The Apparatus Around Women’s Sports Continues To Grow
I’ve long advocated for the promotion for and support of women’s sports from the financial side, and we saw a lot of that shift for the better in 2020. Especially with the NWSL and the WNBA, broadcasters decided to put women’s sports on TV and -- gasp! -- people watched sports on TV. I’d like to see more of that, which would mean even more big-name sponsors getting involved and overcoming the inertia that has, for too long, preventing them from investing in women’s events. But I do have one, specific thing that I’d like to see in 2021 that I think is wholly achievable: I want to see a WNBA player get her own shoe. We currently have players who have deals with sneaker companies, but we have yet to see a player with a signature shoe. I do think this will change in 2021, as Sabrina Ionescu signed a multi-year deal with Nike, and likely would have debuted her own shoe had she not been sidelined with an injury in her rookie season. But that would truly signal a major shift in not only women’s sports being taken seriously, but in women athletes not named Serena being seen as major brand ambassadors primarily because of what they do on the court.
This one isn’t going to happen, at least not until after 2022: Can we just get rid of Thursday Night Football already? The players hate it and have a legitimate labor complaint when it comes to not having enough recovery time to play a sport that already ravages their bodies. Secondary to that but still important: The matchups often are just terrible -- largely because, as James Andrew Miller put it, TNF cannibalizes the product. TNF’s current deal runs through 2022, so it’s not going away any time soon, but seriously, just put us out of our misery.
Staying in the NFL, put Mina Kimes in the Monday Night Football booth. It’s long overdue. And for that matter, let’s get to the point where the mere sound of a woman’s voice talking about sports doesn’t cause fans to lose their minds. I’d like to live in a world in which Doris Burke isn’t trending on Twitter during every game she calls simply because she exists.
The strides we made in the last year with college athletes finding their power and their voice were certainly encouraging, and the implementation of NIL rights will be a huge step forward for their earning power. But I would like to see these players make good on their demands during the sports shutdown to unionize. The pandemic and the utter failure of the supposed adults in the room to keep these players safe have underscored more than ever why college athletes not only need the protection of a players’ association -- but why they deserve it, after months and months of being told just how much money their universities stood to lose without them taking the field. Part of me thinks that’s never going to happen as long as the NCAA is around, so maybe it’s just time to completely rethink that model. (It’s been time.)
I would love to see the supporting apparatus around women’s sports continue to grow to the levels we have with men’s sports. That means: Dedicated stat bureaus and stat sites; comprehensive video and audio archives with interviews, highlights, and full game replays; digitizing old print articles from the local papers that were often the only media outlets covering women’s sports; and more.
If we’re talking truly dream-world stuff, I would like to see Gaelic football on American television. Not for any reason that would fix a systemic problem in sports -- I just really love to watch Gaelic football.
Kavitha A. Davidson is a sportswriter and host of The Lead, an in-depth daily sports news podcast produced by The Athletic. She is on the board of directors at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center. She was a writer with ESPNW and ESPN The Magazine and a sports columnist at Bloomberg covering the intersections of sports and society, culture, politics, race, gender, and business. Her work has also appeared in NBC THINK, the Guardian, and Rolling Stone.
Jessica Luther and Kavitha Davidson new book, Loving Sports When They Don't Love You Back is out now.
Predictions & Provocations for Sport: 2021
Although no one could have predicted all that 2020 has been, what lessons will the world of sport take into next year?
We asked some of the best and brightest minds to contribute their thoughts.