Since she wrote the story on the suicide of UPenn runner Madison Holleran, I’ve admired Kate Fagan’s bold voice as a reporter. WNBA President Lisa Border’s genius and Paralympic bronze medalist Amy Purdy’s bravery inspire me to raise my voice to improve the way female athletes are seen and sponsored. Jemele Hill’s His & Hers podcast is frequently playing in my car, and I can only dream of someday having a platform as incredible as Senior Vice President Laura Gentile’s ESPNW to my name.
I’m coming clean. I’ve wanted to work at ESPN since I was twelve years old and have been waiting this week for this seminar like it was Christmas morning.
Learning from any single one of these panelists would have been enough to outdo the Barbie Dream house that sat under my tree in 1996, but I found myself face to face with all six of these incredible women. It’s a miracle that somehow I kept my screaming inner fan-girl under control.
The session started with a powerful video ESPN W created for it’s introduction to audiences in Brazil which asked women and men to identify the athletes that were responsible for incredible plays across several sports. By way of a generic, human figure cartoon, the identities of the athletes remained anonymous and guesses from viewers resulted in a list made up almost entirely of men.
Following the video’s revelation that these fantastic athletic feats were all the performances of women left the mouths of those watching open and chills run down my neck. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder: How could it be that 44 years after Title IX made athletic scholarships ‘equal’ society was still so frequently leaving female athletes out of the conversation when it came to sports?
While she’s certainly not satisfied with the way the world views and compensates female athletes, Border offered a new approach for measuring female success in the sports industry. Comparing women’s sports to the NFL or MLB is like comparing apples to oranges; not because we’re different genders but because leagues like the MLB have been around since 1876.
These women all agreed it is going to take time for society’s understanding of the all-star athlete to change but they won’t stop pushing for a place not on the sidelines but at center court. It’s not enough for us to point to Serena Williams net worth and say we’ve made progress.
When power players like ESPN, Under Armor and Nike take a stand to back women’s teams others take notice and social climate, along with sponsorship opportunities, begin to change.
While it might take the support of powerful brands and recognition from men in power for the world to see women as the kick-ass athletes of the future, in my opinion it’s women like those on this panel who ensure there is no shot clock for earning our place in the game as long we keep moving forward.
In its entirety, today’s conversation inspired me to use my skills as a journalist and experiences as a former college-athlete to be a better advocate for the women in sports and to share some of the incredible stories so that the next Simone Biles, Abby Wambach, and Tamika Catchings of the world are not members of a separate category but athletes, period.