espnW: Women + Sports Chicago Presented by Toyota


Women Athletes Empowering Themselves Advocate Changing Attitudes at espnW’s Women + Sports at Inaugural Event in Chicago. For the past six years, espnW has hosted a Women + Sports Summit in California, a two-day event packed with activities, speakers and networking.

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Images Courtesy of ESPN Images.

This effort serves to inspire positive change and opportunity for women in sports by uniting women who are instrumental in the women sports world, from renowned athletes to industry influencers. This year, espnW traveled instead to the Midwest to host the inaugural Women+Sports Chicago, packing all the excitement, education and inspiration from a two-day summit into a one-day unforgettable event.

Hosted by espnW writer and ESPN Radio personality, Sarah Spain, she was joined on stage by a myriad of speakers and panelists including some of the top female athletes in the United States such as WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne of the Chicago Sky, 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup Champion and Chicago Red Stars defender, Julie Johnston. These two women were joined by prospective 2016 Olympians such as World Champion wrestler Adeline Gray, paratriathlete Melissa Stockwell, water polo gold medalist Maggie Steffens and fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad. They were all there to discuss the ‘Road to Rio’ and the mental and physical preparation involved for this summer’s Olympic Games.

The day began with an interview of Elena Delle Donne by Julie Foudy, a former captain of the U.S. Women’s National team. Their conversation included reference to the controversy over Delle Donne’s recent suggestion to lower basketball rims, the path to Rio, pay equity and Delle Donne’s new found wood-working passion. Last month, Delle Donne innocuously commented that one rule she would change in women’s basketball would be to lower the rim. This invited a slew of negative reactions.

In response, Delle Donne noted that modifications have been made in the past for women across all different games, to even the playing field and to make the sport comparable for both genders. Despite the heightened reactions, Delle Donne appreciated the ensuing and needed conversations. The fight for pay equity is exemplified by the recent filing by the U.S. women’s soccer team of a wage- discrimination action against the U.S. Soccer Federation. While only one team is now taking action, this suit draws attention to the on-going inequity fight in which all female athletes find themselves, whether for monetary compensation, opportunity or mindset.

The conversations which took place that day in Chicago were about far more than the changes in compensation and rules. The young women participating were also advocating for ten changes in attitude which women athletes need to make for themselves.

10. You are rich. Being rich is not about the amount of zeros behind a number in your bank account. We  are all rich with human capital (your talent or skills) and social capital (who you know and your social network) and using your voice can be a lot more powerful than your  checkbook.

9.  Be multi-faceted: The important part is to make time for whatever makes you happy.

8. “I’m doing it no matter what”: Persevere, persevere, persevere. Northwestern women’s Lacrosse coach, Kelly Amonte Hiller turned their team into a powerhouse demonstrating that determination is the key to success.

7. Practice until it is second nature. This is an easy one – we all know practice makes perfect, so practice, practice, practice.

6. Don’t seek the validation of others. Olympian fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad said it  best: “Don’t wait for others’ validation or approval, you’ll be waiting a lifetime.”

5. Maintain perspective. This fight is a long one and just because the finish line is still in the distance, shouldn’t discourage. It’s important to think about how far we’ve come as well as all the places we’re going.

4. Your excuses suck. Military officer Melissa Stockwell lose her leg during duty in Iraq but is a world champion winning triathlete.  She describes  her disability by saying “I think my life started on that day. I have become a better person. I appreciate more. I have done more things with one leg than I ever did with two.” If she can do it, you can, too.

3. It’s one thing to say it, another to live it. Amy Liss was born with severe cerebral palsy and despite her reliance on her wheelchair for mobility and dependence on others for help, she has the most gracious and positive attitude. Her motto: “Live every day with an attitude of gratitude”.  She doesn’t just say the words, she tries  to  live them, every single day.

2. Have an approach. No matter the goal, have an approach. It’s okay to seek out the help of others but do you research to help yourself so others can better help you.

1. We are not the only voice in the room.

Equal status for women in the male dominated sports market permeates all facets of the industry.  Public conversations in which prominent  figures  such as Delle Donne and Foudy engage, help other athletes to know they are not the only voice in the room.  They  serve to bring attention to and to contribute to the growth and opportunity within women’s sports.  Altering the public’s perception of the equity  issue is imperative for significant change within women’s sports  to occur.   Public changes in  the subtleties of language,  can influence  the attitudes of men and women,  and of parents leading  to the  positive  encouragement of young girls.

These public conversations  are  also changing the marketing  and coverage of women’s sports,  going beyond talking about what female athletes do but also telling who they are and their story.  This fight for change is an ongoing focus of espnW.  Because of that effort, change will  grow, expanding  opportunities for women in sports and sports fans everywhere.   At the end of the day, Delle Donne, like many of the other athletes are striving to grow the game and make it better for the all the girls coming into it.

About author

This article was written by Kara Perconti

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