Eight takeaways from the Eighth Annual espnW: Women + Sports Summit

By Sarah Spain, October 05, 2017

This year marked the eighth time women from across the sports industry gathered for the annual espnW: Women + Sports Summit. What better way to celebrate than with eight takeaways from this powerful event?

1. Always be yourself, unless you can be Bozoma Saint John.

The chief brand officer at Uber, and former exec at Spike DDB, Beats Electronics, Apple, PepsiCo and Ashley Stewart, is a force of nature. Rocking a leather dress, mile-long hair extensions and giant, dangly earrings at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, she owned every inch of her 6-foot-frame. She says she brings her whole self to work, and that by taking meetings in fashion-forward outfits and sky-high heels, she’s forcing people comfortable with the unexpected and the less-familiar in the boardroom. As a woman of color in the C-suite in Silicon Valley, she’s opening the door — and holding it open — for the next generation.

2. “Get s— done.”

Among the many thoughtful and poetic things Sheryl Crow said (before rocking our faces off) on Monday night was something a little more straightforward: She has a friend whose mantra is “get s— done.” Later, when Crow played “Halfway There” from her new album, it was clear that she meant not just getting s— done in our everyday lives, but also in moving bigger issues forward via action.

The song, inspired by the divisiveness in our country, preached listening to each other and finding common ground. During the three days of the Summit we all put down our phones, stepped away from social media and put our heads together to truly try to GSD.

3. Representation matters.

A.J. Andrews, an outfielder for National Pro Fastpitch’s Akron Racers and the first woman to win a Gold Glove, said in a breakout session that the reason she wanted to pursue softball was because she grew up watching Olympic gold and silver medalist Natasha Watley, the first African-American woman to play on USA Softball at the Games. We talk a lot about the adage “If you can see it, you can be it” at espnW, and Andrews proved there’s much truth to that statement.

4. Prioritize what’s important in sports.

In talking about her New York Times best-selling book, “What Made Maddy Run,” Kate Fagan spoke about perfectionism and the achievement culture, noting how common it is for parents to demand “greatness” out of their children, rather than raising them with the goal of just being good people.

Record numbers of girls are dropping out of sports in their early high school years, with many citing that it’s just not fun anymore. Sports become about making a club team, trying to get a scholarship, or being “the best,” instead of just enjoying being a part of a team and moving their bodies. Fagan quoted a New York pastor who said, “Notice how close perfection is to despair.” Understanding the faults in achievement culture can help parents and teachers better understand the pressures today’s young people face.

5. Never stop moving.

The Splash Sisters basketball team sat down with Julie Foudy on Wednesday to talk about staying active and competitive in their 80s and 90s. An espnW video about the women, who range from 85 to 92 years old and play in a San Diego hoops league, has been viewed more than 13 million times.

Most of the women laughed off the idea of being inspirational, but countless comments left below the video prove just how uplifting the team is. Their ability to play is especially meaningful considering many didn’t have the opportunity to when they were younger, pre-Title IX. Said one player, “It’s a blessing each day just to move.” We should all aim to be moving our bodies and competing into our 90s.

6. The world is in good hands.

After hosting a panel with the women of the Global Sports Mentoring Program, Julie Foudy said she suddenly felt a lot better about our future. Hearing from amazing women from all over the globe who are making a difference in their communities and countries was powerful. One of this year’s nominees, Aline Silva, a wrestler from Brazil, learned of the program two years ago and heard delegates must be proficient in English to qualify. She spent the past two years learning the language and is now beginning a mentorship with a top executive at Google.

7. Maintain perspective.

Some incredible women spoke of the obstacles they’ve overcome, including Rebekah Gregory talking about losing a leg in the Boston Marathon bombing and Alana Nichols sharing how she became wheelchair-bound after being paralyzed in a snowboarding accident. All shared the same message, that their perspective on life had changed and that they were doing things now, on one leg or no legs, that they had never tried when they had two.

Whether we’re complaining about not liking our thighs or making excuses as to why we can’t try for that first marathon, we should draw inspiration from these brave and resilient women. What are we waiting for? We shouldn’t need a catastrophic event to affect our lives in order to achieve big goals and have perspective on what truly matters.

8. We still have work to do.

After wrapping up another powerful and motivational Summit on a high note, I was brought back down to earth watching Cam Newton’s response to a woman reporter’s question. When Jourdan Rodrigue of the Charlotte Observer asked Newton about Panthers receiver Devin Funchess embracing the physicality of his routes, Newton smirked condescendingly and said, “It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes, like — it’s funny.” Rodrigue said things only got worse when she spoke to him privately after the media availability.

Women have covered football since before Newton was born, so to be shocked when one asks about Xs and Os and to publicly joke at her expense feels so antiquated as to be beyond discussion. It’s especially disappointing considering it wasn’t that long ago that people argued black men couldn’t play the quarterback position. You’d think Newton would understand the struggles of an underrepresented group seeking respect and opportunity. It was also just a week ago that he was on the football field raising a fist for equality. He might want to apply that passion for equality in his workplace, as well.

Sarah Spain (follow her on Twitter @SarahSpain) is the co-host of espnW Presents: The Trifecta on ESPN Radio, host of the That’s What She Said podcast, a SportsCenter reporter and an espnW columnist since 2010. She was a heptathlete at Cornell and is a lifelong Chicago sports fan.

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