When it comes to women's sports, you won't find few people as invested in its advancement as Ari Chambers. The founder of HighlightHer and a 2020 Forbes 30 Under 30 honoree, the New York-based creative has made it her mission to give women and non-binary individuals the same exposure and recognition male counterparts receive.
That expands beyond just athletics and as of late, Chambers' focus has been on the continuous efforts to reunite Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner with her family. On Aug. 4, Griner was found guilty for entering Russia with less than a gram of cannabis oil in February. Despite Griner's emotional plea for mercy, a Russian judge handed down a nine-year sentence for the 31-year-old.
"As fans of the game and as citizens of the United States, we should be saying her name," Chambers told Yahoo Sports. "We should be making sure we sign petitions, communicating with the President [Joe Biden], and using the resources available on wearebg.org."
Chambers told Yahoo Sports she's been in steady contact with Griner's wife, Cherelle.
"Cherelle's a good friend of mine. So just knowing how strong Cherelle's had to be, we are all owed to her. We need to keep her lifted and keep her surrounded in love and knowing what a beautiful soul Brittney is," Chambers said. "When it comes to the women's basketball community, outside of we are bonded by ball, we're a family. And that's our sister overseas. So we can't be a complete family until she's back on U.S. soil. There's only so much negativity someone can take. She's a human. She's a wife. She's a mother. She's a sister. And we just, we just need her."
As negotiations between the Biden administration and the Russian government continue, Chambers detailed how she, Cherelle and the rest of Griner's inner circle are keeping hope alive during this difficult period.
"I think we can keep showing the humanity. I think it's one thing to say her name over and over again, but just showing the humanity of Brittney. She's not this fictional character, she's literally a human," Chambers said. "I do know there's a lot of action that has come when they've seen the pictures of her in prison. It's just so sad. I've personally decided to post happy moments of Brittney when she was playing around on the court.
"She's a Black, queer woman, and that's the triple threat of everything the world hates. We're taught to believe her presence can be intimidating, so I alongside Cherelle and the rest of Brittney's supporters are focused on portraying her as the kind, compassionate person she's always been."
Being intentional about partnerships
Chambers' commitment to equality in sports also trickles into her partnerships, and the 31-year-old understands the value of teaming up with brands committed to elevating the voice of women and non-binary individuals. One year after Beija Velez made history by having a signature ball with Wilson Sporting Goods, Chambers is following in her footsteps to release a collab with the storied brand this week.
"I remember the newspaper articles where I wrote about the girls basketball team. I was the girls basketball manager. Boosting the women's game was already written for me because the passion was there. But there's so much more to go," Chambers said. "The aim is to have it equitable to the men's game. And we're far away from that right now. Every time I think, 'Gosh, this is so exhausting,' I remember Brittney and all the other changemakers that came before me, and I know the goal hasn't been met yet."
The all-black, limited-edition ball is accented by gold lines across the stitching. Chambers teased a number of Easter eggs fans would immediately notice upon first glance. One of the more obvious design elements is the texturized map of Raleigh, North Carolina, on both sides. Though she no longer considers North Carolina home, 919 is where Chambers discovered her love of the game. Additional details include her favorite Bible verse (Romans 8:31) and a shield that represents her high school, Southeast Raleigh High School.
"I hope the ball brings people happiness and, and a way for them to feel seen. But trust me, we're just getting started," she said.
Priced at $96.19 (96 for the year the WNBA started and 19 to commemorate the passing of the 19th Amendment recognizing a women's right to vote), the Ari Chambers x Wilson basketball drops Aug. 18 on wilson.com.