Allison Woodward, Special to Advertising Week
Since writing her ESPN feature on the tragic suicide of Penn runner Madison Holleran, I’ve admired Kate Fagan’s bold voice as a reporter. The genius of WNBA president Lisa Borders and the bravery of Paralympic bronze medalist Amy Purdy have inspired me to raise my own voice and to do my part to improve how female athletes are viewed, treated and sponsored. The voice of Jemele Hill on ESPN’s “His & Hers” podcast frequently plays in my car and I can only dream of someday having a platform as incredible as Laura Gentile’s, the senior vice president of espnW.
I’m coming clean. I’ve wanted to work at ESPN since I was twelve years old and among all of the seminars at Advertising Week New York this year, I’ve been waiting for this one, titled “Why Are We Still Talking About This”, as if it were Christmas morning.
Learning from any one of these panelists, who are leading women in the sports media industry, would have been enough to outdo the Barbie Dream house that sat under my tree in 1996, but on Thursday I found myself face- to- face with all six of these incredible women. It’s a miracle that somehow I kept my inner fan-girl under control.
The session started with a powerful video espnW created for its 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 cartoons, the identities of the athletes remained anonymous and guesses from viewers compiled a list made up almost entirely of men.
Following the video’s revelation that these fantastic athletic feats were all performances of women, the mouths of those watching hung open and chills ra n down my neck. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder: E ven 44 years after Title IX made athletic scholarships ‘equal’ how was society still 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 s 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 will going to take time for society’s perception of the ideal all-star athlete to change, but they won’t stop pushing for their 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 such as ESPN, Under Armour and Nike take a stand to back women’s sports, others take notice, and the social climate, as well as 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 become a better advocate for women in sports, so the next time a Simone Biles, Abby Wambach, or Tamika Catchings enters into the sports arena, they won’t be viewed as members of a separate category, but as the true athletes they are. Period.