“What’s it like to be a woman in sports?” It’s a loaded question, and one that I get asked often. It’s also one that’s extremely difficult to answer. I can certainly speak about my personal experience, but for each woman, their path to whatever job they hold in sports has been undoubtedly riddled with their own set of challenges. While there are some general themes that most women combat throughout their careers in sports, I don’t think those issues are limited to sports, which makes the whole conversation tricky.
However, I recently started looking at this question through a different lens, and from a broader perspective. Doesn’t the fact that someone is even asking me that question tell us everything we need to know? Would a man ever be asked, “What’s it like to be a man in sports?” Probably not. Even if he is working in a women’s sports league, it’s assumed that a male has automatically earned his place, simply by being male. While there are more opportunities for women in sports now than ever before, there’s still progress to be made. We’ve seen so many glass ceilings shattered in the sports world already, but the imbalance is still vast.
Representation is a word we hear a lot when discussing film and politics, and the same is true in sports. Representation matters. Diversity is important. To be able to look at someone you identify with, in a certain role, gives you hope that you can one day do the same. When I was growing up, I had a very limited pool of women in sports I could look up to and aspire to emulate in my own career. I would pretend to be Melissa Stark, interviewing my dad with a hairbrush during halftime of NFL games. I would pretend to be Mia Hamm, scoring a game winning goal for my country. I never pretended to be Al Michaels calling games. I never even considered the job I have now – a sports talk radio host – because it never occurred to me that it might be a seat I could occupy. Now, little girls will pretend to be Jessica Mendoza in the booth calling Sunday Night Baseball. Or Becky Hammon, as an assistant coach with the Spurs. Or Suzy Whaley, as President of the PGA. Or, perhaps, they will aspire to be Carolyn Kindle-Betz, who is leading the charge to bring the MLS to St. Louis, and in doing so would make the team the first MLS franchise majority-owned by women.
I recently had the chance to sit down with Carolyn and discuss the #MLS4TheLou initiative, and I walked away with two things I know for sure.
1) During our chat, CKB and I talked about our roles in the construct of professional sports, and what we can do to make sure more doors are opened for women. She brought up a great point, one I hadn’t considered. Look how far we’ve come even in the last 10 years. Which allows me to wonder how many strides we will make in the next 10. We need to continue the shift of equality in sports by having women take seats at the table. Having someone like CKB and her ownership group taking seats at a powerful table, making big decisions, will be huge. Imagine the ripple effect that will have.
2) This project is in the right hands. The Taylor family loves St. Louis. In fact, they have done more to pour back into and elevate our community than I can possibly quantify in this piece. They are willing privately finance a soccer stadium in downtown St. Louis, because they want to continue their revitalization of the city. They know what a special place this is, and they want to elevate it as much as they can. CKB talks about how soccer is an international sport, and having an MLS team here gets St. Louis that much closer to being back to an international city. That’s the big-picture thinking we need.
Bringing the MLS to St Louis holds the promise of so many positives. Growth for our community. An infusion of capital and new jobs. Another reason to bring people who are unfamiliar with our town to St. Louis, and prove to them that we are more than headlines they may have read. Showcasing the rich soccer history here. It’s a win for a city that really needs one.
And it’s a unique opportunity for progress, even beyond what we can see concretely.