GSMP 2015 Site Visits: Nga Le at Big East Conference

By Brian Canever October 07, 2015

Nga Le poses with her mentors Val Ackerman and Ann Wells Crandall in front of the Big East Conference logo near the entrance to the organization’s New York City headquarters. Although she stands eye to eye with Ann, Nga is at least a foot shorter than Val, a women’s basketball pioneer and the only female commissioner among college sports’ Power Five conferences. Nga’s giant-sized personality more than makes up for the size difference, as the three women laugh and smile together.

During the ninth Site Visit of the 2015 U.S. Department of State and espnW Global Sports Mentoring Program, Drs. Sarah Hillyer and Ashleigh Huffman, co-directors of the University of Tennessee’s Center for Sport, Peace, & Society, and I, sat down with Nga, Val and Ann to discuss their hopes for women’s sports in Vietnam and the across the globe.

Not an athlete herself, Nga fell in love with sports after joining the XLE Group, a sports entertainment company that oversees SSA, the Saigon Heat professional men’s basketball team, and the Vietnam University Games. Despite her own success as the organization’s business and operations manager, Nga doesn’t believe women in Vietnam take the business of sport seriously.

“They say, ‘You have no career path. You’re not going to earn a lot of money, and plus there are no positions out there,'” Nga said. “But, I am a proven record that women can make a good living in sport. I’m here, so why can’t other women do it?”

According to Nga, part of the problem is a lack of opportunities for female athletes. Val,who served as founding president of the WNBA and president of USA Basketball prior to joining the Big East, drew a comparison between the current situation in Vietnam and the state of women’s sports in the U.S. four decades ago.

“When I was a young girl, there were no sports teams for girls,” Val said. “I didn’t play on an organized team until I got to high school. There wasn’t an opportunity. But, then Title IX passed and it opened the door for so many women playing sports at the high school and university levels.”

Neither Val nor Nga know if there will ever be a law like Title IX in Vietnam. However, Val is confident that regardless of what the government of Vietnam decides, Nga will be a catalyst for change for many years to come.

“With a program like this (GSMP), it’s like your planting seeds that are going to grow and become big oak trees with their own branches of women who will come after them to continue their legacy,” Val said.

Ann, who is working closely with Nga to develop an Action Plan focused on creating greater access to basketball and other sports for women, believes that mentorship and teamwork will play a fundamental role in Nga’s future success.

“This type of program didn’t exist when I was Nga’s age,” Ann said. “And I really feel that as a female executive it’s our responsibility to help where we didn’t have help before. I learned so many of these lessons on my own and to be given the opportunity to help a women like Nga when I’m older, that’s a privilege.”

Listen to the Center’s podcast conversation with Nga, Val and Ann at the link below