In honor of Women’s History Month, I thought I would take a moment (or several moments) to reflect on the many inspirational figures in women’s sports who have paved the way for future generations, and also on the work that still needs to be done for women to gain the recognition they deserve. Following in the footsteps of The Sports Kid, aka former Managing Editor Bobby Wagner, I have decided to jot my thoughts down in a handy column for WSN readers to peruse.
As a young girl, I was always into sports, especially soccer. My mom signed me up for intramural soccer when I was five years old to get me out of the house, and I fell in love with the game almost immediately. Some of my strongest memories from my childhood took place on those soccer fields — the sun bearing down on me and my teammates as I zoomed around, zigzagging through defenders like Mia Hamm, my idol.
One of the biggest moments in women’s sports came in the summer of 1999. I was only a year old when the United States won the 1999 Women’s World Cup, but as I grew older I looked back on the famous penalty shootout and Brandi Chastain’s controversial celebration with pride and unparalleled admiration. Twelve-year-old Bela obsessively watched Mia Hamm and Briana Scurry’s highlights, read everything she could about the legendary 99ers and kept up with the latest team news.
Those women were my heroes — for the first time, I felt seen and I even thought that I could one day take the field and represent my country on the world stage. Obviously, that dream never quite materialized, but the sentiment remains the same: the United States Women’s National Team made me feel proud of being a girl who loved sports. It proved that it could succeed on the world stage, and it catapulted women into the limelight at a time when men’s teams dominated the headlines.
Throughout my life, there have been countless inspiring women in sports who have consistently pushed boundaries and made their names. Michelle Akers, Serena Williams, Maya Moore, Katie Ledecky, Sue Bird and Simone Biles, just to name a few. These athletes and the millions of girls around the world who play the sports that they love, without caring about what others think, prove that women no longer have anything to prove.
However, while women have been killing it in their respective sports for years, there are still some ways to go in terms of providing female athletes with the recognition and media coverage that they deserve. It’s hard to miss the trolls that post hateful comments on female athletes’ and sports journalists’ social media accounts. And the lack of strong support from media is disappointing; just look at ESPN’s frustrating mishandling of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament bracket. Why was Kobe Bryant — a man who never played college basketball and who was once accused of sexual assault — made the face of the NCAA’s women’s March Madness ad campaign instead of one of the countless WNBA superstars?
Why must the United States Women’s National Team face such flack in their fight for equal pay and improved working conditions? After all, they’ve won the World Cup three times and gold at the Olympics four times. The men? Zero for both.
Don’t forget when the best women’s soccer player in the world was asked if she could twerk on stage at the awards ceremony.
And let’s not even get started on how President Trump has neglected to invite the past two WNBA champions or current NCAA women’s basketball champions to the White House.
The Minnesota Whitecaps just won the Isobel Cup during its first season in the National Women’s Hockey League. Two professional women’s soccer games broke attendance records in the past two weeks. And the University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team — the most successful women’s basketball program in history — has a chance to win its 12th national title this season.
The women’s accomplishments speak for themselves. If you’re a fan, buy a ticket and show up to cheer on your local team. If you’re a journalist, commit to fair coverage of women’s sports. And if you’re a misogynist, step up to the plate and support women in athletics, too.
The Sports Girl is a weekly sports column that will feature a girl’s take on sports. Yes, a girl. Yes, on sports.
A version of this article appeared the Monday, March 25, print edition. Email Bela Kirpalani at [email protected]