Sedona Prince Has a Good Feeling About the Next Era
The New York Times Sports department is revisiting the subjects of some compelling articles from the last year or so. In March, we covered Sedona Prince’s video and the way it challenged the disparities between the men’s and women’s college basketball tournaments. Here is an update.
Sedona Prince sees her life in eras.
There was the injury era, when she snapped her tibia and fibula just before the start of her freshman year of college; her practice-player era, when she mastered the playing style of future opponents; her “crazy” era, when she found her footing on and off the court as a college student; her depression era, when she was finally cleared to play and immediately injured herself again; her N.C.A.A. tournament era, when she was suddenly under the national spotlight for exposing gross disparities between men’s and women’s basketball; and her name, image and likeness era, when she learned how to monetize her work.
These days, Prince is in what she calls her rebuilding era. And she’s only 22.
A 6-foot-7 forward, Prince became a centerpiece for the University of Oregon women’s basketball program with her towering ability to find the open shot alongside Sabrina Ionescu, Ruthy Hebard and Satou Sabally. But in the course of defining herself on the court, she also helped to redefine the role of a college athlete.
“I’m in a place now where I’m allowing myself to look back and trying to reminisce on all these times and process them because in the moment I couldn’t. It all happened way too fast; it was all happening at once,” Prince said in a recent interview from Los Angeles.
Prince graduated from Oregon in the spring with a bachelor’s degree in social sciences with a focus in business and economics. She opted into her fifth season this fall and began to pursue a master’s degree, but during a practice before the season opener, she tore a ligament in her elbow, ending her season and college career at Oregon.
“I wanted to keep playing; I love this team,” Prince said. “But I knew there’s no way I can keep playing. I have to take care of myself.”
Still young in her career, Prince knows how to prioritize herself. All of her so-called eras have taught her as much. As one of the pioneering athletes of the N.I.L. era, Prince said she knew she could take the financial and professional risk of leaving college basketball to rehabilitate and pursue a coveted spot on a W.N.B.A. roster.
“There are always less options for women — there’s less freedom,” she said. “There’s always that thing of like, oh, God, how am I going to support myself?”
But getting to this point was far from linear. If every generation has its disrupters, Prince is chief among her peers. In one 38-second video, she lifted the curtain on a problem that was long talked about but that nobody had made so visually and abundantly clear.
In 2021, Prince showed the glaring differences between what the N.C.A.A. had provided for workout facilities for the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments: The men, anchored in Indianpolis because of the pandemic, were provided an expansive ballroom filled with free weights, hand weights and machine weights. The women, based in San Antonio, had a stand with hand weights.
Within days, Prince’s posts had been seen more than 13 million times on TikTok and Twitter, a number the N.C.A.A. could not ignore, despite its attempts to explain away some of the differences. The women’s workout room was eventually beefed up.
“I had no idea what it would do, honestly,” Prince said. “Looking back, I wish I would have spoken up more. But I did all I could as a 19-year-old kid. I was figuring it out.”
CNN and “Good Morning America” called. All of a sudden, Prince thought, “I’m now an activist.”
“I’ve always been about activism, but this was a stage that I had never been on,” she recalled. She also had to balance speaking up while not insulting the N.C.A.A.
“I had no idea if I had broken the rules. There’s this constant fear of student-athletes — they are this reigning governing body and really scary people that we never get to see or hear,” Prince said. “I thought, have I just lost my college career?”
Hardly. Five months later, an independent report detailed the structural gender inequities between the two tournaments. The 114-page report compared Prince’s video to “the contemporary equivalent of ‘the shot heard round the world.’”
Many look at Prince’s TikTok as a before-and-after marker of how society talks about women’s sports. But for Prince, there is still much work to be done — it all comes down to a lack of respect.
“It’s the worst part of it,” Prince said. “Every single time we go places, it’s just less and it’s just disrespect, and so we’re trained to think that, oh, this is normal. This is what we deserve.”
Even for Prince, who quickly established herself as a leader in her sport, she often finds herself second-guessing her worth.
“There are times where it’s like I have to pull myself out of that mentality of like, this is what it’s always been, this is what I deserve as a woman in sport, I’m just going to get less because we get less viewership,” Prince said. “And it’s like, no, that’s not, that’s not true. So I have to constantly check myself of like, Hey, you know, this is not correct. This is not right.”
Prince said she would continue to use her platform for change. “It’s our duty as athletes,” she said. “When you feel like you should talk about something, you probably should. So when I have a platform, I’m like, OK, I should probably talk about this. And then I can see the ripple effects after that, which is the coolest part of it and see it’s actually working.”