One of the biggest headlines of 2022, in the sports world and beyond, has been that of Brittney Griner’s wrongful detention in Russia. Over more than six months, loved ones, teammates, and fans of the WNBA player have pleaded and worked tirelessly toward Griner’s release. Lindsay Kagawa Colas has been at the forefront.
A sports agent and the executive vice president for Talent and The Collective at Wasserman, Colas’ career has been dedicated to advocating for women and non-binary athletes. And for Griner, she showed up not simply to call for freedom, but to bring to attention the larger systemic issues around gender pay disparities that led to Griner, and many other world-class women athletes, needing to supplement their income by playing for international teams in the WNBA offseason. “I am calling on companies to commit to investing three times the resources in women’s sports that they invest in men’s, to help accelerate sports industry parity,” Colas wrote in an April 2022 op-ed in the LA Times.
Though Griner’s case may be uniquely complicated and challenging, Colas’ career has been built on her desire to create systemic change. Colas—herself a former NCAA volleyball player—specifically works alongside those who understand the potential and responsibility of their power and status. Simultaneously, Colas—whose clients include Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, Maya Moore, Breanna Stewart, Simone Manuel, Ibtihaj Muhammad, Scout Bassett, and Paige Bueckers—continues to shape the industry from the inside out, as well. To date, some of her most groundbreaking achievements include negotiating the first inclusion riders and maternity protections into athlete’s contracts.
Colas thrives in the behind-the-scenes role she plays with her clients, but her work deserves headlines all the same. She’s not only negotiating every day for women athletes to be paid and treated equally as men, she’s working to shift the public and industry’s perception of privilege, power, and what’s possible when those who have it use it to serve the greater good.
"Among some of the most important women athletes of today, one of the unifying themes is that they care about other people. Their success is an opportunity for others."
ON BEING DRAWN TO ACTIVISM EARLY
In elementary school, I organized a sit-in in front of my classroom to save the whales. I don’t think we specifically saved any whales that day but I remember we learned something about what was happening—the whales and the environment—and that led me to not only want to take action but also to inspire others to do the same. I wanted to gather people around the issue and create movement. I don’t know if that call to advocate and include people in that process is innate, but it was definitely developed early.
ON TRANSITIONING FROM ATHLETE TO ADVOCATE
Being a team sport athlete, you function with others in mind and want to facilitate others’ success. That’s very much been my identity. But it was really in college—as a captain of our women's volleyball team at Stanford and then during my fifth year when I was done with volleyball and working in the Athletic Department and getting my Master's in Organizational Studies—where most of my work was focused on community organizing and activism. I started to identify athletes as an underserved population. We had many privileges and resources, but relative to our potential on campus and beyond, most were not being actively empowered to maximize the experience and relationships available during those college years.
There’s always been a history of athlete activism, but a lot of that history, particularly of Black women athlete activists, has gone uncovered or undercelebrated. I knew there was incredible potential for athletes to use their platforms to lead in movements and lift the work of existing grassroots activists and organizations. That was something I saw was missing in the sports world. So, coming out of my master's, I won a fellowship to do focused research and work in this area to figure out what resources were available, or needed to be improved, to connect athletes with existing organizations, advocacy, grassroots, and nonprofits in a way that facilitated real impact and also helped the athlete develop their relationships and knowledge around issues that mattered to them and their communities.
ON LANDING HER FIRST CLIENT AS AN AGENT
I was working as an executive assistant and player-manager for a high-powered NBA agent and doing what executive assistants do: listening in on calls and problem-solving. An NBA general manager called my boss to talk about Diana Taurasi who, at the time, had just finished her first season in the WNBA. He said she was looking for some more help. I put the general manager on hold and I said to my boss, “I’ll do it.” It wasn’t a goal of mine when I’d taken the job, but when I heard she was looking for somebody to hustle and be creative against all the odds, I instinctively raised my hand. To my boss’s credit, he said yes and she became my first client.
I learned a lesson early with Diana that, for women, it wasn't just about how hard they worked or how successful they were on the court. Despite her dominance and her charisma, we heard a lot of “no”s. Today, I know that if I haven’t heard at least one “no,” I’m not asking for enough, but almost 20 years ago, the “no”s were more about sexism, racism, homophobia, and a total lack of vision around the power of women and specifically, women in sports. I saw what the business was like at the very top of the men’s side and there were things I wanted to change. I wanted to shake the industry in a way that was centered around impact and the idea that success should be measured by how you have used your power to create more opportunity, more seats at the table, and how you have made the world better for others. After a few years of working with women athletes, it became obvious that the most iconic ones had a fundamental commitment to moving together and to lifting each other. I felt like they were the future and they were the role models and leaders we needed, so I decided to dedicate my energy to serving them.
ON WORKING WITH SOME OF THE MOST IMPORTANT ATHLETES IN THE WORLD
Today at Wasserman, through The Collective, we represent women who lead. We represent most of the leaders of the major pay equity battles, such as Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Hilary Knight, Sue Bird, and Nneka Ogwumike. We represent many of the activist leaders of the WNBA. I also represent Simone Manuel, who was the first Black woman to win an Olympic gold medal individual in swimming and who had the first inclusion rider ever in a major athlete apparel deal, Maya Moore, who left the WNBA at the top of her career to gain freedom for her now husband, Jonathan Irons, and Ibtihaj Muhammad, who was the first woman to wear a hijab in Olympic competition, has a Barbie, and is a New York Times bestselling author.
People like to think women athletes met the current social moment, but the moment met them. These women have been doing this work. They’ve been activists. Their very existence is political. Their success is, too. They’ve been multidimensional, multi-hyphenates, have cared about their impact and example, and they prioritize doing things that lift each other. Among some of the most important women athletes of today, one of the unifying themes is that they care about other people. Their success is an opportunity for others.
"The world is better for everyone when women are empowered and supported, when women can do the work that they love, and if they choose to have kids, know that their children are cared for, and when they have reproductive freedoms."
ON IMPLEMENTING THE FIRST INCLUSION RIDER FOR ATHLETES
Feelings and intentions are one thing but you have to put them in the contract. Put an inclusion rider in the contract, hold people accountable, set the intention, and be clear about it in public. A lot of my work now has been defined by these “firsts,” but success will be when that’s no longer the story. When this is just normal. I think and I hope that when someone tells the retrospective of how far we’ve come and what equality looks like, women athletes are paid the same as men, their media rights deals are the same, and sponsors pay them the same rate for the same services. I hope that people look at a legacy that we’re a part of because we set an example that others were brave enough to follow, and it’s become the standard for how to do business. And for what you do with power: You use it to make things better for yourself and others.
ON EVERYONE’S ABILITY TO USE THEIR POWER
Not everyone can go negotiate to bring Brittney Griner home but everybody can do something to help. You can share an article, sign a petition, write a letter to an elected official, or make a call. You can buy a ticket to a WNBA game, buy a jersey, talk to your kids about women as powerful, important athletes, or just show up at a sports or hotel bar and say “Hey, can you turn the WNBA game on?” These things add up and they’re cumulative.
We don’t need to be paralyzed by big challenges; we just need to do what we can with what we’ve got. And because resources and power are unequal, the folks who have more need to choose to do more. Because it is a choice. When you have resources or privileges, you choose how to allocate them. And people can choose to allocate theirs in a way that moves the needle for women athletes, not just to get them paid more, but for what it means when women are successful. The world is better for everyone when women are empowered and supported, when women can do the work that they love, and if they choose to have kids, know that their children are cared for, and when they have reproductive freedoms. And women athletes being paid is a part of that same fight for equality.
ON HER PERSONAL STYLE EVOLUTION
Early on in my career, I chopped off my long hair and my style was more about dressing to be taken seriously and not hypersexualized in a male-dominated, misogynistic field. But now, I’m established, I’m experienced, and I am in my role to help elevate and connect ideas while helping people understand what they want and how to get it. It’s also literally my job to represent incredibly special, influential, and unique people, so I aim for an aesthetic at work that channels those things. Quality, attention to detail, and clarity matter so I am drawn to tailoring, fabrics, and details that don’t distract, but instead reflect creativity in some way.
My style is always a reflection of what I’m there to do and my freedom to express that has grown. Being a mom has influenced me as well—having kids has a way of cutting right through anything fussy. Suiting options are so much better now, too. The suit is something you can really own and make a statement with—it’s not about blending and being corporate, it’s powerful and cool.
ON THE BEST ADVICE SHE’S LEARNED
Tell the truth. Often the truth is hard and it can hurt but ultimately telling it is a sign of respect. This career is full of hard conversations and the best agents are the ones who can navigate through those and are good in the uncomfortable because you have to do that work to get what’s next. Good stuff comes from doing hard things. It’s the promise I make my clients: We can’t guarantee much—things happen, budgets shift, athletes get injured—but the constant is I tell the truth. Everyone I’ve admired in the industry has operated under that principle.