Nike continues to carry on the torch of the work being far from done when it comes to breaking barriers, making new rules, and amplifying the role of women in sports. The beauty of it all is that Nike has not been new to this, as their foundation is rooted in making room for everyone, with an emphasis on elevating women, being the world’s largest athletic brand serving women, that is dedicated to pushing the envelope and not sticking to the status quo. Nike carries the responsibility to continuously help knock down the hurdles that stand in the way of women and girls in sport.
This is no different when it came to celebrating the 50th Anniversary milestone of Title IX coming to life. As it enforced gender equity in high school and collegiate sports, it also opened the doors for women to take up their rightful space by not adhering to society’s preset expectations, and forging their own path. It was a larger moment that transcended sports, but instead stamped the energy that even the sky wasn’t the limit, it was whatever a woman wanted her journey to be – in sports, with work, and in life. We had the esteemed privilege of being in attendance exactly a week ago, to help Nike celebrate Title IX 50th Anniversary with their very own celebration, Her Rise. What a fitting name it was too, because after attending this amazing celebration of women and their magic – hope for the future was in full rise, as spirits were warm and high. This event truly exemplified what it means that the Future 50 for Nike is rooted in the Future 50 for Her.
Just upon walking in to the event itself, the energy was exhilarating, as you see Nike LA representing. From girls double dutching, to numerous arts and craft stations, as well as a soccer space, ping pong table, and basketball arcade games, just to name a few. It was beautiful to have this hosted at the Bike Shed Moto Co., ideally located in Downtown Los Angeles, to see how Nike brought out the surrounding community, uniting them with Nike LA, who are helping lead the event, as well as the women who would soon be on the stage, displaying their very brilliance before us, as they spoke.
The event itself featured several inspiring and empowering conversations with Nike women athletes creating change in sport and working with the brand to serve the future of athletes and sport. As Nike continues to champion athletes by investing in her, they are working with partners and catalysts to accelerate how sport is a platform for driving women forward. This is all being done in a way that is more inclusive, equitable and more diverse – with a sharp point on access and community. The aesthetic was definitely telling of how true that rings for Nike. With Nike’s emphasis on taking action to create a better world, they were able to host a live audience of 70+ teens and women from their LA partners in Social Community Impact (SCI), grassroots organizations, Store Athletes and Brand hearing directly from pioneers, women trailblazers who changed the game, and young women athletes representing the next generation.
Being able to sit amongst these young girls and women from the community was moving and motivating, as this room represented the face of the future and also, very flourishing present, and a monumental past. The first session was titled, “Life As We Climb”, which provided a conversation with two-time Olympic gold medalist Chloe Kim, 20-time Paralymic gold medalist Tatyana McFadden, and UCLA women’s soccer forward Reilyn Turner, as they discussed their journeys and the benefits of sisterhood that kept them encouraged throughout their sport journeys. Chloe Kim emphasized the importance of mental and emotional wellness, with herself taking a break to reset and restore the energy she personally needs to move onward and upward, with training, competing, and constantly pushing herself to be better than before. She decided to listen to her body and inner voice of what it needed, before resuming to feed everyone else’s expectations of her, as an athlete, and as a person. She explained how Nike has aided her in her journey, and truly elevated her in a time, when it wasn’t the norm.
Tatyana McFadden’s Paralympic journey is beyond exemplary, being a 20-time gold medalist. She exclusively shared with us at Made for the W a few strong sentiments. We discussed moving towards the future, celebrating both Nike and Title IX’s 50th Anniversary, as we go into the next 50, what that means to her as a Nike athlete and a role model to so many young women. Tatyana stated, “Yeah, it’s been a long time but it’s still really fresh. Title IX really plays a huge role for women, which is really important, but it also plays a very huge role for people with disabilities. Title IX was a very pivotal moment that I used when I was in high school to fight to be on the high school track team, so that’s where my advocacy started. I was 15 years-old, I had come home from the Paralymic Games in Athens with a silver and bronze to my name, and I was denied to race on the high school track team, and I was the only female wheelchair racer at the time. I sued for no money, but for opportunity. It became federal law, and it’s called The Sports and Fitness Equity Act, enabling all people with disabilities to participate in high school sports. That’s why Title IX is really important to me, because we’re not just fighting for women rights, but people with disabilities also fall into every culture and also every sub-culture. If we can create equality in sports, we can create equality in community.”
With Nike being so intentional with how they are constantly expanding spaces for women in sport and community, we asked Tatyana what was the pivotal point that made her sign with Nike and what more they are doing now, with her as an athlete, that she didn’t see before. She said, “I’ve been with another clothing brand, and I wanted more, and the other brand didn’t believe that I deserved more. Nike believed I deserved more, and it was just amazing to watch the girls with Nike, as I was talking about what I wanted to see in the company, and what actually happened. For me, being part of a commercial back in…I think it was 2017 or 2018, I was a part of the Chicago Marathon commercial with some of the elite runners in one commercial and then it was part of the Serena Williams commercial, and it was absolutely amazing to be a part of that. Nike is one of the first that is doing that, and I feel that now other companies are doing that, and you’re starting to see that on TV, and through social media. It’s been great to be acknowledged through social media platforms as well, because it’s such a huge voice, and in order for our support to grow, we really need the media representation. Other people may be shy from it, but we can’t be, if we want to expand our marathon community, if we want to expand the Paralympics, we have to be on it and talking about our sports.
Exploring possibilities, We asked Tatyana about Nike products and/or innovations that she is working on or excited about. She stated, “In the past, we helped create the shoes that were adverse for people with disabilities to put on, the Nike Flyease. That became a universal hit right? So, you’re creating a universal shoe, and it works for everyone, as it happens to work for people with disabilities. You don’t even know that right? It doesn’t say disabled shoe. It’s a shoe made for everyone, and so that work is so important, to make it universal, so it falls under every category.” Talking to Tatyana surely showed that we excel when we find the joy in sport and detach from the pressure to please others or win, but just existing in that space, makes a difference.
In the second session, “Shoulders We Stand On”, featured a conversation between Joan Samuelson, Olympic gold medalist, and Sheryl Swoopes, three-time WNBA champion, who discussed the impact made by the women who forged the road before us, to change the game for the next generation of athletes. Being in the presence of pioneers and amongst these greats was an honor, but to be able to listen to them, as they describe the process in being the first to change the game – sheds lights on how we can individually and collectively, build upon their legacy to propel the next generation of women athletes forward. As they shared how different the times and their respective leagues were back then, they expressed the gratitude they had to be able to just play the game.
Yet, 50 years after Title IX came into play, the door for opportunities has drastically changed for the better. When asked who their role models were growing up, Joan stated Billie Jean King and other men, because there wasn’t a woman doing what she wanted then. Sheryl said that her mother was her role model, because that was the only way she saw someone who was able to do it all, in her life. As we acknowledge it being 50 years since Title IX was put into place, we recognize that equality toward athlete pay has made tremendous progress, but there is still a long way to go to close the gap. As those who have led the way, its pivotal for women to continue to pass the baton forward to uplift and empower each other spanning across various generations. We were able to see that live, as the bridging of the gap between generations took place, when Sheryl Swoopes signed a young woman’s Air Swoopes II, that she had on her feet. Being able to witness the power of sport and unity, in front of very own eyes was amazing.
The third session, “Coaches That Raise Us”, where HighlightHER founder, Ari Chambers, Angel City Football Club defender, Madison Hammond and the Center for Healing and Justice Through Sport founder, Megan Bartlett, spoke about the vital role coaches play in the lives of young girls and women and the long-term impact that it holds. When we think about that moment that began our love for our favorite subject or sport, a teacher or coach that made that love so real, comes to mind right? Here, they discussed how much of a difference it makes to have an ideal experience of someone who has your best interest in mind and doesn’t mind pushing you to your limits to excel beyond expectations. Coaches have the power to change how women feel about themselves, sport, and the world. Yet, there is a shortage of female coaches, across all sports. Representation is necessary, especially knowing how impactful truly transformational coaches can be in supporting and nurturing young women and girls.
Ari Chambers echoed that sentiment by encouraging coaches to empower their students of the game to attend women sport games, in their respective cities and leagues. She even shouted us out at Made for the W, along with other women owned and operated platforms that elevate women in sport, who are being the difference that we all are grateful to see. Coaching at any level can make a difference, and embracing the qualities of a coaching mindset can inspire the next generation of female athletes. That was felt as Ari sincerely expressed how strongly she felt about the passion and investment we all share when it comes to expanding on our existing footprint as women.
We also exclusively had the chance to speak with Madison Hammond on her inaugural season as a Defender for Angel City Football Club. She shared in being the first Native American to play in the NWSL, having signed 3 years ago. She said, “I think being a part of Angel City, and a part of the first season is so special because we get to write the narrative, and we get to dictate who we are to the community, who we are to the sport, and who we are for this league. The fact that it’s the 10th year of the league makes it even more special, just because when you come to our games, there’s nothing else like it in the league.” As we touched on Title IX, Madison voiced that it means so much more than just sport. She stated, “It is actually something written into law that gave women agency, and actually through that agency, empowered them. You can make your own choices. The fact that Title IX gave women and nonbinary women that opportunity and agency allows them to chase whatever dreams they have, break down barriers. I think there’s a statistic where like 94% of c-suite executives that are women had some background in sport. I think it’s really important not only if you want to be a professional athlete like me, but also if you want to be a boss in a room one day, it teaches you so many life skills. The fact that this wouldn’t have existed without Title IX blows my mind.”
We also discussed the intersectionality of Nike’s intentionality around women and Title IX. Madison said, “When you look at a brand like Nike, you can say Nike, and it comes with so much power and swag when you walk into a room, and when a brand like Nike is willing to actually invest in women – not because of charity or they think it’s the right thing to do, it’s because we, as women, are an investment, and we can also generate revenue. That further empowers the women you are trying to promote, and it lets us have more access to really cool opportunities, like today. I think even this event is a microcosm of the larger picture on what you want sport to look like for the next 50 years.” After such a powerful statement, we had to follow up on a lighter note, and ask in true Made for the W fashion what’s the craziest thing Madison has done for a pair of sneakers. Madison’s response warranted collective laughter, as she said, “This isn’t me trying to sound braggadocious, I haven’t had to work that hard for my shoes.” She clinched that moment with laughter and a hair flip, as we exclaimed in unison of how we loved that for her!
The fourth and final session, “Sport is Joy” brought together six-time National Boxing champion, Chantel Navarro and three-time AVP Beach Volleyball Pro Tour winner, Sara Hughes to talk about the power of sport that sparks joy. You can look around daily and see how sports unite strangers on a daily, whether it’s wearing sports merchandise, the comradery during games, and even how people from across the world, band together in support of their favorite team and/or athlete. More than anything, we see how it creates a world of happiness, laughter, and joy. It brings forward opportunities, life-long friendships and builds confidence. This applies to those playing the sport as well as the spectators who are watching. Understanding the power and influence that sports carry helps use it as a catalyst that we know can change the trajectory for women and break barriers in our communities. It was only right that Nike also brought out a sweet surprise for the youth in attendance, with a series of performances by the ever so talented, Coi Leray, a fellow young woman, making a difference in her respective lane of music.
With that knowledge, Nike continues to deepen their investment when it comes to women, as they know that sport has the power to influence how we thrive in other parts of our lives. It was the best way to end an afternoon of life changing conversation and engaging dialogue, that reminded us that we are on our way. Women truly are on the leading edge of sport, and they are making sport and Nike better. To bring more women into sport, Nike is investing in her at every step and at every level through a holistic approach that includes: product, marketplace, supporting athletes (from early in career, to retirement), celebrating women in more powerful ways in our marketing, and removing barriers to play/grassroots efforts. The work is never done and Nike exemplifies what it means to lead and make your own rules to elevate.
(Interviews led by Melani Carter & Simran Kaleka – Founders, Made for the W)