ESPN Sports recently hosted a one-day seminar bringing together women and men who work in all aspects of the sports world together for a one-day seminar in Chicago.
Its vehicle, espnW, which serves women as fans and athletes produced Women + Sports – a series of workshops and panel discussions at Morgan Manufacturing in the River North neighborhood. It was filled with powerful speakers including corporate heavy hitters Julie Eddleman (Google), John Kosner (ESPN), and Morgan Flatley (Gatorade), among other executive participants.
This was the network’s first espnW event in the Midwest and brought attendees out for a day of networking, resource exchange and motivation.
ESPN SportsCenter broadcast anchor Cari Champion was a key moderator for the program. As a successful commentator and journalist, Champion believes the network’s mission to connect women in sports in various aspects is necessary.
“It’s very important. When I grew up, my mom was very integral in raising me and making sure I believed in myself. She made sure that I had that foundation to be college bound, career focused,” said Champion, who feels that sports teaches a person to interact in a world that others may not understand.
A number of Chicago athletes were on hand to share their experiences with the audience. Chicago Sky star player Elena Delle Donne and 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup Champion/Chicago Red Stars defender Julie Johnston were there, along with prospective Olympians world champion wrestler Adeline Gray, paratriathlete Melissa Stockwell, water polo medalist Maggie Steffens, and fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad.
On the “Road to Rio” panel, Muhammad discussed the adversities she faces as a Muslim American dealing with discrimination. Asked if she had experienced or noticed change since the presidential election started, Muhammad answered, “I feel that I’ve been thrown in this position to speak to media since I’ve qualified for the team.
“I want people to know some of the things that are happening to me as a public figure in the Muslim community are common place. When people ask me to remove my hijab when I travel.
“I want people to know this is reality for Muslim people and brown people in America. We have to acknowledge this speech is wrong and ignites fear. It makes people lash out to innocent people. I just wanted to get home.”
Former captain of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team and currently ESPN’s commentator and reporter for SportsCenter Julie Foudy participated a moderator and host.
She established the Julie Foudy Sports Leadership Academy, inviting girls ages 12-18 to a six-day summer sports camp to build their skills in soccer and lacrosse.
As a parent, she feels it’s important to encourage youth through the good, bad and ugly of the game. “If you can reinforce all that young kids can do, instead of focusing on the limitations or the obstacles, then there’s something incredibly powerful in that because that becomes the mindset,” Foudy said.
“This is what’s possible, this is the potential. We do this as much as we can as parents, and educators. We do this everyday at our leadership academy.”
Both women feel the power of mentorship is the key to helping others in a given profession especially when there is a lack of diversity in that industry. Even with the progress of more female on-air broadcasters, journalists and coaches in sports, there is still more work to be done.
Champion believes it to be the key to why she works so hard. “I think it’s the reason why I push forward despite all of the obstacles,” she said.
“I’m working for those behind us. I feel some times at certain instances as one of the only or one of the few. I feel that I’m at the front line battling to ensure that African American and brown women and other diverse backgrounds have a platform, a place, and someone we can relate to.”
Throughout the program, men were participating in the discussion as well as present throughout the audience. Foudy believes this is the key to making sure there is a successful synergy in the workplace and on the field. And she is happy with ESPN’s progress with the annual espnW Summit.
“Some of best mentors I had were men,” Foudy explained. “Men have to be a part of that conversation. I would have liked to have seen more men here, but the idea of coming into a community and celebrating it for what it has done with the Chicago Sky, the Chicago Red Stars and the different nonprofits and powerful athletes from the city – I think this is a powerful day.”