When I was growing up, I idolized my older brother. When my parents would take me to Matt’s baseball games, instead of playing in the dirt with the other kids my age who wouldn’t care about the sport for another few years, I sat with my parents; trying to learn the ins and outs of what was going on. I wanted to know why everyone was running around in circles, and why it was such a big deal when they ended up right where they started from. What sense does that make?
As soon as I was old enough to play, I made sure that my parents signed me up. This meant that for a year I had to play with boys, but I didn’t care; I was playing baseball like Matt did. As I grew older, and started playing softball with girls instead, I still wanted to be just like my brother. I pitched because he pitched. I wore number 24 and idolized Ken Griffey, Jr. because he wore number 24 and idolized Ken Griffey Jr.
But as I grew older, I realized that I really did love the sport, and I kept playing past the time when my brother stopped. I was playing for my own reasons. I was playing for the smell of the grass, the wonder of acquiring a new skill, the joy of winning, and even the agony of defeat. Although I had started out just wanting to be like my brother, it was through this adoration that I found a passion that I still pursue today.
Girls today, however, don’t need to have only their older brothers and older brothers’ idols to look up to.
They can find their own role models in today’s female superstar athletes that were not in the limelight when today’s college-age and older girls were growing up in sports. They are now able to see that you can be an athlete and a girl; the two are no longer seen as mutually exclusive.
Take Team USA star pitcher Jennie Finch, for example. She is married and only recently returned to the team from a maternity leave taken when she was pregnant with her son Ace. She has a husband, a son and an athletic career. She is a role model for girls everywhere in her ability to be feminine and athletic.
But Finch is not the only prominent females uperstar athlete, nor was she the first. Mia Hamm-Garciaparra was an early idol for girls, and although her sport was soccer, she, as one of the first superstar female athletes, was able to influence young girls in all sports. Brandi Chastain, Garciaparra’s teammate, has also had a huge influence on the sporting world, her signature moment being how she single-handedly kept a sportswear brand thriving by ripping her shirt off to expose her sports bra when the USA team won the soccer World Cup.
Female sports are finally starting to be recognized by the media, which is part of why girls today are able to see their role models on a regular basis.The Softball World Cup was shown on primetime ESPN this summer. Tennis matches and golf tournaments can be found on several channels. Even the scrolling headlines on women’s college and professional teams at the bottom of the ESPN screen is a huge step for the recognition of women’s sports.
Women are slowly breaking one glass ceiling at a time. First we break into the Olympic Games, then we have professional teams, and now women are even getting sponsorships.
You can walk into a store and find not just a Derek Jeter black leather glove, but also a Jennie Finch mitt with a pink strap. Lisa Fernandez also had a huge deal with Louisville Slugger and was paid to have her name on fastpitch softball bats.
Now, you see women like young Michelle Wie, who is attempting to enter the PGA tour. The fact that she is even allowed to try is a huge step up from the days when women weren’t even allowed to pick up a golf club.
Despite all of this improvement, however, there are still glass ceilings to be shattered. Women still do not get paid as much as men do, and they are not given as much airtime as men. However, it is clear that the momentum of recognition of female athletes is on the rise, and young girls now have many female athletic superstars to look up to and emulate.
Winn is a member of the class of 2009.