The New York Times recently ran a feature on Reggae Girlz, the first national soccer team from the Caribbean to qualify for the Women’s World Cup, happening soon (June 7 to July 7) in France.
The article, entitled The Women’s World Cup’s Other Inequality: Rich vs. Poor, reports that the coach of the Reggae Girlz has worked for free for five years, and many of the female players lack funds for the costs of being a professional athlete. The coaches have to buy them things like jackets to wear for training and other basics of the sport.
Good news for women in sports: for the first time ever, the Augusta National golf tournaments included women, in the form of the first Augusta National Women’s Amateur event. Finally, one of the oldest and most revered golf courses in America allowed women to officially compete on its greens.
Do major league sports leaders have a responsibility to model respect for women in everything they do? This question is fresh on the minds of many due to Robert Kraft, philanthropist and owner of the New England Patriots, being charged with two counts of soliciting a prostitute in Florida, where he was allegedly engaging in sex acts with women at Orchids of Asia Salon.
Through his philanthropy, Robert Kraft has funded initiatives specifically aimed at ending sexual exploitation of women and girls. USA Today reports that Kraft gave $100,000 in 2015 to My Life, My Choice, a Boston-based organization that works on ending child sex trafficking. Some might ask how the same man can be both perpetrating sexual exploitation and funding initiatives to end it.
National Girls and Women in Sports Day (NGWSD) is commemorated annually in the first week of February. According to its sponsor, the Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF), the day represents “a national observance celebrating the extraordinary achievements of girls and women in sports.”
The WNBA honored female athletes on February 6, and was one of many institutions noting the value of sport in fostering not just fitness and health in girls and women, but also self-confidence and leadership skills. “Lead Her Forward” was the 2019 NGWSD theme, and the Women’s Sports Foundation’s Deborah Antoine noted, “NGWSD is a great time to uplift these girls and women, along with the advocates using their platforms to inspire greatness in female athletes. We are also more committed than ever to protect Title IX, along with strong policies and safeguards for women in sports and all industries.”
Several marquee female athletes traveled to Capitol Hill to celebrate the day and advocate for women’s athletics. The contingent included WSF President and three-time Olympic bobsled medalist Elana Meyers Taylor, Paralympics swimming gold medalist Jessica Long, and World Rugby Hall of Famer Phaidra Knight.
The Capitol Hill visit focused on keeping Title IX strong, supporting a Senate bill to establish a commission on the state of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic movement, and advocating for more sports and fitness opportunities for girls and women at all levels.
In addition to pressing legislators to improve funding for and access to sports for girls and women, the athletes also had a little play time at the George Washington University campus. Star athletes led elementary, middle and high school girls in multi-sport clinics, including Olympic ice hockey medalist Meghan Duggan, 1984 Olympic hurdles gold medalist Benita Fitzgerald Mosley, Paralympic basketball and alpine skiing gold medalist Alana Nichols, and three-time U.S. National Champion climber Sasha DiGiulian. Following the clinics, WSF President Meyers Taylor led discussions on Title IX, and shared her thoughts on athletic and leadership opportunities for girls after graduation.
“Access to sports and all the benefits they provide is critical for girls and women. Sports teach girls leadership, teamwork and confidence,” said Meyers Taylor. “National Girls & Women in Sports Day is a great time to reconnect with the girls and women we serve and call for a national push to support girls and women in sports.”
The Women’s Sports Foundation partners with the National Women’s Law Center, George Washington University, Girls Inc. and the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition in promoting the nationwide day dedicated to women’s athletics. NGWSD began in 1987 to bring national attention to the promise of girls and women in sports, and has since evolved into an event to acknowledge the accomplishments of female athletes, the positive influence of sports participation, and the continuing struggle for equality for women in sports.
The WSF is a 501(c)(3), and since its formation in 1974 by tennis legend Billie Jean King has advocated and organized to promote equal access to sports and physical activity for girls and women. While only a small fraction of athletes will play professionally or in top-tier college programs, engaging in sports and fitness activities improves mental and physical health throughout a lifetime. The WSF has relationships with more than 1,000 of the world’s elite female athletes, and has impacted the lives of more than three-million youth, high school and collegiate student-athletes.
The mission of the Women’s Sports Foundation “is dedicated to creating leaders by ensuring all girls access to sports.” There is no better example of this than its founder Billie Jean King, one of the premier female tennis players in history, and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009. King was a pioneer on and off the court. She was a founding member of the Women’s Tennis Association, defeated Bobby Riggs in the 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” match (brilliantly captured in the eponymous 2017 movie with Emma Stone and Steve Carrel) and was designated one of Life Magazine’s “100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century” in 1990. Exceptional on the court, King’s greatest legacy is no doubt the increased respect, visibility and compensation she gained for female tennis pros (and women athletes in general).
The WSF’s focus is not just on elite athletes, but also the benefits of sport for all girls and women. The WSF notes that it “distributes upwards of $10,000 per week from operating dollars to provide opportunities for socioeconomically underprivileged and inactive girls to participate in sports and physical activity.” The WSF has also been a powerful advocate for sports scholarships for women; scholarship money has increased from $100,000 in 1972 to over $1.8 billion across the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) today.
The WSF has fought for equal facilities and access to sports for girls and women, with major grant programs including GoGirlGo, which has gotten over one million girls physically active, and Sports 4 Life, which has targeted grass-roots sports opportunities for over 6,000 girls of color aged 11-18. The WSF has also given over 1,300 grants to champion athletes and teams to fund training and travel, and produced more than 40 studies on gender equity and sports.
Naturally, the WSF is a key supporter of “Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972,” the legislation that while perhaps not leveling the playing field, at least allowed access to it. The WSF works with NCAA leadership, the Office of Civil Rights, coaches, parents and media in maintaining support for the law, which bars gender discrimination in education programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance. The law states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
Consequently, girls’ participation in K-12 and collegiate sports has dramatically increased since the 1970s. Still, the WSF notes that only one-quarter of girls get sufficient physical exercise, and there are persistent gender, socioeconomic and racial barriers to health and fitness. This is crucial, as in addition to obvious health benefits, physical activity improves body image over time, reducing depression, eating disorders, and other mental health difficulties. Sports are also key in developing discipline, teamwork, perseverance and leadership skills, valuable attributes on and off the field.
Take it from Phaidra Knight, retired professional rugby player, who speaks in the above video about the value of funding initiatives like Sports 4 Life:”It really doesn’t matter your speed, your size, it’s just what you bring, your unique self, to the game,” said Knight. She went on to emphasize that with sports, young people have the opportunity become part of a team, which can lead to personal growth and improved self-confidence. “I think it’s so important, especially that girls from disadvantaged backgrounds have that opportunity. That is sometimes their ticket and access to greater things across the board.”
The Sports 4 Life Initiative is particularly aimed at increasing and retaining African-American and Hispanic girls in youth sports programs. Sports 4 Life was cofounded by the Women’s Sports Foundation and espnW in 2014. This year, the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation also joined the initiative, providing regional support to eight organizations in Southeast Michigan and Western New York.
The Women’s Sports Foundation was founded by Billie Jean King in 1974 with guiding mission of strengthening and expanding access for girls and women to all sports. As many of us know, sports participation can be an important window of opportunity for young girls, but there is such a huge gap in attention given to girls in sports versus men and boys. Every day, just for fun, I scroll through all the sports sections of the news online, just to see how many times I see a woman or a girl. It’s probably less than 10% of the time. How often do I see a woman or girl of color? Probably 5 to 10%. A sliver of a sliver.
Programs like Sports 4 Life are aimed at providing more parity for girls of color across a wide range of sports. “Even more than we believe in the power of sports, the Women’s Sports Foundation believes that all girls – regardless of race, ethnicity, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, ability, zip code or family income – deserve equitable access to the lifelong benefits of sports,” said Deborah Antoine, CEO of the Women’s Sports Foundation.
Since Sports 4 Life began in 2014, the Initiative has awarded 200 grants totaling more than $1.1 million, and reaching more than 50,000 girls nationally. This year, the Initiative’s community partners were particularly successful in increasing opportunities for girls of color, with more than 85% percent of girl participants being African-American or Hispanic.
The #GirlsAre campaign coordinated by The Clinton Foundation last year was so successful at galvanizing media and action for girl athletes, they are doing it again for a second year.
That’s a very good thing, because data shows that girls in the U.S. are far less likely than boys to engage in the recommended amount of physical activity. The Clinton Foundation and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, along with a long list of foundations and nonprofits, is continuing the #GirlsAre campaign to fight against this worrisome trend for girls.