8% of the World Fame

ESPN does not ignore women. We do.

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I want to preface this blog article with the fact that this is not the post I wanted to write this week. In fact, this is nowhere close to that article. But that article needed a bit more time and research, and another article came out on Tuesday that forced me to take notice and respond – the release of ESPN‘s “World Fame 100.”

Essentially, the World Fame 100 is the compiling of the 100 most famous athletes in the world. It was created by looking at a lot of different sources, starting with the Forbes‘ list of highest paid athletes. The study then looked at numerous domestic and international resources, including social media, and ESPN journalists from around the world gave their input. The data that was collected on each athlete was then put through an algorithm created by ESPN’s Director of Sports Analytics, Ben Alamar. Salary was not a factor in compiling this list, and retired players are not included.

So where does that leave us?

With a lot of men. 92 to be exact. Yes, that’s right. There were only eight female athletes that made the list. And of those eight, none of them even cracked the top 10. In fact, they couldn’t even crack the top 15. That glass ceiling just proved a bit too hard in regards to world stardom.

But, without further ado, here are the eight female athletes that seem to hold some weight and represent women around the world:

 

 

It’s sad, right? Women only represent 8% of the 100 most famous athletes around the world. But whose fault is that? Newsweek seems to think it’s ESPN‘s. After the list was released, they wrote an article that was entitled “Why ESPN Loves Cristiano Ronaldo and LeBron, but Ignores Women.” But this one isn’t on ESPN. They just compiled the list. And I must say, the way they came about doing it was rather fair – they took a worldwide approach, sought out social media presences, and even had an analytical formula. Could it have been done a little better? Yeah, maybe. Maybe get journalists that aren’t just from ESPN. But other than that, not bad. So despite what Newsweek may think, ESPN does not ignore women. We do.

Just ask yourself the question, ‘When was the last time I watched a women’s sporting event?’ Was it the World Cup or the Olympics? Because if it is, then you too are part of the problem.

We can’t only love women’s sports every other year. We can’t say we love Serena, but refuse to know the names of any of the other top 5 women’s tennis players. We can’t only care when they are playing for America. And we certainly cannot only care when there is a scandal around.

Look at that list. I could make the argument that every single one of those women are famous for reasons other than their athletic ability. Serena – her current absence from the sport. Ronda – her complete demise from it. Masha – her PED scandal (read last week’s article). Simone Biles – her recent stint on DWTS where she was told to smile and then amazingly told the judges that smiling doesn’t win you gold medals. Hope Solo – getting kicked off the USWNT after a stretch of embarrassments. Caroline Wozniacki – getting dumped by Rory McElroy after their wedding invitations went out (it’s even referenced in the ESPN article). Eugenie Bouchard – opening her mouth with regards to the Masha PED scandal. And Aly Raisman – looking amazing for Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Edition and then telling off a TSA agent.

Do any of these sound familiar? Sure they do. But can anyone tell me who Hope Solo’s club soccer team is currently? Probably not.

Because let’s face it, being an amazing athlete is not enough for a woman. Maybe for the select few it is (I am betting that if Serena wasn’t pregnant she would still be on this list), but that is certainly not the norm. Our issue is that a woman has to be more – she has to be pretty, and spunky, or scandalous, or have a temper…oh, and of course she has to be the best at what she does. It’s not enough that she just be good at a sport. If she is to be known, she has to be the best. It’s why we can always remember Mia Hamm’s name, but Julie Foudy’s might be harder to come up with. And we do that to these women. We praise the select few into stardom and then let the rest fight it out at the bottom of the heap for their measly paychecks and their local endorsement deals.

But, oh, who could forget endorsement deals? The women on this list, according to ESPN, make a combined $57,650,000 in endorsements. Not bad, right? But Roger Federer, who is currently listed at #4 on the top 100, makes 60 million on endorsements all by himself. Yeah…let that sink in.

Women get the short end of the stick when it comes to sports all the time. They make way less money and they get way less media coverage, which means they have to work that much harder just to stay relevant and to get some equality. So yeah, some of it is on the media. They would rather ask a girl who she is wearing rather than how her training on set plays is going. They are almost forced to retain every single shred of femininity about them when all they really care about is slicing the perfect backhand down the end line. It would seem the media would rather show them off the court than actually on it. Because can anyone tell me what channel you can watch your local NWSL team on? I’ll give you a hint – it’s not on TV. But you best believe you can watch Hope Solo on TMZ. You can see Masha in OK Magazine coming out of a nail salon. Or you could catch Simone Biles perform a perfect cha-cha on basic cable.

But it’s not all on the media. It’s on us. Because we watch TMZ, and read OK Magazine, and tune into DWTS. But we don’t buy tickets to see the Houston Dash play live. We don’t flip through the channels to catch the L.A. Sparks play in a rematch against the NY Liberty. And we surely didn’t watch the French Open when we didn’t even know who was playing (seriously – last week’s article, guys).

We are the problem, my friends. We restrict these women by caring more about their social life than their game. We are part of the reason that they are only 8% of the top 100 and only make 77 cents on the dollar (or 40 cents if you are a US Women’s Soccer Player).

So what do you say? Maybe watch a game instead of a red carpet event. Go to a fan day at the local stadium. Hell, maybe just follow one of your favorite players on social media to find out how their training is coming along. Your changes don’t have to be drastic to make a difference – it’s all the small steps that allow us to bring about large change.

So that’s my challenge to you: care about what the woman does on the court just as much as you care what she does off of it.

 

 

 

You can check out the full list of the World Famous 100 here: http://www.espn.com/espn/feature/story/_/page/worldfame100/espn-world-fame-100-top-ranking-athletes

 

Mistakes Were Made: Sharapova and the French Open

“…the question shouldn’t have been whether we wanted to see her fail or succeed. It should have been whether we wanted to watch it happen.”

Tennis isn’t necessarily a trendy sport. It’s been around for ages, it’s often considered high-class (and therefore difficult to connect with sometimes), and it always seems so damn polite with the hushed tones of the arena crowds and the robotically calm sound of the sideline official. But on rare occasions it can get really hyped up (see: John McEnroe). On an even more extraordinary occasion the sport will see a scandal. And it is at that moment that attention is turned full force toward the racket and the player and the atmosphere. Mistakes were made, and now all eyes are glued to the aftermath. Unfortunately for fans, this coming week at the French Open there will be no scandal to keep them glued to their screens.

And of course the current scandal to smack the tennis world across the face and demand its attention has to do with none other than fan favorite, Maria Sharapova. Except now, ‘Masha’ (as she is affectionately known in her home country of Russia) is the black sheep of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA).

For those of you who don’t follow tennis, here is a little recap: Sharapova is recently coming off a 15-month suspension from tennis after testing positive for Meldonium at the Australian Open in January of 2016. Meldonium is a perfectly legal drug and is often used for heart conditions because it allows the body to expel energy and blood flow in a different way. Sharapova has been on the drug since 2006, citing a magnesium deficiency and a family history of heart problems and diabetes. But the World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) did not ban this substance until the beginning of the 2016 calendar year. Once Masha’s urine tested positive for the substance less than a month later the International Tennis Federation banned her from the sport for two years. But after appealing to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, her suspension was decreased to only 15 months after the panel found that Sharapova bore ‘no significant fault’, but reasoned that she should have had more supervision over the process in which her team ensured compliance with WADA policies. In the mean time, she dropped below 200 in player rankings.

So why do we care? Why does this matter to women’s sports? Masha made a mistake. We all do at some point or another. But why does it matter that all eyes are on her? Why does it matter that other WTA players, like Eugenie Bouchard of Canada, are very vocal in their opinions, calling Sharapova a ‘cheater?’ Why does it matter that even the men have given their opinions about not wanting Masha back on the tour? Why does it matter that it keeps making headlines every time she lifts her chin up and steps out of the tunnel and onto the court?

It matters because she has nowhere to play this coming week during the French Open. She was denied a wild card entry into the tournament, the first Grand Slam Tournament that she was eligible to play in since coming off her suspension in April. To say the world was surprised would be an understatement – almost every article about Sharapova and her suspension had assumed she would be playing in the French Open. Hell, I assumed it too. But mistakes were made and she needed to be made an example out of.

Well congratulations, French Federation of Tennis President, Bernard Giudicelli, you made an example out of her…and screwed yourself in the process. Just like our favorite little black sheep, you too made a mistake.

Giudicelli, did you forget who will not be in attendance this year at your tournament? Serena? Out on maternity leave. Victoria Azarenka? Same. Roger Federer? Resting. Sure, on the men’s side of things you still have Murray and Djokovic (with Agassi by his side, might I add), and then the French crowd favorite, Nadal. But what about the women? Are you really banking on all those seats to be filled by Venus and Kerber? The former holds a name and if she can make it far enough you may be okay, but I can’t remember the last time Venus Williams dominated in singles. And the latter is good (currently ranked #1), but does she have enough name recognition for those fans who only watch tennis a few times a year? I would argue that she doesn’t. And I would also argue that you shot yourself in the foot by trying to assert your authority and be a favorite among the players on the tour, instead of a businessman.

And that is what tennis is, just like any other sport – a business. And women’s tennis…well, that is a beast all its own. It’s a business that other women enjoy watching. It is also a business that men enjoy watching as well. And do you know who those fans have really enjoyed watching in the past? I’ll give you a hint – it’s a 6’2 Russian with long blonde hair that has a blood-curdling grunt when she hits the ball.

And yes, that very tall and very influential Russian made a mistake. She broke the rules. She is not denying it. If fact, she is owning it. And eating a crap load of humble pie while doing it – from other players, the media, and now the FFT. But where does that leave women’s tennis and the French Open?

With a lot more empty seats and a lot lower viewership on television. And it personally leaves a sour taste in my mouth (and I am sure the mouths of other women’s sports fans) to see the celebration from other female players at Sharapova’s exclusion. But hey what do I know?

Well I know this – you either love Masha or you hate her. Maybe you love to hate her. And you have every right to. What she did was wrong. And she sat out her time for it. And sure, maybe she shouldn’t be given the automatic right to just walk back into a Grand Slam. But a lot of people – Bernard Giudicelli, Bouchard, and everyone else that has spoken out against her – has forgotten one thing: She is Maria Sharapova.

She is one of the biggest faces in the game. And practically the only one left on the women’s side that is eligible to play right now. With the exception of Venus, she is the only eligible female tennis player that any normal person would recognize on the street. And that is the woman you want to exclude from your tournament? That is the person that some of the players want banned forever? Does no one see how influential she is to the sport, even when she is the bad guy? She brings the sport relevance, and revenue, and a stage for other women to highlight their greatness. And most importantly, she brings every fan’s eyes with her while she does it.

She is like LeBron when he went to the Heat – everyone had an opinion and because of that everyone tuned in to watch. They loved him or they hated him. They wanted to see him lose horribly, or win triumphantly. This is exactly the same thing…except we have nowhere to watch her.

And to make matters worse, we have no viable substitute to take her place. Most of our female tennis stars are down for the count right now and the French Open decided to bench the only remaining crowd favorite. So what is the crowd left to do? Go home and watch Netflix, I suppose (I recommend binge-watching The Keepers if you are looking to find something to occupy your French Open vacancy).

Mistakes were made. Lines were drawn. And women’s sports suffer because of that. We wanted to keep her down so bad that we refused to even allow her the chance to win. But the question shouldn’t have been whether we wanted to see her fail or succeed. It should have been whether we wanted to watch it happen.

But hey, mistakes were made…

EDD: The Hero DC Needs

“They need to find the dark horse in the race – but the one they all should be rooting for: Elena Delle Donne.”

From most of world’s perspective DC is a tough place to be a sports fan. It seems as though every year there is some sort of heartbreak. This year it was the fact that neither Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals, nor John Wall and the Wizards, were able to reach a Final Four in their respective leagues. Last year it was that Bryce Harper and the Nationals couldn’t make it to the World Series. The Redskins are going to the Super Bowl every year (at least that’s what their die-hard fans say in the preseason anyway) and somehow they don’t ever come close.

But this year legitimately could be different for DC sports fans if they know where to look. This year could be the year that they get their big win. But they just have to know where to place their bets. And for that they need to look in an unusual place. They need to find the dark horse in the race – but the one they all should be rooting for: Elena Delle Donne.

Most people have never heard of her. Sadly, that’s because most people do not watch women’s sports. And that is a shame really, because she is a world-class athlete who actually wants to play for this city, and has the pedigree and determination to deliver DC sports fans a title. But the question remains, ‘Will DC take notice?’

There are a lot of reasons that people should tune in or buy a ticket to watch Delle Donne and the Washington Mystics play this season – it’s not a bad way to spend an evening, it’s a cheap date idea, it’s guaranteed to be a pretty solid game, or the mere fact that they have a real shot at winning a championship. But Delle Donne gives DC fans three things that they don’t generally get day-in and day-out from any of their other beloved players or teams – a new level of dedication, heart, and hope.

Elena Delle Donne is a beast at basketball. Like, freakishly good. In 2015 she was the WNBA MVP and scoring champion, she is an Olympic Gold Medalist, and has a career average free throw percentage of over 90%. Like I said, freakishly good…and freakishly dedicated to her craft. Let me put it in perspective for you – LeBron James’ FT% is sitting at about 74% for a career average. Yes, when it comes to a tie ball game with no time left on the clock and one player shooting a free throw to win it, I’m not picking the best player in the NBA to take it. I’m picking this girl. Hands down.

Delle Donne is a master at her craft. In fact, she is so good, her new coach at Washington, Mike Thibault, stated after their season opener last Sunday that he has a rule that if any of the players on the team violate the line while Delle Donne is shooting a free throw then that player gets fined $25. Because why throw away free points? And with regards to Delle Donne, the phrase ‘free’ throw really does take on a new meaning.

It’s easy to cheer for a player like that. The player that comes in to work everyday, does her job to the best of her ability, and leaves it all on the court. It’s even easier when she dominates her opponents. And that is what DC needs – someone who is dedicated to their technique at such a high level that people are shocked when there is a mistake. Let’s face it, DC has never had that before. In fact, most fans expect them to drop the ball at the one-yard line. They expect the crumble at the finish, or the win slipping through their hands at the last moment. Because that is always what seems to happen in DC.

But now DC has a hero in the shape of a 6’5 shooting guard that doesn’t have that pedigree – doesn’t have that mindset. She has the mindset of a winner and the mindset of someone who knows what she wants and goes after it. And that thing that she wants is us – Washington DC.

In fact, Delle Donne requested a trade from the Chicago Sky in the previous off-season to come play here. Even though the Mystics have never won a championship before. And even though DC can be a rather unforgiving place to play in general. She wanted to be here. She wanted to play for this team and for Coach Thibault and beside Emma Meesseman, the league leader last season in three-pointer field goal percentage (EDD being a close second at 42.6% versus Emma’s 44.8%). To put it simply, she wanted to dominate with this offensive scheme.

But in addition to a great team and a great city, she wanted to be close to family. Especially close to her sister, Lizzie, who has cerebral palsy and happens to be blind and deaf. It’s part of the reason she walked out on her scholarship to play at UConn and instead went back to her home in Delaware to start her NCAA Basketball career. And it’s part of the reason that DC gets a champion athlete – because this athlete has heart and she wants to keep that heart close to home. Family is important to her. And if you’re asking me, she has her priorities right. She is aware that the only meaningful communication she can have with her sister is if she is physically there. She is aware that physical proximity to her support net will help her play better basketball on the court, and help her unwind off of it. Why wouldn’t a DC sports fan want to back someone like that?

I should leave you with that. That should be enough for you to go out and buy a ticket to see this girl completely kill it from the line and be a force beyond the arc. But I am feeling a bit generous today and just in case there are still a few doubters out there I will give you one more reason to watch her and the Mystics this season.

Hope.

It’s something that every sports fan has deep in their heart, but sometimes it is hard for the fans within the DC metro area to find. After years of close calls and ‘just not good enough’ DC has been given a gift. A gift that proved in her first game playing for this city that she could handle the pressure – she scored a team-high 24 points and went 8 of 9 from the line. But how many people living within the DMV actually knew that?

DC has been given greatness, but if they don’t look they will miss it. Elena Delle Donne is the player that can give you hope. She is the player that can give you heart. And she is player that wanted you, DC (and her family, and her friends, and her sister). So what are you going to give her back? Maybe a bit of support? A bit of love?

She can be your champion, DC. She can carry this city on her back and get you a title. But you have to want her to be your champion. Otherwise her greatness will simply pass you by. And that would be the real tragedy.

You can catch EDD and the Washington Mystics this Friday at 10:30 PM take on the Los Angeles Sparks – tune in and check it out!

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Photo from: http://summitthoops.com/2017/04/27/elena-delle-donne-mystics/