I was one of those kids who tried every sport growing up. I went out for soccer, softball, volleyball, tennis, swimming, track, I even threw on the ballet and tap shoes for a few years. But even as a child, there was something about basketball that separated itself from my other activities.
Maybe it was the game’s accessibility; with just a hoop and a ball, basketball was always there. Or maybe it was the way you could say an average of five words per day to a classmate, but when you took the court together, your chemistry was undeniable. Or maybe it was the way dribbling that orange ball at full speed, deflecting an opponent’s pass or hitting a game-winner had the ability to make a young fifth grader feel like she was unstoppable.
My love for playing basketball soon turned me into a young spectator. Well, not by choice at first. I still remember my brother and I racing to the television, trying to be the first to steal the remote as we waited for our parents to drive us to school in the morning. The days my brother outraced me, we were watching SportsCenter, no questions asked.
Early on, I probably grumbled about wanting to watch something on Disney Channel or Nickelodeon, but my brother soon got me hooked to the world of sports. I fell in love with the drama surrounding teams and athletes, the recurring characters who made regular appearances in my living room through the TV and the shift of the excitement to disappointment they could bring me on any given night from miles and miles away.
As my sports fandom and love for storytelling continued to grow, I began to look for ways I could make a career out of sports writing. I interned with my local paper in high school, joined the Augsburg Echo newspaper team in college, wrote for blogs, landed a full-time newspaper gig in Wisconsin, covered the Minnesota Lynx for The Athletic, and eventually wound up where I am today — working for the Timberwolves and Lynx, the two teams that helped ignite my love for basketball as a child.
Throughout my evolution with sports, I had the full backing of my parents, brother, extended family, friends, teachers, coaches, bosses, you name it. No one ever told me “no” or made me feel as though my contributions to sports — whether they be through Kobe vs. LeBron debates with my brother or backyard baseball games with my all-male cousins — weren’t worthy because of my gender.
As a child, you assume growing up with loving parents who raise you to be humble in all that you do while still having the confidence to pursue your dreams is the norm. You assume that every young girl grows up with loved ones who’re just as invested in their sports as they are their brother’s. You assume that if a young girl doesn’t go out for sports, it’s not because she’s been told “no” or doesn’t have the resources to do so; rather, she just isn’t interested.
But as we begin to shed some naivete, we sadly realize that growing up in supportive homes with the means to try every sport and pursue every career path isn’t the norm. Instead, it’s just a bonus that makes some young women’s entrance into the world of sports much more accessible than that of others.
What happens to the young girls who love shooting hoops at school but don’t have access to a hoop and a basketball once they return home?
What happens to the young girls who remember how it felt to hit a thrilling buzzer-beater as a fifth grader but were told they couldn’t continue to go out for sports as they entered high school?
What happens to the young girls who watch SportsCenter or read the paper and fall in love with debating sports-related topics but are continually shot down, laughed at or told their opinions don’t matter?
It pains me to think those girls could be the next Seimone Augustuses, Doris Burkes, Jackie MacMullans or Cheryl Reeves of our world but that their careers will never come to fruition because of the discouragement they received early on.
Today on National Girls and Women in Sports Day — and every day — it’s on all of us to fight for those girls and welcome them into the world of sports. That means being a resource, answering the emails, phone calls and job shadowing requests from the young women who’re trying to pursue a career in sports. That means calling out all sexist comments — even if women aren’t around to hear them. That means investing in women’s sports and celebrating female athletes the way we do their male counterparts.
The world of sports has so much to offer. Why not make it available to everyone?