About this Episode
In the late ’90s, the rise of the WNBA and a record-breaking, nail-biting Women’s World Cup Final signaled things were changing in women’s sports. Nearly 20 years later, we ask: how much progress have we made? To answer that question, we chatted with FIFA Women’s World Cup champions Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain, current U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team members Crystal Dunn and Sam Mewis, and the executive director of the Women’s National Basketball Player Association, Terri Jackson.
Rachel Thomas: Welcome to Tilted, a Lean In Podcast. Each week we’ll explore the uneven playing field—the gender bias that lurks in unexpected places, the impact it has on our everyday lives, and what happens when women lean in and start driving change. I’m your host Rachel Thomas, co-founder and president of Lean In.
Announcer: Sun Wen shot, and she scores. Even up again—but it also means that the USA could win the World Cup on this next kick. Chastain will take it. She missed a penalty kick against China in the Algarve Cup and they lost that game… GOAL!
Rachel Thomas: For those of you who don’t remember—or who weren’t on the planet yet—that’s a clip of the winning goal at the U.S. Women’s World Cup in 1999. It was a huge moment—the most watched soccer match in television history at the time. It electrified fans of all ages. And it signalled a new era for women’s soccer—and women’s sports in general. The 99ers were heroes to so many of us—I know they were to me. Yet at the same time, a lot didn’t change. They had to fight hard for everything, from uniforms that fit—you heard me right—to the type of travel and meals that world-class athletes deserve—and let’s be honest, that the men were already getting.
We’re going to dig into that fight—into how far we’ve come and how far we have to go.
Rachel Thomas: Today I'm joined by two members of the ‘91 and ‘99 FIFA Women's World Cup champion team—Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain.
Julie Foudy: Wooo!
Brandi Chastain: That's right in your ear right there. That is.
Rachel Thomas: Fast forward to today, both women are successful sports commentators and run programs dedicated to developing girls as soccer players and, even more importantly, as leaders. Julie is also the author of Choose to Matter: Being Courageously and Fabulously You, a fantastic leadership book for girls. We also have two members of the U.S. national women's team who also play for the North Carolina Courage: Power forward Crystal Dunn and star midfielder Sam Mewis. Welcome ladies.
Rachel Thomas: Let's start with the 99ers, Julie and Brandi. When I was growing up in Pennsylvania, I had to play on a boys team. And then when I got to high school, and I won't say the boys weren't better, but they were... but I still couldn't play because my mom refused to let me play with boys, which had a big impact that really stopped me from playing any more soccer. What was it like for you guys growing up?
Brandi Chastain: Well most of the sports I played when I was younger were just in the street in front of my house with the neighborhood kids. Of course, the majority were boys. But organized sports, I played initially soccer with girls, and baseball I played with boys. So it was a mixed bag.
Rachel Thomas: And did you have girls soccer as well?
Julie Foudy: I grew up in Southern California, which I was really lucky because it was just when AYSO was launching there, so girls, boys… I played with girls, actually, but there are many teammates of ours—Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly—they grew up playing with boys.
Rachel Thomas: So then you both made it to the U.S. national team in the 80s. Tell me, what was that like?
Brandi Chastain: Well, lots of men's uniforms. Shiny, extra, leftover sweatsuits that nobody wanted. Super awesome, actually.
Julie Foudy: Yeah, we looked like astronauts.
Rachel Thomas: So let me get this straight. You were playing on the U.S. Women's National Team, the best players in the country, and you were wearing men's hand-me-downs. Is that right?
Julie Foudy: Uh, yeah. I never got that distinction. But they were essentially... sleeves that were supposed to be short sleeves were like three-quarter length. I look great in shorts that are down to my knees, too. It’s a good look.
Rachel Thomas: OK, so however you got them, you're playing in men's uniforms. What else about the experience? How was it, like, to be on the road? How many fans were there? Talk us through what that felt like.
Julie Foudy: Well we played in the first World Cup in 1991 in China, and we go and literally I had to tell my dad… my dad was not going to go. He was like, “Oh, honey, that's a really busy time of the month for me and work.” And I was like, “No, Dad, a World Cup is pretty big. It’s kind of a big deal.” Because we're playing in front of a packed house and there's a lot of enthusiasm in China for it. And then we get home and there was no ticker tape parade at all. There were three people, and one was the bus driver and one was our U.S. Soccer guide, Tom Meredith.
Julie Foudy: So we would be in these red fleece tops. Very distinctive; you could see us. We would be every middle seat going down the entire plane.
Brandi Chastain: A red strip.
Julie Foudy: So I got to a point, and this is before, like, social media, and I mean can you imagine posting that picture on social media? It would have been perfect. But what we would do instead, because we didn’t have social media, is we would take it on our little film camera and we would make copies of it and send it to the federation and be like, this is what I'm talking about!
Julie Foudy: Can we just get a seat before...? They would not give us seats, so we'd show up to the airport as a big group and they'd be like, “Oh, you're in 25E, 26E, 27E.” And it was all smoking. We were in the back of the plane with the smokers.
Rachel Thomas: So you’re athletes in the back of the plane, in smoking, center row. Wow. That's awesome.
Julie Foudy: Just give us a seat! Please.
Brandi Chastain: So that wouldn't happen today.
Rachel Thomas: So I have so many things I want to ask at once. So jump in, though. Why would that not happen today? Just make it clear for everybody listening.
Crystal Dunn: I think just the way the game and the sport has evolved, thanks to these ladies here. I think what they experienced in the early stages was, the sport is so new. We want to put the sport on the map, and I think at some point you were probably just like, “Oh, well this is the norm. Maybe this is just how it goes?” kind of thing. I think these women as pioneers have paved the way for us being like not OK with just “This is a norm.” Now we're working towards creating a norm and the raising of the standards I think is something. And I think a big part of this is lifestyle, which comes into play with flights and hotels and things like that. We're really trying to push for us to be taken seriously and put in those top, you know, five-star lifestyle.
Brandi Chastain: I think it was the “happy to be here”—you know the air quotes of “happy to be here.”
Julie Foudy: And then that quickly fades.
Brandi Chastain: I know, I know. But I think that was initially...
Rachel Thomas: OK so fast forward eight years. It's ’99 and, I mean, I remember this so vividly: you guys won. It felt like you shattered that glass ceiling forever, and Brandi I remember you on the cover of so many magazines, you know, down on the ground, shirt ripped off, sports bra on in kind of all your glory. So eight years had gone by since ’91 and you were like, “Were just happy to be here.” And now you are by any measure the best women's franchise on the planet. How did it feel after that win? Did anything start to change? Or what was that like?
Brandi Chastain: I mean, honestly, it was such a gift to be with these women. And I think... I get emotional thinking about it now because it was such a family. Not just your immediate family. It was a family situation. And that was the greatest part of what happened.
Rachel Thomas: What about you, Julie?
Julie Foudy: I mean things were much better by then, but not as good as we wanted them to be. So we had a big contract negotiation after ’99 where we actually threatened not to come to the Olympics in 2000. And that was kind of the turning point, because then finally we were... we called it, “we're driving the bus, baby!” The team was popular, we had some leverage finally.
Brandi Chastain: Cheddar cheese and cookies at lunch. That was Julie's big beef.
Sam Mewis: Yeah, totally. The food.
Julie Foudy: How many years? How many years? I just want cheddar cheese slices. That’s all I wanted. And cookies. Real chocolate chip cookies.
Crystal Dunn: These things matter. They all add up, you know?
Julie Foudy: I would walk through the line and that was our refrain: How many years? How many years? Mia would look at the Kraft cheese slices and she’d be like, “How many? How many years?” Really. Just cheddar. I got the Cabot cheese sponsorship after that.
Sam Mewis: Oh, perfect.
Julie Foudy: We had some leverage, finally. And in the past, you know, they would always argue people don't care about women's soccer. We market it and no one comes. What are we supposed to do? It's a losing proposition. And we're like, “No it's not. We go into cities all the time and no one knows we're there.” And so it's kind of the cause and effect. If you market it and build it, they will come. But they weren't, we felt, marketing or building and putting an investment down on it. And so when we finally showed them—see what happens when? We had an organizing committee that spent three or four years going to all the clubs and really getting to the grassroots level and saying the Women's World Cup is come into the United States for the first time and you got to get in on it. And then you see what happens when they put a little energy and thought behind it and investment. And so it basically proved our point. So after all these years of arguing, this is a special group and a special team that you should be capitalizing on. And I think they realized, yeah, they needed to do better. But we had to kind of force them there.
Rachel Thomas: And you reached out to Billie Jean King for help, didn’t you? What was her advice?
Julie Foudy: I met her at an event in 1995. And it was right when we were at the point of like, OK, we can't do this we're getting paid $10 a day. Every time we take something to them, they kind of brush us off. And she ended up at this event telling the small group about her $1 contracts and starting the Women's Tennis Association and how they broke away. And I was like, “Oh my god, this is our issue.” Not that we wanted to break away, but she essentially said this isn't good enough and we're going to do something about it as players.
Julie Foudy: So I'm telling her our story and she's like, “Foudy! Wake up!” and the great thing about Billie is she doesn't—and I tell this story all the time because she's such a gem—she doesn't just say “Here's what we did and then good luck.” And that's the last conversation you had with Billie. She would check in every month. What's going on? Where are you? What can I do to help? This is what I would do. This is what we did… and to this day she's checking in. What's happening with their contract negotiations when they were going through the last round, right?
Crystal Dunn: Yes.
Julie Foudy: She was like, “How can I help? What do I need to do?” And, I mean, and that's not just soccer, that's every sport. So many sports. So, yeah, that friendship was... It became like our theme in contract negotiations. She would say, “If you had a blank canvas—not for you—but what would you build for the next generation?” And so the lawyer would be like, “The ghost of Billie Jean King is back!” Because every time we’d be like, “Nope, that's not good enough for the next generation,” he would be like, “The ghost of Billie Jean King is back!”
Rachel Thomas: That’s amazing. So switching gears a bit, Crystal and Sam, so you were some of those millions of girls watching Julie and Brandi and the 99ers. What did that mean for you and how has that impacted the way you think about the game?
Sam Mewis: Yeah I remember watching the game with my family in the living room.
Julie Foudy: Were you even born, Sam?
Sam: Yeah. I was 7 and my older sister played soccer as well, so all four of us were in the living room watching. And I remember... the thing I remember most vividly is my dad standing up when Brandi scored and, like, touching the ceiling. And, like, as a 7-year-old I was like oh my god this is a huge deal my dad's touching the ceiling. This is so crazy. But I had watched games leading up to that World Cup with my sister and I remember, at, literally, six or seven years old saying, “We're going to be on the National Team someday. We're going to do this.” And we started telling people that. We started telling, like, the neighbors and our friends. And at the time I think those people were like, “What team? Where?” And so winning the ’99 World Cup really brought that to light for everyone in our little soccer world. I remember fighting to be #9 with my club team when we got to pick our uniforms because we loved Mia Hamm and just had posters of Michelle Akers on my wall, reading everybody's books as they came out. I grew up really being this huge fan of these women who now are sitting right across from me, and I think that definitely had a huge impact on, not only my own goals and dreams as a kid, but I think the fact that they were actually going to become possible and having soccer as, like, a viable career path as I grew up.
Rachel Thomas: That must be amazing, though. To hear them talk about what an inspiration you were. It literally probably changed the course of Sam’s life knowing that she could actually be a professional player and play at that level. It’s amazing.
Julie Foudy: You know what’s cool too is you get people who come up that aren’t necessarily soccer players or professional soccer players, or who just say that day in that moment in that tournament made me realize I could do it. And “it” being a lot of different things of course, right? Yes, I can. And so that is the cool thing, I think, about that moment is… I mean we've seen men doing that in big stadiums in front of big crowds. But it was really the first time you've seen a team of women doing that. And that was something we really wanted to make the standard for other women's sports.
Rachel Thomas: So Crystal and Sam, obviously this all started early on and in the 90s, but you have really, pardon the pun, you kind of took the ball and started to really run with it, and you've driven a lot of change for the team. Can you talk us through that process and what you've accomplished and how you're feeling about it?
Crystal Dunn: Yeah I think Sam and I came on to probably to the National Team around the same time, so we had a glimpse of what our old contracts were looking like and then now we have a glimpse of what the new contract is looking like. So it's interesting to see. It goes back to the whole, when I first came into the national team I was fresh out of college so I was like, “Oh this seems like a good life, like, I'm enjoying it and things are great.” And then I think things changed two years after that. And for me I was like, oh, I was happy then and I'm way happier now and stuff. So I think it's just... it's all about perspective and just continuously, like, asking questions to those in charge and kind of just being like, “This was fine. We're appreciative, but also this is not where we want to stay. We're not complacent.” We're always trying to move forward and add new things to the program and just build on that relationship, obviously, with U.S. Soccer, but also, you know, continuously push them to be better and have that standard be rose.
Rachel Thomas: So I know some other teams have reached out for help. They've watched what you've been able to accomplish. Can you talk about a couple of the other teams who’ve reached out and how you've helped them or the advice you've given them?
Crystal Dunn: It's actually funny, I was just talking to Sam earlier today about how I played overseas for a short spell, but just how they viewed American soccer players was so eye opening. Because living here, I've lived here my whole life, and then I go overseas and they're like, “You guys have paved the way for so much…” You know, and this is in England. And all my teammates were just like, “You guys were the first of everything,” and that's just how they look at us. They look at us as the women who have been leading the charge, and I think that was... They see us and they see that we are pushing for change and I think that's definitely an effect on a lot of other national teams.
Rachel Thomas: So that's a segue I think to all of you, and just jump in. But fast forward to 2028. What do you want for women's soccer? What does it look like?
Brandi Chastain: More teams in the NWSL. I would love that. I would love a California... one or two California teams.
Rachel Thomas: Yeah it’s amazing there isn’t a team here.
Brandi Chastain: It's expensive. I would like to see the league on a regular programming so people can view it if they don't live in a city that has a team. That they can see it with ease and it's accessible to everyone.
Julie Foudy: I mean the thing that infuriates me to this day is that, for example...
Brandi Chastain: You say that like there is just one thing that infuriates you.
Julie Foudy: They are playing in Chile tomorrow night. And Chile hosted their World Cup qualifiers in South America, and they qualified for the World Cup, the first time they've ever qualified for the World Cup. And what you read in the newspapers is how all the local Chilean organizers were surprised at the outpouring of support in the attendance, and I’m like, again, how many years? How many years are we going to be surprised that if you put a little investment into the women's game there is a return on your investment? And so every time I read, and it's everywhere: Mexico, Norway, Sweden, Germany, the UEFA championships... Sorry I'm getting fired up and hitting the table! Everything you read is like, “Oh we didn't anticipate the viewership or the attendance.” And, really? How many years are we going to say this?
Brandi Chastain: The great thing about women's soccer is that we do have this wonderful vehicle because the world loves soccer. And so we do have an ability to not only create some talk about investing in women's soccer, but now we're changing the culture that exists all over the world. I think that was nothing that... We didn't say, “Hey, let's change the culture of the world, about how they look at women.” But that's been an unbelievable byproduct of what you do every day on the field, Crystal and Sam, and what you do behind, in the meeting room when you're doing the line items on the contracts and what Julie's doing with Julie Foudy Sports Leadership Academy, what I do here in my community with my after-school program where I bring collegiate female student athletes to the playground of underserved girls. We all are doing that. We're changing the culture of how we see women, and it's through a vehicle that the world loves and so I think we have a chance. And that's what's exciting.
Rachel Thomas: That is exciting. One of the things that I've observed, and this is not a revelation, but I do think that when you think of male superstars and kind of what their careers are like after they play versus what I think is more often the case for women superstars... Do you feel that? I mean how do you miss it. Right?
Brandi Chastain: That's my defense mechanism: I’m laughing because I’m so uncomfortable having this conversation. Seriously. Doors have been opened in a way that they never would have been. I honestly feel from playing on the U.S. Women's National Team that I'm respected by my male counterparts. They look at women's soccer and they're like, “Damn, those women are legitimate.” Those athletes know that because they understand the commitment and what you have to put into becoming an elite athlete. They get it. The paychecks don't show that. And when I go to events where it's like, all these former male athletes, and I'm thinking, I'm working coaching youth soccer. I'm coaching youth soccer as part of the job I do now, one, because I love soccer and Julie can attest, like, I'm a freak about soccer and I love the girls.
Julie Foudy: She is a freak.
Brandi Chastain: That's the part you got. Of course. But that's my job, right? And I think about these men that I mean it's like they're driving these… And fancy cars and nice homes, that is not the end result for me. That's not the end I want. The end is that we've made something better. We've done something that's influenced a lot of people and that doesn't pay the bill. Bottom line. It doesn't pay the bill. It feels, internally, amazing. And I love it and it's why I get so fired up about coming to your game tomorrow night and being a part of my youth team and why I'm so irate on the sideline with the ref makes the wrong call on my 12-year-old games, you know, because I'm in. I'm invested. But it doesn't pay the bills and when I see those athletes I think, wow, if I only were a man playing professional sports what would my life be like now? And it would be totally different.
Rachel Thomas: From listening to you guys speak and you know just from the research we've done and just kind of knowing this, that camaraderie both on the team when you play together, but it kind of pours over to the next generation of player and the next generation of player. And I know you guys, you younger players are thinking even a lot about the next generation, what that means. Can you talk about that? That really palpable camaraderie you all have? Because it's pretty special.
Sam Mewis: Yeah I think it is really special I think something that's unique about this team is that it's kind of like everybody's team. It's still Julie and Brandi's team. It's also our team, and it's also the young girls who will be on it someday’s team. And it's also everyone who watches. It's the country's team; it's everyone's team. So I think that it's almost easy to pick up things, the traditions and standards that they had upheld, and to pass them along to some of the players who are still on the team that maybe had played with them. Because we want to uphold those things. I think we still do the same cheer that they always did.
Rachel Thomas: Why do you think sports matters so much to girls and regardless of the level they play at?
Sam Mewis: One of the reasons why it's so important for young girls to be involved in sports is because it shows them that it's OK to be competitive and to want to win. I think sometimes girls in TV and movies, maybe, are painted as nice and pretty and just perfect.
Julie Foudy: Ugh.
Sam Mewis: And I feel like sports and soccer, it's like let’s go out and get dirty. You can want to win, you can want to be scrappy and you don't have to be perfect, you can just have... it's fun. Yes, but it's also like, it's OK to really really want to win and it's OK to be yourself and express yourself and to slide tackle somebody, and all those things are OK. And I feel like it's important that girls know that and get to experience that, and I feel like sports does that.
Rachel Thomas: So, Julie, Brandi, Sam, and Crystal, thank you so much for being here. I don't know about you, but I really got a lot out of this conversation and I think our listeners did as well. Thank you.
Julie Foudy: Thanks for all you’re doing!
Rachel Thomas: After talking with the soccer players, I wanted to know more about the history of women’s sports, because to be honest, I didn’t know enough. The WNBA started around the same time women’s soccer was taking off, and it has grown into a really successful women’s sports league—in fact, the most successful women’s sports league in the United States. I figured I could learn a lot talking to the someone who understands where the WNBA has been and where it’s going—and it turns out I was right.
So I'm really excited. I am here with Terri Jackson, the executive director of the Women's National Basketball Player Association. Terry has also worked at the NCAA, the University of the District of Columbia on Title IX compliance and NCAA compliance, and taught courses on women in sports. Terri, thank you so much for being here.
Terri Jackson: Thank you.
Rachel Thomas: So a few weeks ago I sat down with a group of former and current U.S. Women's National Team players and I was struck by how far they've come over the last 20 years. It was actually really amazing. But also how much there's really still left to do. Is that the story of women's sports in your view?
Terri Jackson: I think it probably is. First of all, I wish I had been a fly on the wall with that group because that sounds like an amazing panel to have been a part of. But I do think we've advanced the ball quite a bit. Pun intended. And yet there's just so much. When I look at women's tennis, when I look at soccer, when I look at and think about the issues that women's hockey is wrestling with, and of course where we are as the Women's National Basketball Players Association and my player membership, yes we are on the hearts and minds of fans and growing viewerships, for sure. But I think in terms of coverage (both print media, the broadcast media), yes there is just so much more for us to do to ensure that these women are athletes first and definitely household names.
Rachel Thomas: Soccer really started to take off in the ’90s it sounds like. Late ’80s, ’90s. What else was happening in women's sports at the same time? Is that seen as a period of a lot of change?
Terri Jackson: Definitely. Well, let's talk about Title IX. So Title IX passes in 1972. This is the legislation that prohibits sex discrimination in education, but it made some particular advances for women, for girls and women in sports, particularly high school and at the college level. By the late ’90s we have a full generation of young women and young men who have seen Title IX implemented and who've understood the impact. And so, 1996, the United States is hosting the Summer Games and it's happening in Atlanta. And I'm going to go back to women's basketball, because women's soccer is taking off. Women's basketball, the USAB women's team, has won the gold. And so much attention—all eyes on this team because it's the U.S. team and they're playing in the U.S. And so the viewership and the attendance is probably out the roof. It's incredible. They've got wonderful personalities on this team, and some interesting things are happening in business, too, because it's not just the general fans who are paying attention. But big business is paying attention, too. So you've got Nike, who is about to debut Air Swoopes, which is this the shoe that's named after Sheryl Swoopes, who would be a big Olympian and big in that in the WNBA, and that's huge. I still have my Swoopes till today.
Rachel Thomas: I love that.
Terri Jackson: And, well, the NBA is paying attention. And that's why, you know, within the year the WNBA gets launched in... now we're truly in in the late ’90s, this is 1996, 1997 I think is, of course, is their first season. And so it was all the right things that are happening.
Rachel Thomas: So Brandi Chastain, who obviously scored that goal back in ’99. I remember her on all the magazine covers with her shirt ripped off, but she was talking really openly at the end of our discussion about how she was a world class athlete, the best of the best. And she coaches now. When she looks at other athletes, male athletes that are world-class, they have crazy jobs, endorsements. It's a very different life.
Terri Jackson: It's a very different life. The opportunities that are available to boys and men are very different from what's available to girls and women. And they understand that. They know though that they will be the trailblazers that need to make it better for those who are to come. You know I've got interesting conversations with my player membership. There are veterans in the game, veterans in the league, who will press issues and raise concerns about where the league is and how professional it needs to be. And what they will say is, they each sentence with, “I want it better for the next generation. I may not still be here.” I mean they understand also that their life in their sport is also considerably shorter than the guys. Maybe the guys have five or six years, and I'm talking basketball, and maybe you know in the WNBA it's two or three, maybe four.
Rachel Thomas: Is it really only two or three?
Terri Jackson: Well the average is probably right around 3 and 4, but they are committed in their focus that this needs to be better for who comes next.
Rachel Thomas: That was one of the things I was so struck by talking to the soccer players was both the camaraderie they have, I think because it is harder, and you are really sticking together. And this idea of paying it forward for girls and for the next generation of players I was really moved by. I do think that is something that is unique to women's sports.
Terri Jackson: Absolutely. Even with Title IX, this is still many generations forward who feels as though this is something... that they're not entitled to it necessarily. That this is something that they have to protect. A legacy that they need to protect and ensure they can pass it down to the next generation. The one thing that I say about my players is they are they are the best of the best. They are the most elite. They are the most accessible, which would almost be contradictory. But I think girls to young women to women at the professional level are raised to believe that this is an opportunity that they should be grateful for. And so what they do is they internalize that and they take a very all-hands-on-deck approach. I think that I have perhaps one of the most engaged player membership in terms of unions because they want their league to be so successful they desire for it to be better. They demand for it to be better and they'll do quite a bit to ensure that.
Rachel Thomas: That is so interesting. Talking to the soccer players, certainly there's big hills that they have had to climb and continue to climb around being paid fairly, treated fairly. But it was really a lot of the little things that wore them down: having a smaller per diem when they were on the road, staying in hotels that weren't as nice.
Terri Jackson: Exactly. You know, when we talk about the collective bargaining agreement, we talk about salary and compensation. We talk about the player experience, and we talk about health and safety issues. And salary and compensation is a given. You know what that is. I'm talking about more money, more money, right? But on the player experience piece, I'm talking about how they're treated. I'm talking about how they're valued. What's interesting is once their season wraps up, they probably have a week or two at home with family before they are packing their bags and going to Turkey to Israel to Korea to China to Russia to Poland because they play in the WNBA, but to make a living for themselves and their families, they are forced to go overseas. That is a reality. That is what I'm wrestling with. What is the scheduling like? Are our teams looking to schedule to avoid paying the full per diem for the day? There are things like that that come up. Division 1 athletes from major colleges, from mid-major colleges, they have a training table. Nutrition is valued. Good food and good eating habits are valued, and I'd love to see that at the professional level.
Rachel Thomas: So wait, let me slow down and get this right. When you go pro it gets worse?
Terri Jackson: Well, when you go pro, I think it's a little uneven. I think it's a bit inconsistent. With respect to our league, we've got 12 teams. And there are some teams who are just hitting on all cylinders. They understand it. They understand what it means to be an athlete. They understand what it means to be athlete and woman, and they look to care for and they look to provide that kind of structure and some systems around it so that these folks feel like this is a professional opportunity. Other teams, when I'm talking about uneven, when you're practicing perhaps in a high school. When you're practicing in a rec center, when you don't really have the proper or appropriate locker room space because maybe you're sitting in the hall. I mean it, is that uneven and that inconsistent, and my thought is, wow, if we could just have some standard operating requirements for each team, boy this would look a lot different. This would look and feel a lot different at the professional level. And I think that's what they want.
Rachel Thomas: Yeah this theme of kind of just feeling lucky to be there and then kind of what journey women go on, whether they're female athletes or really in almost any industry where they realize that's no longer good enough is super interesting. Just when they hit that moment in time, or you know the trailblazers who hit that early and start really pushing for more. I think that's super interesting. In my mind, the WNBA has really done a lot to put women's sports on the map and keep them on the map in the U.S. Fast forward 10 years for us, what does the next generation of the WNBA look like?
Terri Jackson: Wow, that's an awesome question. First of all, I better still be around. I better still be a part of this. The women in this league have looked back at what the trailblazers and pioneers before them have done, and they are taking so seriously this legacy and looking to see how they will move it forward. Ten years from now, five years from now, we will have reached that level of fairness with revenue sharing. We will be leveraging the relationships that the NBA has and using them to the benefit of WNBA players. WNBA players will be household names, and different will be OK.
Rachel Thomas: What can we do at home?
Terri Jackson: Everybody who's listening, what I need you to do is follow the women's game. Go to high school sports, go to college sports, go to college women's basketball games, and then I want you to follow these players who are going to get drafted from your favorite college—Stanford, Yukon, Notre Dame, Baylor, Tennessee, wherever they've gone. I want you to follow them to the WNBA. I want you to follow their career with the same zeal which you watched them as high school players and then in college. I want you to buy season tickets. I want you to tweet and tell a friend to watch the game and how much you've enjoyed the game. And buy jerseys and wear them proudly, and talk about this in the supermarket, at the water cooler... And again use your social media proudly. We need you to get the word out.
Rachel Thomas: What's crazy, or what's interesting about that, is you want them to do what we already do for the men.
Terri Jackson: Yeah, something like that.
Rachel Thomas: Thank you.
It’s been roughly 20 years since the 99ers won the World Cup and the WNBA played its first game, and women in sports clearly have come a long way. They’ve broken records, they’ve dazzled fans. But more than that, they’ve shown girls what’s possible when you play hard and believe you can get all the way to the top.
After listening to my panel with Julie and the other players, my daughter Haley said she didn’t realize how hard they had worked so girls could play, and so she could play. She’s eleven, but she nailed it.
And the players know this—that’s why they are working so hard for the next generation and that’s why they take their legacy so seriously. They feel lucky to play at the highest level—and they should—but they also know that women deserve more.
Despite all the progress, women athletes still get paid less than men and they still get fewer big endorsement deals. And when they retire, even as the best players in the world, they have fewer opportunities.
One big problem is that women’s sports don’t get promoted the same way men’s sports do. The powers that be assume women can’t draw big audiences, so they invest less in marketing and broadcasting women’s sports.
But that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. We need to start putting as much energy and money into women’s sports as we do into men’s sports. That’s the only way we’ll know how far they can go.
Please subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, Google Play or wherever you get your podcasts.
Our producers are Jordan Bell and Shara Morris. Special thanks to Katie Miserany, Ali Bohrer, Megan Rooney, and Sarah Maisel from the Lean In team and Laura Mayer at Stitcher.
Our engineer is Andi Kristins and our music was composed by Casey Holford.
This has been Tilted, and I’m your host Rachel Thomas.