Pepper Persley turns curiousity into career covering WNBA

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Try as they might, Pepper Persley’s parents, Christopher and Jenelle, could not seem to quell her curiosity. Not that they wanted to. She was precocious, empathetic, inquisitive and insightful. Armed with some questions they could answer — and plenty they couldn’t.

Particularly about the WNBA.

So with that in mind, Christopher sought to connect his daughter with someone who had the answers she was seeking: Aces assistant coach Sugar Rodgers, then a guard for Persley’s hometown New York Liberty.

“I was more nervous than she was,” said Rodgers, recalling her 2017 conversation with Persley, who was all of 6 years old when she conducted the interview.

Persley is 10 now and a burgeoning sports journalist and social justice activist, complete with an Instagram live show, “Dish With Pepper,” and a podcast, “She Got Next,” on which she interviews some of the most influential figures in women’s sports and media.

In the last four years, she’s interviewed Aces stars A’ja Wilson and Liz Cambage, along with other WNBA luminaries like Diana Taurasi, Elena Delle Donne, Tina Charles, Breanna Stewart, Skylar Diggins-Smith and Sue Bird.

All while navigating elementary school and the challenges that come with it.

Persley didn’t just finish fourth grade last week. She worked for Ballys Sports as a sideline reporter during the Dallas Mavericks’ Game 5 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of the NBA playoffs.

“I was not expecting to continue to do this,” said Persley, who wants to play in the WNBA and cover the league after her career concludes. “But obviously, I continue to have questions. I continue to learn more about basketball and I want to share the knowledge that WNBA players specifically have.”

A curious nature

Persley’s parents raised her to be passionate. “Didn’t really matter for what,” her mother said. She’s a violinist and martial artist, having studied the violin and taekwondo. She also plays chess and has played basketball since she was 4.

She lives in Manhattan, but grew up across from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn where the NBA’s Nets play. Her family frequented games, fostering in her a natural love for the sport — and questions about the players and the game. Her father had developed contacts with the Liberty through a local dads organization he’d helped run. His relationships helped Persley secure some time with Rodgers so she could ask her about the WNBA.

Persley can talk basketball with the best of them, but her questions and conversations often explore more pressing issues, like racism, equality, self-confidence and bullying. In 2019, she visited Washington, D.C., and interviewed several Mystics players for a project about the consequences of bullying after being bullied in the second grade.

She also frequented virtual press conferences last summer when the WNBA was housed on the campus of IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, where anti-racism was often a topic of conversation.

“She’s eloquent. She’s articulate. She’s clear and concise,” said Mystics play-by-play broadcaster Meghan McPeak, who refers to Persley as her little sister. “At the age of 10, she’s that intelligent and that thoughtful, that I have the utmost confidence that she could be mayor of New York City, governor of New York and eventually, she could probably run for president.”

The virtual access via Zoom helped Persley build her profile and connect with players from around the WNBA. She launched her shows last May and has formed relationships across the league, allowing for genuine, candid, vulnerable conversation on her various platforms.

Her violin teacher, Ariana Rosen, said Persley has “limitless” potential, noting her resilient approach to the instrument — and everything else she does.

“If she has a battle that she has to deal with, she doesn’t have to worry about people having her back. She has the entire WNBA,” said McPeak. “She’s showing kids and even adults that if you’re passionate and want to do something, don’t wait to do it, just do it.”

Contact reporter Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.



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