MissionThe meaning of SEW
Sports Equality for Women (SEW) strives to amplify the stories and voices of women in sports by carving out a unique space for them in the conversation – past, present, and future.
Our vision is for women in sports and their accomplishments to be celebrated, acknowledged and respected by all. And violated by no one.
Welcome to Sports Equality for Women! SEW is the outgrowth of my work with The Ciesla Foundation’s two current documentaries (Imagining the Indian; Pissed Off) that depict racism against Native Americans in sports mascoting, and the sexism female legislators faced when fighting for potty parity at the Capitol.
SEW is also the byproduct of my earlier films (The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg; The Spy Behind Home Plate), which were never just about America’s favorite pastime. I purposely chose baseball heroes who stood up to the challenges of anti-Semitism, racism, and fascism in the 1930s-40s, because social issues are integral to so many sports sagas.
Recently I’ve been reading the sports pages more closely–beyond my passion for baseball news. For instance, I can’t help but notice the increase in reporting about women who are advancing as executives, referees, and scouts. Sadly, those positive stories run alongside #metoo narratives about females being exploited and/or abused, especially young gymnasts.
Those narratives reminded me of the insensitivity demonstrated toward female legislators as they fought against exclusionary infrastructure in Congress. And I will never forget, after being interviewed on TV for the Greenberg film, hearing one of the commentators remark in disbelief, “She sure knows a lot about baseball for a broad.”
Even today, I observe how the racism depicted in mascoting in sports often intersects with stories of sexism. A blatant example is the years-long, objectionable treatment of the Washington Football Team’s cheerleaders. Bolstered by this heightened consciousness and by my work on Pissed Off, I formed what we called a feminist caucus among the women—Jessie Atkin, Lillian Reese, and Athena Robles – working with me.
We began collecting the ongoing sexist sports stories we found in the news. I decided we had to write an essay about the intersection of sexism and racism in sports. Ciesla’s social media guru Jessie Atkin–who designed SEW’s beautiful website–and I co-authored a story published in TheWrap.com called, “What Winning Should Really Look Like for the Washington Football Team.”
The Wrap’s publisher, Sharon Waxman, is leading the charge exposing Hollywood sexism and #metoo stories. She inspired me to take the feminist cause in following sports a serious step further. Rather than simply sharing all these uplifting and maddening stories among friends, I realized an online clearinghouse was in order. So SEW was hatched to offer women’s sports stories of aspirations, equality, and inequity on a daily basis, as well as archive them for the future.
Joining us in writing the copy and designing the website are Athena Robles, an accomplished artist and Ciesla’s director of development, Lillian Reese, our former insightful intern and University of Maryland journalism graduate, and Paulina Duque, our new devoted intern from the University of Maryland. Reese and Duque will be contributors. Connie Coopersmith, a television producer, and Courtney Ruddy, another University of Maryland student, have joined as contributors just as we are about to launch.
The website’s graphic elements were designed by two former dynamite employees and artists – Veronika Gajer, a talented jewelry designer who worked on our social media in the past, and the adventurous photographer, Becca Schwartz, who formerly designed our posters and other projects. Rounding out the team is Aileen Roberta Schlef, a seasoned publicist and fundraiser. They share their reasons for becoming involved in crafting SEW in statements below.
All of us want SEW to highlight what is possible for women to accomplish in the broad arena of sports. Most of all, our goal is to motivate a new generation who will be inspired by women breaking records, climbing up the management ladder, and fighting sexual harassment to “make it” in sports.
SEW will be a safe place where women, and yes, even men, can gather to hear about and write about what has been and what can be done.
As we raise funds, we hope to first cover the cost of staff salaries, and then branch out by creating short video segments and featuring the work of guest sports journalists and bloggers. We welcome writers of any gender to be part of the discussion.
With your help, SEW will be the premiere website of sports equality for women. In the future we hope to generate “merch”: hats, patches, shirts, sweatshirts. But right now, please spread the word and tell your friends to sign up, follow us and support it. You know it takes a village. With your contributions and readership, you will all become members of the SEW family.
And to those nameless sportscasters who called me out for knowing alot about baseball for a broad, SEW is my answer to them.
– Aviva Kempner, SEW Founder and Editor
One book can transform a life. Having devoured Walt Farley’s “The Black Stallion” series, I eagerly grabbed another of his works: “Man O’ War”. It was a biography of a racehorse that was as famous in his heyday as Babe Ruth, Bill Tilden, Red Grange and Jack Dempsey. I was hooked. Soon I was subscribing to horse racing trade journals and pouring over statistics from the The Daily Racing Form. I was courageous enough to parlay my bets. I worshipped jockeys- male and female. Pedigrees fascinated me. Travel entailed trips to racetracks and breeding farms.
I was 10 years old.
Growing up in the Washington, DC area, I had the good fortune to consume the brilliantly written and edited sports pages of The Washington Post and the late, lamented Washington Star. A subscription to Sports Illustrated was an invitation to indulge in the finest writing and photography on a weekly basis.
I knew there was a place for me in the world of sports. Alas, it would not be as an athlete. Those who CAN, do. Those who CANT, write about those who do. And that was my gateway into sports. Years later the passion has yet to subside. ESPN may have said it best: There is no place like sports. At SEW we know we are at the intersection of culture, social justice, public policy and making history. It is an honor to be part of a great team.
– Connie Coopersmith
Men left women out of athletics for centuries so obviously, men went out and made records, but it’s women that followed that broke those records. I’m tired of giving men credit for doing things first, it’s time to start giving credit to the women doing it better. I’m tired of hearing “you throw like a girl,” as if that means anything to begin with. All that phrase means is that the person saying it thinks poorly of women.
I am not athletic. I am in shape, but don’t ask me to shoot a basketball or throw a football, I just won’t do it, and if I did, I wouldn’t do it well. So technically, I throw like a girl because I am one, but in reality, I just throw like someone that lost all feeling in their arms.
The women highlighted in SEW throw, kick, run, climb, swim better than men and break down barriers men never had because they built them just to stop women. Those barriers built are now the walls we broke down. Where men ran, women had to sprint. Where men jumped, women had to leap. Where men struggled, women were silenced, trampled, forgotten, abused, disrespected, discriminated against, told to quit, and we still came out from under the rubble as champions. – Paulina Duque
I remember people telling me it was too dangerous. I was too small. I wouldn’t take it seriously enough. I’d be putting boys in a tough place. It just wouldn’t be worth it. It didn’t matter what they were telling me, I had already made my decision.
“Well I’m not wrestling a girl”. I was told this by a boy during tryouts week as we prepared for our daily run. It was unimportant, he wasn’t in my weight class, and he didn’t make the team.
The leadership was not prepared for my participation. I was never present for the pep talks, as they took place in the boys locker room. I usually waited hours to be weighed in last, after all the boys. I was sexually harassed during practice, suggestive comments thrown at me in the uniform… through all of this, most of my team stood behind me and my commitment to wrestle.
I hope this website will inspire girls the same way I was inspired to chase the sports I wanted to play, and not just what I was told were my options. I hope gender stops being a deterrent for girls and boys alike, allowing people to decide how they want to compete, and not how society allows us.
Title IX permits anyone to join a team if there’s no option offered for their gender. I’m so thankful to this law for allowing me to join the boys high school wrestling team.
. – Becca Schwartz
What’s your story? When I hear this question, I cringe. For those of us identifying as a person of color or as a child of immigrants, this question has somewhat replaced the dreaded: “Where are you from?” Lately, though, a nuanced meaning has emerged—one that suggests a more promising outlook on diverse stories. In this climate of racial healing, representation matters. There is no monolith to any culture, sector, or belief. Instead, we are seeing a call for a plurality of voices.
One platform sorely in need of a makeover is sports media coverage. According to UNESCO, women’s sports receives a mere 4% of all sports media coverage. The reasoning behind this varies from claims of greater need for men’s coverage to perceived audiences or viewership to economic decisions. However, it is time to examine who is telling the stories.
SEW will counter this convention and aims to make sports media more inclusive. We will encourage women in sports to tell their own stories because no one gets to tell your story but you.
– Athena Robles
Like many groundbreaking ideas, the concept of Sports Equality for Women (SEW) has humble beginnings. It was born in Aviva Kempner’s backyard in January 2021 during a casual socially distanced chat.
Women’s place is no longer exclusively in the home. Many of us pursue interests, like playing and following sports, which would shock and likely horrify men from earlier generations. My mother was a successful college athlete, my sister is an athlete and I was an athlete. After my athletic career ended, I naturally gravitated to sports media. Not only do female athletes have to work exceptionally hard to prove they deserve respect, the women who write about them and chronicle their stories had and still have to work just as hard on a different front.
Important stories about women’s successes as well as the obstacles they have to overcome in sports are too often placed on the backburner and not discussed the same way their male counterparts are. Women care about sports. We care about women in sports and the good, bad and ugly that come with being in a male-dominated field. SEW isn’t just a place for women. It’s a space for anyone who has been disregarded or counted out for being who they are before even being given a chance.
Thank you to the pioneering women who inspired us to do something about changing the narrative. Thank you to the team of talented women I was lucky enough to work alongside who volunteered their time to transform SEW from an idea to a reality. – Lilly Reese
I grew up in the post Title IX world. I was able to play basketball as soon as I wanted (which was in kindergarten). I was on the basketball team, softball team, and a co-ed bowling team in high school. But as a middle schooler I watched as the eighth grade basketball team playing beside my seventh grade team dealt with a coach who liked to talk close and massage shoulders. I played softball instead of my beloved baseball in high school because that was the only option. Today I struggle to find ways to watch the WNBA Mystics on television or the new NWHL. Strides have been made, that’s clear, but there’s a long road ahead of us. I can rattle off the names of players on the NY Mets, but I wait for a day when friends will be able to name WNBA All Stars just as easily.
– Jessie Atkin
The world of sports can be an environment for breeding prejudice. Sadly we see it everyday. Women and people of color have their accomplishments being diminished based on their identity. Not on statistics, but based on their appearance. Growing up I was a dancer, I was put in the dance world at the age of three. I’ve seen firsthand from predominantly white communities the effect that racism and bias can have on promising women in athletics.I am so glad that SEW is giving women the opportunity to not only highlight the accomplishments that are so frequently diminished and looked down upon, but to also get the opportunity to raise awareness for the issue at hand, which is achieving equality for women in sports. In the age of technology and communication, we have the opportunity to give a voice to the voiceless, the barrier-breaking women that can inspire other young girls to dream big too. – Courtney Ruddy