s called Fast Track. It details not just the enthusiasm and the investment happening right now but some of the systemic issues that have kept the enthusiasm and investment from coming to women’s sports on the timetable that I think a lot of people thought it was due.”

What was your experience on House Hunters International like?

“It was great. If you’re a fan of the show, Richard was our real estate agent. One of his traditions is that every time he’s on that show, he makes a cake in the kitchen of the winning house for the family. So, on the last day of the shoot, he came in early and baked a cake in our house (in England).”

Could you please tell us about your roller derby alter ego?

“I played from 2007 to 2014 for a league in Yonkers (NY) called Suburbia Roller Derby. I was a jammer and played all over the East Coast. I love full-contact sports. I miss it. I had to retire due to an injury. It wasn’t my choice, like many athletes. (My name) was Lesley E. Visserate. It was an homage to the great Lesley Visser.

“I called her before I picked that name. I said, ‘Hey, would you mind?’ I sent her a picture of me on the start line before a jam with my jersey visible on the back: E. Visserate. She used that as her screensaver for a long time.”

About Michael Grant

Born in Jamaica. Grew up in New York City. Lives in Louisville, Ky. Sports writer. Not related to Ulysses S. Grant.