Sports 4 Life, a national initiative co-founded by the Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF) and espnW (“a voice for the woman who loves sports”), was established in 2014 to increase participation of girls of color in youth sports. Recently, Sports 4 Life announced their 2020 grants which will help African American and Latino girls overcome barriers to sports participation.
Twenty-five organizations based in 13 states and Washington, D.C. received the awards which totaled $175,000. The grants aim to augment and diversify sports opportunities for more than 7,700 middle and high school girls, and included funding for programs representing 23 different sports.
The impetus for Sports 4 Life is the recognition that the benefits of participation in sports—which include improved physical and mental health, as well as better grades and improved leadership skills—often disproportionately exclude African American and Latino girls. Historic racial injustices lie at the root of disparities in access to sports participation, and these gaps have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The awards are aimed at grassroots programs serving girls of color and are helping these organizations survive and thrive in the face of unprecedented challenges. This year’s grants were increased from $5,000 to $7,000 each, and recipients can use the funds for any purpose, including developing online programming, retaining staff and offsetting operating expenses.
According to Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF) CEO Deborah Antoine “This year is certainly unlike any other, yet the very core of the Sports 4 Life initiative remains steadfast—to use the power of sport to support, encourage and inspire girls of color to unlock their full potential.” Antoine further notes, “These incredibly vital community programs are finding creative ways to keep their girls engaged, from online camps to virtual one-on-one coaching, to delivering supplies and equipment to girls’ homes. All are working hard to turn this difficult time into an opportunity for growth.”
WSF’s response to COVID has included creating a community helpline, working with sports program leaders, and developing recommendations for a safe return to play, among other initiatives. WSF continues to grow the Sports 4 Life program, further reinforcing its foundational pillars of leadership, confidence, self-esteem and perseverance. WSF is developing a new guide aimed at developing girls’ leadership skills which will be introduced this month. Later this summer, the guide will be followed by a virtual, professional development webinar series for coaches covering such topics as accessibility, college readiness and safe play.
“We know the power of sports in changing lives, building self-esteem, developing leadership skills and championing the importance of teamwork,” says Rachel Epstein, ESPN senior director, Emerging Properties & Brands. “With the Women’s Sports Foundation, we continue to make necessary steps and affect much-needed change in addressing the inequities that exist for girls of color in sports today.” Founded in 2010, espnW is a global multiplatform brand dedicated to engaging and inspiring women through sports.
Since its inception in 2014, the Sports 4 Life initiative has increased sports opportunities for young girls of color through its grant making, leadership training and capacity-building efforts. Sports 4 Life has reached 163 community organizations in 32 states (plus Washington D.C. and U.S. Virgin Islands), and has made nearly two million dollars in grants reaching 67,000+ girls in over 50 sports. According to Sports 4 Life, “Half of the girls reached by Sports 4 Life programming were not previously participating in sports with regularity, and nearly all girls were interested in continuing sports after participating in Sports 4 Life funded programming.”
Sports 4 Life founding partner, the Woman’s Sports Foundation (WSF), is a 501(c)(3), which, 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. As noted in the 2019 PW article “How Celebrating Women in Sports Bolsters Women’s Leadership” 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.
WSF strengthens and expands participation and leadership opportunities through research, advocacy, community programming and partnerships. According to the WSF, “We’re building a future where every girl and woman can #KeepPlaying and unlock the lifelong benefits of sport participation. All girls. All women. All sports.” There are a number of ways donors can support the Women’s Sports Foundation in its efforts to advance opportunities for female sports participation.
The WSF has also been a powerful advocate for sports scholarships for women, and thanks in part to its efforts, 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 been 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.”
The Sports 4 Life Partner 2020 funding cycle is closed, but those interested in applying for 2021 should check back soon with Sports 4 Life. 2020 grant recipients included Playworks New England (helping kids “stay active and build valuable social and emotional skills through play”), Woodcraft Rangers (a Los Angeles-based organization “guiding young people as they explore pathways to purposeful lives for nearly 100 years”), Bridge Lacrosse (Dallas, Texas) and Philadelphia Youth Basketball, among many.
Those eligible for grants include non-profit schools, organizations, parks and recreation departments, and amateur sports leagues. More than 70 percent of enrolled program participants must be African American or Hispanic; other requirements include the ability “to deliver structured, developmental sports programming to girls ages 11 to 18 through experienced and committed leadership,” and “provide ongoing funding to implement sports programming after the life of the funding has expired.” Awards are flexible, and can be applied to “coaching, curriculum, equipment, uniforms, transportation, facility rental, tournaments and/or team-building activities, all while fostering the Sports 4 Life benefits: leadership, self-esteem, confidence and perseverance.”