I come from a long line of women. My maternal grandparents had 6 girls, all of my aunties had girls and my cousins had a bunch of girls too. Ironically, my mom and I were the first to deliver sons during our respective generations. While we’re talking about firsts, I was also the first of my generation to graduate high school, and go on to earn a college degree in my family. Earning my degree was a defining moment as it allowed my mom to finish something she started through the sacrifices she made for me.
Being the first is important in life just as it is in sports. Paving the way, doing something outside of the norm, or possessing the courage to influence change can become a defining moment beyond what was intended by the individual.
Dikembe Mutombo, one of my favorite NBA players, often quotes an African proverb. He says, “When you take the elevator to the top from the bottom, don’t forget to send the elevator back down.” His acknowledgement that those who make it have the responsibility to be a conduit for others has been a tenant of his post-basketball life. This spirit of reaching back has been present in a number of stories over the past week concerning women in sports.
Becky Hammon in the NBA, Jen Welter in the NFL, and Mo’ne Davis’ contribution to last year’s Little League Baseball World Series have opened the door for women to participate in the big three sports in a way never before possible. More importantly, they’re expanding the field of possibility for young girls to set goals beyond what is forced on them as societal norms. If you’re raising a daughter these accomplishments have been a source of conversation in your family.
It shouldn’t be missed that Becky had Nancy Lieberman before her, Jen Welter’s story was preceded by Sarah Thomas, the first full-time on-field female official, and Mo’ne was the 17th girl to play in the LLWS. None of these women have expressed wanting to do something just like the men. What has been desired is an opportunity to be on the field to do what they do, how they do it.
“I want little girls everywhere to grow up knowing they can do anything—even play football.”
When introduced as the first female on any coaching level in the NFL, Jen Welter shared that she brought with her a copy of her first paycheck as a professional football player. It was for $12 making her salary just 100 pennies per game. In principle the experience was priceless. She said, “I want little girls everywhere to grow up knowing they can do anything—even play football.”
I watched my daughter figure out how to go up the playground slide last week. That led to finding a pole to climb. She’s just 15 months old and I know unequivocally by the time she graduates college the world will be broader, faster, and smarter than it is today. As she gazed up while planted in her favorite yellow Crocks, I wondered if she was planning to climb or fly. Her dad and I will provide roots. This group of women are part of a team showing her how to use wings. If nothing else, I know her life has been purposed. The what for remains to be seen. I just hope she remembers to send the elevator back down to the gal who has next.