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The WNBA And Its Isiah Thomas Problem

This post originally appeared on SportsMoney (May 8, 2015)

I grew up as an Isiah Thomas fan. He was the hard-nosed leader of the NBA’s Detroit Pistons. Thomas was an example of what it meant to fight as the underdog. His competitiveness brought pride to the City of Detroit, and we collectively cheered “Bad Boys” as they won back-to-back NBA Championships. To this day, I applaud his accomplishments on the basketball court.

But I cannot use his championship banners and basketball legacy as justification for overlooking his participation in gender-based harassment – neither should the WNBA.

In 2007, a federal jury found that Thomas, then the New York Knicks’ coach and president of basketball operations, sexually harassed Anucha Browne Sanders, the Knicks’ former vice president of marketing and business operations.

The jury ruled that Brown Sanders was entitled to $11.6 million in punitive damages from Madison Square Garden and James L. Dolan, chairman of Cablevision, parent company of the Garden and the Knicks. $6 million of the award was for the hostile work environment created by Thomas and $5.6 million for the retaliation. The parties eventually settled for $11.5 million.

Former Detroit Pistons player Isiah Thomas addresses the audience during a half-time celebration of the 1989 NBA championship during an NBA basketball game against the Miami Heat, Friday, March 28, 2014, in Auburn Hills, Mich. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

Former Detroit Pistons player Isiah Thomas addresses the audience during a half-time celebration of the 1989 NBA championship during an NBA basketball game against the Miami Heat, Friday, March 28, 2014, in Auburn Hills, Mich. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

In a surprising and questionable move, Dolan recently appointed Thomas as the president and part-owner (pending approval) of the WNBA’s New York Liberty.

“It is shocking to see an organization put [Thomas] back in such a prominent position,” said Don McPherson, gender equity educator and former NFL player.

“What is even more concerning, in a time when the sports world is coming to terms with the level of misogyny and sexism in our society, you would think there would be a sense understanding of the optics of this.”

Being a leader in the WNBA – a league that worked tirelessly to rebrand its image, while maintaining a foothold as the premier destination for elite women’sbasketball players – is a privilege not a right.

From the 2011 hiring of Laurel J. Richie, former senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Girls Scouts USA, as its president, to the 2014 WNBA Pride initiative, the WNBA’s resounding message is that woman’s voices and gender equality in sports matters.

Without question, the league’s leadership from the top down must inwardly and outwardly reflect these values as well. Therefore, Thomas’ ties to creating a hostile work environment cannot be ignored.

At this stage, whether he will have a role in the New York Liberty’s future – as an owner – is in the hands of the WNBA’s Board of Governors. President Richie released the following statement:

“The Madison Square Garden organization announced that Isiah Thomas has been named president of the New York Liberty and that he will take an ownership interest in the team, pending WNBA approval. New owners are approved by our WNBA Board of Governors, and this process has not yet begun.”

While the voting standards set forth by the Board of Governors are not a matter of public record, Nancy Hogshead-Makar, Esq., CEO of Champion Women, notes that sex discrimination must be viewed as seriously as race discrimination, which the NBA Board of Governors recently used as cause for terminating an ownership interest.

“Isiah Thomas’ appointment as president and potential owner of the New York Liberty just shows how differently people perceive race discrimination and sex discrimination,” said Hogshead-Makar in an email to

“Donald Sterling merely had a recording leaked where he made racist comments, and he was forced to sell the Clippers. Yet a jury found, after an extensive, well-covered trial, that Isiah Thomas sexually harassed Anucha Browne Sanders, and awarded her $11.6 million in damages against the Knicks enterprise. Sterling made racist remarks to his girlfriend, whereas Thomas sexually harassed Browne Sanders repeatedly. Sterling made racist remarks in the privacy of his own home, while Thomas sexually harassed Browne Sanders publicly. If Thomas had made equally as racist remarks, he would never be considered for a position in professional sports, anywhere.”

As Thomas continues to refute any wrongdoing, San Francisco-based civil rights attorney, Deborah England, wonders, “What has he learned?”

She notes that along with awarding damages, courts quite often require additional measures that call for training. But in this instance, England expresses concern for Thomas’ continued denial of what happened. Moreover, she questions Dolan’s decision not to hire a qualified woman to fill the presidency and ownership role, but rather chose Thomas, who professionally has this dark mark in his past.

In the end, sexual harassment is tied to the larger conversation of leadership.

Rha Goddess, founder & CEO of Move The Crowd an entrepreneurial training company dedicated to the next generation of Change Makers, recognizes that too often personal growth and development is a not a perquisite for leadership.

Goddess suggests that if Thomas – or any individual for that matter – wants a role within the WNBA, a question that should be asked is, “Have they done their gender work?”

This includes exploring: How does this executive perceive women? What do they see women being capable of in the context of growth and innovation? How are they speaking and interacting with women in a professional setting? What are their perceptions – unconsciously or consciously – that would cause them to treat women differently than men?

The New York Liberty and its fans deserve a leader who has answers to these questions, and someone who is prepared to champion and advance the needs of women – not belittle them.

In a statement released by MSG, Thomas and the Garden continue to vehemently disagree with the verdict in the sexual harassment case. It appears as though they have not considered what behavior had them embroiled in a sex discrimination lawsuit or acknowledged the fact that harassment can occur whether the harasser intends to harm or not.

“We did not believe the allegations then, and we don’t believe them now. We feel strongly that the jury improperly and unfairly held Isiah Thomas responsible for sordid allegations that were completely unrelated to him, and for which MSG bore responsibility. In fact, when given the opportunity, the jury did not find Isiah liable for punitive damages, confirming he did not act maliciously or in bad faith. We believe Isiah belongs in basketball, and are grateful that he has committed his considerable talent to help the Liberty succeed.”

As the WNBA enters its 19th season, the league must remain true to its core identity. All current and potential leaders should be held accountable for their actions. A generation of young girls and women are closely watching how the WNBA responds to its Isiah Thomas problem.

Diana Taurasi: The Value Of A WNBA Superstar

This post originally appeared on SportsMoney (February 9, 2015)

Last September, I sat courtside at the 2014 WNBA Finals and watched Diana Taurasi lead the Phoenix Mercury to its third WNBA Championship (2007, 2009, and 2014). While Taurasi was named the 2014 Finals MVP, in true leader form, she gave equal credit for the Mercury’s regular season and playoff success to her teammates. At that moment, I was sure Taurasi would be motivated and ready to lead the Mercury to a back-to-back championship in 2015.

However, when you are a seasoned professional athlete, sometimes other factors take priority over winning. For Taurasi, in 2015 her health will take precedence. For this reason, she is choosing to sit out the 19th WNBA season.

There is no question that she made one of the most difficult decisions of her professional career. No one enjoys winning – or hating to lose – more than Taurasi. Do not forget, prior to the WNBA she amassed a 139-8 winning record at UConn and won three NCAA Championships.

Uncasville, CT – July 27, 2013 – Mohegan Sun Arena: Diana Taurasi of the West team during the 2013 WNBA All-Star Game (Photo by Allen Kee / ESPN Images)

Uncasville, CT – July 27, 2013 – Mohegan Sun Arena: Diana Taurasi of the West team during the 2013 WNBA All-Star Game (Photo by Allen Kee / ESPN Images)

Since 2004, the first overall draft pick, seven-time WNBA all-star, and three-time Olympic gold medalist (2004, 2008, and 2012) has been playing basketball year-round.

She deserves a break.

The WNBA and its President, Laurel J. Richie, respect Taurasi’s decision to rest in 2015.

“She has been playing competitively for ten years, year-round, with very little downtime. She is taking this opportunity to rest, and I completely understand that,” said Richie during a phone interview with “She deserves to rest, and I think she will come back terrific in 2016.”

Resting is not a new phenomenon for the WNBA. In 2012, Taurasi played only eight games. Other current and former players, such as Candace Parker and Lisa Leslie, have also rested for personal reasons, such as maternity leaves.

Although, Taurasi’s decision to rest adds a financial element to the equation, which women’s basketball has not experienced before.

In her letter to the fans, she stated, “The year-round nature of women’s basketball takes its toll and the financial opportunity with my team in Russia would have been irresponsible to turn down.”

She went on to say, “They offered to pay me to rest and I’ve decided to take them up on it. I want to be able to take care of myself and my family when I am done playing.”

Truthfully, Taurasi probably could have kept the fact that she is being paid to rest as a private matter, but leading has and will always be what she does best.

Whether she meant to or not, Taurasi is guiding the league into a new conversation – the value of a WNBA superstar.

There are plenty of unanswered questions and widespread speculation surrounding the impact that Taurasi’s decision will have in the league, as well as future collective bargaining. Is this situation an exception or is it a new norm? Will other overseas teams offer incentives for WNBA players to sit out and rest? How do we continue to increase the value for athletes to play in the WNBA?

Here is what we know so far:

New Territory Equals Progress. Take a depth breath – the conversation that we are having is actually a good thing. ESPN basketball analyst and former WNBA head coach and general manager, Carolyn Peck, spoke with and offered her insight. She shared that prior discussions about the WNBA primarily centered on how to build a professional women’s basketball league. Additionally, during her tenure the association paid the players and controlled free agency – not the franchises. Further, Peck explained that the WNBA is entering a new territory, and the steady debated surrounding Taurasi’s decision means that it is becoming a legitimate professional sports league.

Yes, we spent many years debating and forecasting whether the WNBA would survive or fold. In 2014, viewership and attendance numbers increased – 2% and 1% respectively, plus five franchises posted a profit. During the off season, HARMAN (audio equipment company) and Kaiser Permanente (health care coverage provider) signed on as new partners. It appears that we have finally buried those old headlines, and moved on to a topic that every other major professional sports league tackles.

Everyone Wants Player Salaries Increased. As it stands, women in the United States earn somewhere between $0.77 to $0.80 cents on the dollar in comparison to men. The theme of women being paid less for equal work carries into professional sports. BBC News recently reported that Cristiano Ronaldoearns 83 times more than top U.S. female soccer player Alex Morgan’s salary of $282,000. And take a breeze through FORBES’ 2014 list of the world’s 100 highest-paid athletes where you will find that only three women made the cut.

While change won’t happen overnight, part of the discussion is, “How do we get there?”

According to Peck, now that the WNBA has its footing with talented players who are sought after all over the world, the league can longer remain focused on paying them enough to live. Now, it must identify their actual value, which she recognizes is a business decision that the owners need to take a hard look at.

Seattle Storm owner, Ginny Gilder, discussed her point-of-view regarding WNBA salaries during a 2011 interview with

Gilder said, “I’d love us to have to get to the point where we have to be on that slippery slope of determining what the right salary is for our top players, and really confront and have a healthy dialogue so we don’t go the route of men’s professional sports.”

“I want our players to stay connected to their community and that means making good money, so they don’t have to play abroad maybe, but not money that ends up disconnecting them from their fans. I don’t necessarily know where that is, but I want us to have the financial stability as a league to be in that conversation.”

Under the current six-year WNBA Collective Bargaining Agreement (ratified in 2014), in 2015 the minimum player salary for 0-2 years of service is $38,913 and $55,275 for 3+ years of service; the maximum player salary is anywhere between $107,000 – $109,500. Outside of the base salaries, the players also receive year-end bonuses for awards or reaching the post-season, year-round health/dental benefits, tuition reimbursements, and an in-season housing allowance.

Some commentators suggest that one way to increase player salaries is to decrease what the coaches are earning. While the assertion is correct that athletes, such as Taurasi, often contribute more value to an organization than the coaches, Richie notes that the current compensation structure should be viewed in context. Specifically, the coaches, more often than not, are year-round employees who assume additional roles including scouting or being the general manager. Therefore, decreasing front-office wages is not necessarily the answer.

The WNBA Has Legitimate Superstars. The WNBA’s talent pool is heads and shoulders above where it once was when the league was founded in 1997. The quality of the competition has grown exponentially, and the WNBA now has legitimate superstars. This shift is evidenced by Taurasi’s contract with the Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg, which is reportedly valued at $1.5 million. Parker, who plays for the LA Sparks, is her current teammate, and Sue Bird, who plays for the Seattle Storm, was her teammate.

Peck notes, “There are only a few [players] making that kind of money.” She went on to say, “What the league has to look at is there are players that are not Diana Taurasi caliber making Diana Taurasi money in the WNBA…There are players who are making about as much money as the can make in the WNBA and then their supplemental income is of a smaller amount as opposed to the way Diana’s situation is.”

Peck and other analysts recommend that the league consider establishing a system where core players would be paid substantially more than similarly situated veterans; so that making it more valuable for the superstars to play in the league. In return, these players would agree not to sit out WNBA seasons.

Another approach is for the WNBA to adopt a Designated Player Rule, which is a model currently used by Major League Soccer. This exception allows a team to “acquire up to three players whose salaries exceed their budget charges, with the club bearing financial responsibility for the amount of compensation above each player’s budget charge.”

When asked Richie about the WNBA incorporating a similar structure, she explained that the league in partnership with the player’s union recently negotiated a new agreement that goes for the next 6 to 8 years, and not long ago had robust discussions on the topic. The WNBAPA could not be reached for comment.

WNBA Offers Exposure. While women’s professional basketball continues to grow globally, playing in the U.S. and the WNBA is the gold standard. Even though the WNBA is a young league, the caliber of players produced in the U.S. is sought-after overseas.

“I hear all the time from our players the advantages they see in playing in the WNBA. First and foremost as athletes and competitors, it is the notion of playing with and against that very best in the WNBA,” said Richie when discussing the benefits of playing in the league.

“As professional athletes who are interested in reaching the highest level of their game, the competition of the WNBA is critical to their development as an athlete. The second piece I hear very often is the visibility of the WNBA. It is recognized worldwide as attracting the best women’s basketball players in the world.”

Essentially, if the WNBA was not viable option for women’s basketball players, the valuable contracts doled out overseas would not exist. Therefore, the next phase in the league’s evolution is to ensure that its superstars, such as Taurasi, continue to have an incentive to play in the WNBA and it is increasingly valuable for them to do so.

Condoleezza Rice: A Journey From Coach’s Daughter To The College Football Playoff Selection Committee

This post originally appeared on SportsMoney (December 8, 2014)

Dr. John Wesley Rice Jr.’s first born was supposed to be a boy. His son would carry on the family name, values, traditions, and most importantly – love football. Instead, he and his wife, Angelena Ray Rice, brought a girl, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, into the world.

In 1954, it wasn’t just any world; Birmingham, AL was a racially charged community where equal opportunities for African Americans did not exist. The sports landscape for women was also far from equal, as it was decades before female athletes would experience the benefits of Title IX. However, those circumstances did not matter; Rice Jr. consciously raised his daughter no differently than he would raise a son.

In Rice’s memoir, Extraordinary Ordinary People, she describes her father as a “feminist” from day one – there wasn’t anything his little girl could not do.

Stanford, CA – June 2014. Dr. Condoleezza Rice (l) and Donna de Varona (r) discuss how a connection to sport helps women get ahead (Photo By: Rob Thomas/EY Images)

Stanford, CA – June 2014. Dr. Condoleezza Rice (l) and Donna de Varona (r) discuss how a connection to sport helps women get ahead (Photo By: Rob Thomas/EY Images)

As a child, she was molded into a classical pianist, as well as a competitive figure skater. Professionally, she was taught to be a fearless leader and pursue her goals with limitless horizons. Following in her father’s footsteps, a career in academia came calling. In 1993, Stanford University appointed her as its provost; making Rice the youngest person ever and first African American to hold that prestigious position. By 2001, her highly-regarded foreign policy expertise propelled her into the White House, where she served as the first female National Security Advisor and subsequently the 66th U.S. Secretary of State.

Although, it was Rice’s deep passion for her father’s favorite pastime that ultimately created their strong bond and set the stage for her barrier-breaking roles in sports.

As the daughter of a football coach, she naturally developed into a student of the game. Together, they analyzed offenses and defenses, and each NFL season began by studying Street & Smith’s pro football report. The Cleveland Browns was their chosen team, which they faithfully followed after he ministered on Sundays. Meanwhile, an eventual move to Tuscaloosa resulted in a fond family affinity for the Crimson Tide. While she would never become John the all-American linebacker, her taste of the gridiron came by way of the “Rice Bowl” – the annual family touch football game played the day after Thanksgiving at “Rice Stadium” (also known as their front yard).

Football has and will always be in her blood.

It is a fact not known to many, save for Pac-12 Commissioner, Larry Scott, who in 2013 invited Rice to join the inaugural College Football Playoff Selection Committee. In an interview with ESPN, Rice explained that her selection derived from having diverse perspectives and an ability to make decisions under pressure; plus, her vast knowledge of the college football system, which stems from Stanford Athletics reporting to Rice during her Provost tenure.

No stranger to controversy, her addition to the who’s who group of college football experts reignited the long-standing debate of women’s roles sports. A handful of football fans and analysts publicly questioned whether it is possible for a woman to be an expert in America’s male dominated past-time without having played on the field; while others noted her inclusion as an opportunity to advance the conversation of gender equality.

Publicly, Rice took the criticism in stride, noting that it is possible to know something from following it and studying it. Moreover, she respectfully pointed out that the former and perhaps most influential NFL commissioner, Pete Rozelle, did not play football; including, other members of the playoff selection committee – namely former Big East commissioner, Mike Tranghese, and former college football writer, Steve Wieberg.

Ironically, what critics believe Rice doesn’t know about football are in fact the very same lessons she learned from her father while growing up in the segregated South – how to spot when your talent is being underestimated, what it means work twice as hard and do everything better, and prove every naysayer in your path wrong. Rice didn’t become one of the world’s most influential leaders without tenacity. Additionally, she has the added skill of being able to identify grit on the football field.

She never set out to make history; adding the title “first female” to her long list of credentials was never a goal. But in a strange twist of fate that has been her calling.

In recognition of her historic contribution to sports, EY’s Women Athletes Business Network – an organization committed to building a better working world where more women leaders with talent such as Rice’s emerge – sat down with Rice to learn more about her unimaginable journey, how she defied insurmountable odds, and what it takes to continually challenge society to think differently about race and gender. was given exclusive access to the interviewconducted by Olympic gold medalist and EY Women Athlete Business Network advisor, Donna de Varona. Here are selected highlights from their conversation.

On the role of sport and transitioning from big dreams…

Rice: I really did believe with all my heart that I could make it as a musician, but at some point you have to face a certain reality that there are people who are twelve years old who can play from sight, and maybe you should just find another course. Skating was somewhat easier to leave behind because I loved skating but I always knew that my options were limited there. I loved the training and to this day I think I probably learned more from the discipline of working hard to be a skater than I did from anything else in my life.

On discipline and performing at high level…

Rice: From the physical side of it, I have remained committed to being fit my entire life. When I was Secretary of State and had to be at my desk at 6:30 am, I got up at 4:30 am in the morning to exercise and I would remind myself “you used to do this as a kid.” I also think it gave me a sense, and all athletes have this, there are days when you perform gloriously and there are days when you just don’t have it. You learn how to deal with both, you learn how to deal with the highs of doing really, really well and you learn how to deal with the lows of being terribly disappointed in a performance after having worked really, really hard. Life is like that; you have to get accustomed to highs and lows.

On Title IX…

Rice: I know what it was like before Title IX. I went to college in 1971 and I started very young, but I graduated in 1974, so I was just at the edge of the beginning of Title IX. Being very active with intercollegiate athletics and with women’s athletics in particular, here at Stanford I now see the confidence of these young women. They’ve come up through elementary school, high school, and now into college expecting to play at a high level, competing at a high level, and having the benefits of excellent coaching and excellent training. Title IX has made a huge difference and it’s made a difference in the way that people view women.

On affirmative action and opportunities on the basis of gender…

Rice: I’ve been a proponent of what I call “soft affirmative action.” I don’t believe in quotas. I came to Stanford from the University of Denver. Stanford didn’t normally get its faculty from the University of Denver, but I was here on a one-year fellowship. They thought I was smart, they liked what I did and they found a way to hire me because they wanted to diversify the faculty, so in that sense it was affirmative action. I think it has worked well for Stanford, certainly worked well for me, and so I think if we just say, “instead of affirmative action we’re going to make efforts, affirmative efforts to diversify” and that might mean taking some unusual steps, most people would agree that that’s important.

On the value of mentors…

Rice: I really do think it’s wonderful if you can find a role model who looks like you, but you know if I’d been waiting for a black female Soviet specialist for a role model, I’d still be waiting.  I think you find your role models and mentors with people who advocate for you and are willing to help you.

On the importance of networks…

Rice: A network is really important. We have this conceit that, “I want do it on my own.” Nobody does it on their own.  For all of us there’s somebody that says “you know there’s a good opportunity there you ought to pursue it” or somebody says to someone, “I know just the right person for the fellowship you’re looking for or the job that you’re trying to fill” and so those networks are absolutely critical.

On football and the benefits of understanding sport…

Rice: I’ll tell you a funny little story. I worked for a year for the Joint Chiefs of Staff as a fellow. I was female, I was black, I was a civilian, three strikes; and so I show up at the Joint Chiefs of Staff that deals with strategic nuclear policy.  They did the deployment of nuclear weapons, a very male environment. So I arrive and they say, “The rookie makes the coffee” and I said, “fine, I’ll make the coffee!”  I’m not going to get on my high horse about that. But that week I won the football pool and from there on out, I was in. It is a language that transcends gender, and by the way, I have an awful lot of women friends who are football fanatics. So it’s not just something that helps you bridge the gap with men, sometimes you find that there are these women who have the same passion that you do for football and for all sports.

On a future away from politics…

Rice: I never much cared for politics. I got to be Secretary of State; it really doesn’t get much better than that. I love what I do, I love being a professor, I love working with all of my students, athletes and non-athletes.  I tell them all the time and I would say this to the young women who will eventually make the transition that you’re talking about “don’t ever think of yourself as a ‘former.’ Move on to the next chapter. Be glad and delighted and grateful and thankful that you were blessed to have that moment when you were at the height of your athletic prowess or the chance to be a high ranking government official, but don’t spend the rest of your life relating only to that. You take what that taught you, your ability to perform under pressure, your ability to focus, your ability to work hard, to take your weaknesses and turn them into strengths.

Untapped Resource: The Power Of Women In The Sports Marketplace

This post originally appeared on SportsMoney (October 20, 2014)

“Sports in all its forms and definitions have never been more impactful on the lives of girls and women,” said Christine Driessen, ESPN CFO, to an audience of top female athletes and women in sports influencers at the5th Annual espnW Women + Sports Summit.

“The marketplace is exploding with untapped and expanding opportunities to serve women of all ages…there is money to be invested and money waiting to be earned.”

While the female consumer purchasing power has been widely reported at 85%, it seems that only recently thebusiness sector has replaced the shrink it and pink it mentality with authentically listening to the needs of women.


Dana Point, CA – October 10, 2014 – St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort: The Power of the Women’s Marketplace panelists (l to r) Donna Orender, Heidi Sandreuter, Paul Altman with Darren Rovell during the 2014 ESPNW Summit (Photo by Kohjiro Kinno / ESPN Images)

What has changed? 

“The conversation and noise level around this issue has gone up,” said brand/business strategist and founder of Generation W, Donna Orender.  “The more we raise our hands and exercise our market power, which is what we are starting to do – then the market is reacting.”

Earlier this month, we saw an example of this when a 12-year-old girl raised her hand and exercised the power of the female market in the form of a letter to Dick’s Sporting Goods. She questioned their failure to represent women athletes in its basketball catalog, and pointed out that the only female included in the advertisement was sitting in the stands. Days later, the attention surrounding Dick’s Sporting Goods DKS -0.89%’ short-sided actions resulted in its Chairman and CEO, Edward Stack, apologizing for the “obvious mistake” and guaranteeing that next year’s catalog would prominently feature female athletes.
Across the board, female consumer voices are powerful; the game-changers are speaking up at earlier stages in their lives, and businesses marketing to women are now left with only one option, which is to listen.

During the espnW Women + Sports Summit, women’s professional sports brands and business leaders gathered together to discuss their strategies for serving women in the marketplace. Here is how the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), Under Armour UA +1.8%, EY, and Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) are driving market trends and growth.

Disruption is the new norm. Change is the catalyst for growth.

In 2013, the WTA celebrated its 40th anniversary by reaching 33 countries across 54 events. By 2023, its CEO and Chair, Stacey Allaster, envisions the tennis association as “the most inspirational and exciting sport entertainment experience on earth,” with its athletes competing for $200 million in prize money. How will the WTA accomplish that? By disrupting everything that you think you know about tennis. From the smallest detail of allowing fans to keep stray tennis balls, to bigger feats of live streaming all tournaments and incorporating mobile technology data – expect the WTA to become even more fan friendly by progressively pushing boundaries.

Identify a Human Story.

The women’s athletic apparel market in North America is estimated at $14 billion. But focusing on the “traditional” definition of a female athlete and her spending habits left companies like Under Armour capturing only 1/5 of the market. How do you connect with to the remaining 4/5?

For Heidi Sandreuter, Under Armour’s Vice President of Women’s Marketing, the answer includes touching a cultural nerve, creating a human story that consumers can connect with, and designing products worthy of a woman’s “will.” Launching the I Will What I Want campaign allowed Under Armour to reach consumers who identify with being told that cannot do something and then rising above adversity. The ad featuring American Ballet Theater soloist, Misty Copeland, which shatters body image, age and race stereotypes associated with being a ballerina, has compiled over 6 million views on YouTube.

Sandreuter notes that in the last year Under Armour’s brand preference increased from 9% to 19% among their target consumers. And since launching the campaign, the company experienced a rise in brand awareness and relevance, as well as purchase intent.

Create Networks.

How do you reach women in the marketplace? How do you help female athletes of today become the business leaders of tomorrow? For Beth Brooke-Marciniak, Global Vice Chair of Public Policy for EY, the solution includes creating networks for women because there is an unconscious bias to pay attention to men first.

Based on a global online survey of women executives, Brooke-Marciniak and EY uncovered data that shows there is a direct correlation between career advancement and participating in sports. As a result, the  EY Women Athletes Business Network was launched to assist elite female athletes cross from sports to a career in business. Creating a network of women athletes and connecting them with women business leaders allows them to think bigger, be bigger, and alter the alter the landscape of the corporate world. Further, a more recent study in partnership with EY and espnW shows that women in the C-suite want to hire other women with an athletic background because of their ability to see projects through conclusion, perform at a high level, and ultimately compete to win.

Reverse Roles.

What is the key to gaining new business partners and keeping them? For LPGA Commissioner, Michael Whan, the answer is simple – ask what keepsthem awake at night. At the LPGA, every business relationship begins by understanding the world of their partners better than their own. The LPGA wants to know what their partners are talking about and how sponsoring a golf tournament can benefit their businesses. This role reversal strategy puts the focus on the person who is writing the check, which Whan encourages every LPGA golfer to thank personally. By making professional golf a client-driven customer-centric sport, the LPGA is experiencing double-digit television growth (up 75% from 2010), which has led to 11 additional marketing sponsors plus 12 new events in the last three years.

Women’s Skateboarding: Why It Matters To Skate Like A Girl

This post originally appeared on SportsMoney (July 15, 2014)

One month ago, the only professional skateboarders that I could name were men. My view of the skateboarding industry was through the lens of the Tony Hawk’s, Ryan Scheckler’s, and Rob Dyrdek’s of the world. Admittedly, I never followed women’s skateboarding or even had a clue about what female riders experienced.

My outlook changed when I watched the inspiring TEDx talk – Girl Is Not A Four Letter Word.


Meet Cindy Whitehead, a former professional skateboarder and OG in the industry. In the 70s, she began skating professionally at 16-years-old. Her tenacity stood out on a male-dominated skate team, which resulted in an endorsement deal with Puma Tennis Shoes. But when skate parks started closing, so did the opportunities for women.

“The last time I skated professionally, I was 21-years-old,” Whitehead said to “Skateparks started dying off and once that happened we did not have sanctioned contests. We had backyard ramps and pools, which we originally started in, so [skateboarding] went back underground. The industry went dormant for many years.”

Whitehead eventually found her way and transitioned into sports styling. She worked with celebrated athletes such as Tiger Woods, Peyton Manning, and Mia Hamm, but her passion for skateboarding never wavered.

A chance meeting with a skateboard creative director led to her recent collaboration with skateboard manufacturer Dwindle Inc. and its Dusters California division. Today, Whitehead is the designer of a board appropriately named – GIRL is NOT a 4 Letter Word (GN4LW).

GN4LW acknowledges and encourages all female skaters because for Whitehead the word “girl” should never be used as a slur.

The board supports Longboarding for Peace and portion of the proceeds goes to Girls Riders Organization, a non-profit that helps to inspire, educate and support girls in action sports. Whitehead excitedly shared that moving forward Dwindle Inc. and Dusters will produce, create, and manufacture GN4LW in its line twice a year.

“There is no other female specific board on the market that is giving back to women in skateboarding,” said Whitehead. “This partnership is not just a single board, but a long-term commitment.”

High Tide Floats All Boats

Undoubtedly, women’s skateboarding is grasping for a long-term commitment from sponsors, media, and fans. While male athletes get more face time in magazines and television coverage, female athletes are not waiting for industry executives to decide their future – they are creating it on their own.

Meet Mimi Knoop, a five-time X Games medalist who began skating professionally in 2003. Early on, she recognized that seeing other women compete made the sport attainable for her, but the disparity between male and female riders was a fact she could not ignore.

Determined to make a difference, Knoop co-founded hoopla skateboards and the Alliance. Hoopla is a skate team that partners with the other female-driven brands such as Girls Skate Network and MAHFIA to encourage girls’ participation in skateboarding while providing a support system that does not exist. Meanwhile, the Alliance is a non-profit organization that provides a much needed voice for women in action sports. In women’s skateboarding, working towards a collective goal means everyone progresses. As Knoop describes it, “High tide floats all boats. If we raise it up, everyone will benefit.”

In 2008, the Alliance successfully championed for women’s action sports athletes by persuading ESPN to offer an equal X Games prize purse and them to organize their own events.

Now, Knoop is the director of the women’s skating events. Although, her decisions reflect the recommendations of the Alliance; the group prides itself on making sure that their selections are fair, discussed, and thoroughly researched.

“I did not set out to organize the event, but that’s how it happened,” said Knoop. “For several years, I’ve been organizing events and competing at the same time. Last year in Spain, I was the sport organizer and an X Games competitor. Our goal is to keep it legitimate, fair, and the standard high.”

Leticia Bufoni is an example of an X Games competitor who splashed onto the world stage because of the Alliance’s suggestion. Knoop explained that a Brazilian member of the Alliance forwarded video of Bufoni, who at the time could not speak English. Today, she resides in Southern California, has made the podium in every X Games Women’s Skateboard Street competition since 2010, and recently signed an endorsement deal with Nike SB.

“I never thought Nike would have girls on their team,” said Bufoni, who is the first-female skater to join Nike SB. “I am lucky to be in the position to be a role model. I hope other girls start skating more.”

Reportedly, action sports accounts for 2% of the $20.8 billion Nike Brand revenue. Nike is an example of a mainstream company realizing the potential in the female skater. Bufoni’s unprecedented contract adds an additional platform and exposure to women’s skateboarding. Plus, the world’s leading innovator in athletic footwear, apparel, and equipment will be able to reach an audience that might not necessarily know about women’s skateboarding.

“It has put a crack in the door, and it is going to swing open after this,” Knoop said regarding Nike SB’s announcement. “It is very rare for women to make a living by skateboarding. When I was first coming up it was different, we had paying sponsors. We were living off of skateboarding for several years. The economy was different. Now, it is tough.”

The Future

If you ask industry insiders about the future of women’s skateboarding, they will tell you that interest levels have shot up. It is the fastest growing demographic in action sports, and younger girls are starting to skate.

Meet Alana Smith, a 14-year-old phenom whose interest in skateboarding began when she was 6-years-old while watching the X Games on television. By the tender age of 7 ½-years-old, she finally convinced her parents to buy her a skateboard. By 12-years-old, Smith was the first female to land a McTwist in competition and the youngest medalist in X Games history.

As a member of team hoopla, she is not only talented, but wise beyond her years. Smith skates with confidence and grace, but is not naïve to the reality that a division exists between male and female riders.

“We are working our way up with the guys, to have the same respect that they do,” Smith said. “When people see girls skating, they don’t see us as skaters. They don’t think we take it seriously and are willing to go all out. But we are right underneath them working super hard to be where they are at.”

What’s next for women’s skateboarding?

There is a call for the return of the Women’s Vert competition to the X Games lineup, it last appeared in 2010. However, Knoop believes that the focus should be on Park.

“There are skateparks everywhere now; all over the country, and all over the world,” Knoop said. “It is accessible and we are seeing a lot more participation. That is where it is going from Vert. It is aesthetically pleasing; the girls look great in it, and there are more of them.”

In the end, as with any sport, ratings and fan interest will ultimately factor into the decision making process.

As for Whitehead, Knoop, Bufoni, and Smith, collectively they are three generations of women’s skateboarding who are pushing for the day when women are showcased in the same light as men and receive the same recognition.

ESPN President John Skipper: Elevating The Profile Of Women In Sports

Dana Point, CA - October 10, 2013 - St. Regis Monarch Beach: John Skipper and Sage Steele during the 2013 ESPNW Summit. (Photo by Phil Ellsworth / ESPN Images)

Dana Point, CA – October 10, 2013 – St. Regis Monarch Beach: John Skipper and Sage Steele during the 2013 ESPNW Summit.
(Photo by Phil Ellsworth / ESPN Images)

John SkipperESPN President and Co-Chairman of Disney Media Networks, has an unmistakable southern accent. It is the type of drawl that makes you sit up straight, lean toward the edge of your seat, and hang on his every word.

He grabs your attention.

His tenure at ESPN began in 1997 as the senior vice president and general manager of ESPN The Magazine. A few years later, oversight of was added to his vitae, and in 2003, a promotion to executive vice president ensued. In 2005, Skipper became ESPN’s executive vice president of content. Here, he guided the creation, programming and production of ESPN content across all media platforms.

2012 marked the beginning of his most influential role with the network. Since taking over the reins, ESPN signed long-term agreements with Major League Baseball, the college football playoff, and AT&T T -0.43% U-Verse, just to name a few. This year, FORBES listed ESPN as one of the world’s most valuable brands in sports with an estimated brand value of $15.0 billion, which is up from $11.5 billion in 2012.

It is safe to say that Skipper has devoted his entire career in sports to mastering the art of capturing audiences.

His most recent challenge is advancing ESPN’s women’s sports audience. Skipper and his team TISI +2.2% are driven to increase women’s sports viewers and advertisers, and leave them wanting more. Specifically, his attention and talent is focused on espnW which is “ESPN’s first dedicated content and digital business initiative designed to serve, inform, and inspire female fans.”

Team espnW does not operate in a vacuum, and theWomen + Sports Summit presented by Toyota is an example of their commitment to grow the brand with the assistance of countless women in sports leaders.

A sample of the 2013 participants include: Anucha Browne, Vice President of Women’s Basketball Championships, NCAA; Sharon Byers, Senior Vice President, Sports & Entertainment MarketingCoca-Cola KO -0.49% North America; Donna de Varona, Olympic swimmer and member of the IOC Women and Sport Commission; Laura Desmond, Global Chief Executive Officer, Starcom MediaVest Group; Janet Evans, Olympic swimmer; Julie Eddleman; North America Brand Operations Marketing Director, P&G; Julie Foudy, Olympic soccer player and television analyst; Michelle Kwan, Olympic figure skater; Kathryn Olson, CEO, Women’s Sports Foundation; and Merritt Paulson, Owner and President of the Portland Timbers of Major League Soccer and Portland Thorns FC of the National Women’s Soccer League.

“It was our intention to build upon the legacy of ESPN and women’s sports and to take a leadership position and focus our efforts on what we could do to drive women’s sports forward,” Skipper said about the fourth annual espnW summit.

“This is a unique venture where we invite friends, partners, athletes, and leaders in women’s sports to come and have a discussion and help us think about what we might do next. It is one of the few events where we end up with a set of priorities, which we want to take action on.”

An example of that action is the extended partnership between ESPN and the WNBA. At the 2012 summit, WNBA President, Laurel Richie, made a powerful impression on the attendees by urging them to consider what they could do to get behind the WNBA and help move the league forward. Skipper proudly announced that ESPN stepped up to the challenge and earlier this year announced a long-term television partnership with the league.

“We got behind it, and ratings were up this year. This is the best year we’ve had,” said Skipper. “We want to continue to show this leadership and do more for women’s sports. We believe in it. We believe in supporting female athletes and female executives, and we want to be leaders in that.”

In the words of legendary UCLA softball coach and espnW advisory board member, Sue Enquist, “There is something to be said about a company that makes an investment not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it recognizes that it will translate into a meaningful business decision down the road.”

Skipper and ESPN are leading that charge.

During the espnW: Women + Sports Summit, caught up with Skipper to discuss ESPN’s role in elevating how women see sports in their lives, how espnW exposes the best and brightest female athletes to the world, and the challenges associated with this mission. Here are excerpts from our conversation.

Alana Glass: Why is the espnW: Women + Sports Summit an important event to host year-after-year?

John Skipper: We decided about three years ago that we wanted to establish an overt leadership position for ESPN Women’s Sports.  We have been the leader in televising women’s sports for years, and we do more women’s events on television than the rest of the sports business put together.  We wanted to have a directed initiative, effort, and brand that allowed us to make our efforts more coherent and consistent.

The summit is a high-profile, highly visible, once-a-year gathering of leaders across different categories of women’s sports. Whether it is the leagues, marketers, athletes, media, to talk about the state of women’s sports. Where are we and how do we continue to press forward with growing women’s sports?

AG: Recently, I learned that the day after ESPN was founded in 1979, the network aired women’s sports the next day. Is it challenging to get the message across to fans that ESPN has been committed to women’s sports since day one?

JS: When we started espnW, it clearly had an advocacy position and a leadership position. We wanted to advocate for women’s sports. That was what the 40th anniversary of Title IX allowed us to do. Establishing a public brand, is clearly about us trying to put a stake in the ground that we are leaders here.

And of course, I’ll refer to the legacy. We have been [broadcasting] women’s sports for a long time. Now it is just a more concerted public effort to continue to do that and to be more of an advocate.  We also want to do it because we think this is not only good business, it is good externally. Obviously, we also think it is good internally. We are trying hard to diversify our workforce and to make sure that people know that women have every opportunity at ESPN.

AG: How does espnW fit into ESPN’s overall business model?

JS: For most of ESPN’s history, our proposition to advertisers has been about reaching young men. That has been the business advertising platform. We believe that because of Title IX, women have participated in sports at significantly higher and higher levels. That has translated into more and more women also watching sports. Now, it is not a one-to-one relationship. Just because women play basketball, does not mean they watch women’s basketball, but they might watch men’s basketball. Or they might watch NFL. So in terms of business, it is about ratings.

Women watch more and more sports, and we want those women to believe that ESPN is their home to watch sports. As women watch more sports, marketers will use sports to reach women. Traditionally, they have not used sports in a lot of ways to reach women. That opens up new advertising categories for us.

AG: How has the corporate and business community responded to espnW and the summit?

JS: What we are trying to create with the summit and this engagement is to move marketers toward understanding that sports is a great way to reach women. It is also the fact that the women they reach through sports tend to be more active, more engaged, and tend to be higher socioeconomic groups, so it is a good place. We want more advertisers to move forward, to understand the power of sports to reach women, and to engage with us on that.

AG: What are the challenges or hurdles associated with your goals?

JS: The biggest challenge we would love to crack are the ratings for women’s sports. We saw good movement this year with the WNBA, which we are happy about. We have seen good numbers, for instance, women’s college softball.  But we would like to see that all fans, men and women, have a greater interest and respect and avidity for women’s sports.  We would like more people to watch the WNBA. I think that it is probably the hardest thing we have to figure out how to crack here.

Good Night Sports Fans,


Laura Gentile, espnW Imagines The Future Of Women’s Sports

As a female journalist and sports fan, I cannot help but notice that people are often

Dana Point, CA - October 9, 2013 - St. Regis Monarch Beach: Welcome Reception during the 2013 ESPNW Summit. (Photo by Phil Ellsworth / ESPN Images)

Dana Point, CA – October 9, 2013 – St. Regis Monarch Beach: Welcome Reception during the 2013 ESPNW Summit.
(Photo by Phil Ellsworth / ESPN Images)

uncomfortable talking about women’s sports. And when the subject of creating platforms specifically dedicated to female athletes and sports fans arises the conversation goes from uncomfortable to divisive.

There are those who are firmly against any programming or platforms that cater to female sports fans and athletes, and there are those who are for it. The part that baffles me is that in 2013, the “for and against” conversation still exists. On some level it is almost as if there are “red” and “blue” sides on this issue (and considering the tone and tenor of today’s political climate, we’re seeing first-hand what happens when two sides cannot agree).

It would be naïve of me to think that my comments regarding this issue can all of a sudden create unity on this topic, but I invite you to consider this question.

If women’s sports were everything WE believe it can be, what would it look like?

I wish I could take credit for this question; it actually belongs to Laura C. Gentile who is the vice president of espnW who started exploring it in 2008.

“We’d covered women’s sports for decades. We’d served millions of women, but we’ve never focused on women as a target audience with a discreet business unit,” said Gentile. “We just started thinking, if we were to create a business at ESPN for women, what would it look like?”

They talked to women to find out what they wanted and what they would accept. In response, they heard, “I know ESPN is a leader and they have incredible credibility. If they do it right and it is authentic, I’d embrace it.”

So began the genesis of espnW, a place for women who love sports; that speaks to them as athletes and fans.

“We thought long and hard about these five letters, espnW, and what they need to represent and what they need to stand for,” Gentile said. “They need to be action oriented and forward looking, consistently progressive, innovative and also of the highest quality. And we want this to be a brand that women think is cool and vibrant.”

In 2010, espnW launched with a five and ten-year business plan. During the first annual espnW: Women + Sports Summit, Gentile spoke openly about the dynamic of women’s sports fans and coverage at ESPN. At that time, reached over 5 million women a month, and ESPN the Magazine reached over 3 million female readers that year. Women made up over 40% of the viewing audience, yet only contributed to 23% of the viewing hours.

Gentile said, “That’s a dynamic we are going to change, by creating a specific and unique environment for women at We are creating a home for women athletes and fans – the place for sports-minded women to go and stay.”

However, the concept of espnW was not met with tremendous fanfare, and it suffered bruises in the beginning. There were critics who did not understand what they were trying to accomplish, and many who did not want to understand.

“That was a bit unforeseen because a lot of that criticism came before we even had a product. They assumed the worst. That this would be dumbed down, that it would be pink, or it would be condescending,” said Gentile.

“I think what they missed is the authenticity behind it. And unfortunately, some of that criticism came equally from men and women.

Interestingly enough, Gentile believes that the criticism they experienced in their first two years has made the site stronger. She was never under any illusion that creating a dedicated digital platform for women to converse and see issues that matter to them would be easy. As a result, espnW sharpened its message, took more risks, and explored innovation.

Recently, espnW launched a new responsive website that allows users to seamlessly shift between a desktop, tablet, and mobile device. Additionally, its 2012-2013 integration featured the Nine for IX documentary series, In the Game with Robin Roberts, the 3 to See, and The Summer of W. As a result, is reaching 10 million women per month, and in August of this year reached over 4 million women.

“We’re reaching new women. We’re also serving the women that we’ve always served,” Gentile said. “We’re also opening a lot of eyes that women’s sports are part of the future. The dynamic of changing viewing hours and habits; that is going take a long time.”

Fortunately, Gentile has found that the conversation surrounding espnW has swung from a lot of people questioning why to people saying “what’s next?”

So what is next?

There are plans to go deeper in the college space, where espnW will be featured in women’s basketball and softball telecasts. Also, there is more that they want to do across television. Ideally over time, you will see more and more programming from espnW across the network that engages women.

Also, expect to see continued partnerships with the corporate community. Nike, Gatorade, and P&G were founding partners even before there was a product, and they are still on board. Likewise, Toyota, JBL by Harman, Under Armour, and Rite Aid are sponsoring espnW’s fourth annual Women+ Sports Summit currently being held in Dana Point, California (October 9-11).

espnW and its summit demonstrate the belief that people who have different conversations about women’s sports can collectively come together and imagine what the future can look like.

Good Night Sports Fans,


WNBA Captures Fans, Ends Regular Season With Record Growth

logoWinning in the world of sports boils down to execution. Make plays. Score points. Win games. Become a champion.

The same can be said for the business of sports. Create a plan. Market the product. Identify sponsors. Sell tickets. Capture fans.

Historically, professional sports franchises and leagues that thrive season after season, on and off the playing field have mastered the art of execution. In the case of the WNBA, the last several seasons under the direction of President Laurel J. Richie, the league refocused its business strategy while placing an emphasis on execution, and it shows.

Richie, who is a seasoned corporate marketer and brand strategist, worked with her team to create a new identity for the WNBA that is more aligned with where the league is today. Gone is the original and outdated red, white, and blue logo, and it is replaced with a modern orange and oatmeal logo featuring an athletic silhouette. The league also extended its television agreement with ESPN an additional six years, taking its partnership through 2022.

On the marketing front, the WNBA highlighted its much anticipated rookie class, including Brittney Griner (Phoenix Mercury), Elena Delle Donne(Chicago Sky), and Skylar Diggins (Tulsa Shock), as the “3 to See”; and the rookies lived up to everyone’s expectations. Delle Donne was the first rookie to lead All-Star voting, and she finished the season with Rookie of the Year honors. Diggins and the Shock did not experience success on the court this season, but the team was one of the most popular teams in terms of merchandise and jersey sales. Griner played above the rim, dunking twice in her WNBA debut and setting the record for most dunks in a single game.

The league also introduced a new partnership with State Farm Insurance, where it served as the presenting partner of the 2013 WNBA Draft and WNBA Community Assist Award, as well as the half-time sponsor of nationally televised games on ABC and ESPN2.

In the end, the WNBA accomplished exactly what it set out to do: capture fans.

The league experienced an increase in television viewership. ESPN2 averaged 231,000 viewers, which is a 28% increase over last season. The opening day telecast featuring Delle Donne and the Chicago Sky versus Griner and the Phoenix Mercury delivered the 455,000 viewers, which was the most-watch game WNBA game on ESPN2 since 2004. Fan attendance jumped in Chicago(+17%), Phoenix(+9%), and Indiana (+8%), and the league as a whole saw a 1% increase.

And those fans who were not utilizing traditional forms of media, they followed the WNBA via digital formats, including and LiveAccess which both experienced double digit growth.

As the WNBA continues to execute its plan for growing women’s professional basketball, the league should continue to see its business metrics elevate season-after-season.

Growing Up Manning: A Look Inside Football’s First Family

eli_peyton1What are the odds of raising two children who grow up to become number one NFL draft picks, as well as Super Bowl Champions and MVPs in back-to-back seasons?

Well, my research did not uncover this statistic, but according to the NFL Players Association, “of the 100,000 high school seniors who play football every year, only 215 will make an NFL roster. That is 0.2%!” And of the 9,000 players who compete on the collegiate level each year, only 3.5% of those players receive an invitation to the NFL scouting combine.

Indeed, the odds of playing professional football on Sunday are tough, and competing against your sibling at the same time – that is even tougher.

You would think that there’s a secret to raising professional athletes. But if you ask Archie Manning, also known as the father of Peyton and Eli Manning, two of the most recognizable faces in the NFL, he will tell you that a how to guide does not exist. In fact, he shrugs off talk that suggests he planned, from day one, to raise NFL athletes.

Peyton and Eli both play the quarterback position, and have led their respective teams to the Super Bowl. In 11 playoff appearances with his former team, Indianapolis Colts, Peyton made it to the Super Bowl twice (a Super Bowl XLI win over Chicago and a Super Bowl XLIV loss to New Orleans). While younger brother, Eli, on the other hand, is hungry for a third Super Bowl ring (he has two wins over New England – Super Bowl XLII and Super Bowl XLVI). However, when it comes to sibling rivalry, Peyton leads the “Manning Bowl” series, going a perfect 3-0.

So, what was it like growing up Manning?

In the third season of ESPN Films’ SEC Storied documentary series, which kicks off tonight with The Book of Manning (Tuesday, September 24, at 8:00 p.m. ET on ESPN), that question is explored and answered.

In anticipation of the premiere, Archie spoke with members of the media about being the Manning patriarch, his days as a star quarterback at Ole Miss and former NFL quarterback with the New Orleans Saints, and raising three sons (Cooper, Peyton, and Eli) each with football dreams in their own right. Here are excerpts of his comments:

On recognizing Peyton and Eli’s athletic potential

Archie: I don’t know if we ever talked about it. It just evolved. People will tell you, I was always very reluctant, very slow to talk about their future.

Maybe the first Manning Bowl in ’06, I remember us sitting down and looking at each other and just saying, “What in the world is going on here?” When Peyton won his Super Bowl MVP and the next year the Giants and Eli won one. That’s when it hit us, this wasn’t a plan.

On advice about playing the quarterback position

Archie: I think the first thing that my sons will tell you, that I never tried to be their coach.  I didn’t give them as much advice as some people might think, being a former player myself and a former quarterback. If they asked, I gave them my opinion.

But I think that they would tell you this, too.  I tell the same thing to young quarterbacks. The best advice I try to give a young quarterback is, you need to know what you’re doing.  You need to know what you’re doing, because if you know where to go with the football, you can get rid of it and throw it and you won’t get hit. And that’s  advice a quarterback needs to have, especially a passing quarterback or somebody that’s going to be in the pocket.

On raising professional athletes and advice for parents

Archie: I don’t think that’s a goal that parents should have for their children, whatever sport it is, to be a professional [athlete]. As parents, we don’t need to be the ones that push that.  They have to like it and enjoy it and want to do it. And parents, we are just there to support [them]. It never was a goal to get Peyton to the NFL, and so even though he got there, it wasn’t our goal to push Eli along to get to the NFL. They were motivated to play and get better, and they had a great work ethic.  That’s why they got there.

My advice for parents is to support your children, make sure they are having fun. Support them and be there for them. Give them encouragement and make it a life lesson that along the way they are learning to make good decisions and do the right thing.

On Cooper and Peyton’s health concerns

Archie: It’s been a real blessing and maybe somewhat of a miracle what Cooper went through.  Immediately, of course, we wanted to check on Peyton and Eli and have them checked to make sure they didn’t have that same stenosis, which they didn’t.

And then, knock‑on‑wood here, they both have been so fortunate in regard to injuries in their career. So when Peyton had his first neck surgery and the second and the third and the fourth, obviously we were concerned. Football wasn’t primary on our mind, it was ‑‑ let’s try to get Peyton healthy.

The fact that all the doctors cleared him to play again, there’s no guarantee you’ll get to come back and play.  A lot of people didn’t think he would. We just didn’t know. He never took football for granted because of what happened to Cooper. But I think he always knew he was fortunate in regard to health. But he wasn’t ready for his career to be over, not like that. Not [after] four surgeries and having to leave the place where he had been so long. He just didn’t want it to end right there.

On Peyton and Eli’s NFL endorsements.

Archie: If you look at their history, the associations they have and the corporate partners they have, it’s quality. I’ve always thought if you’re going to have a relationship like that, you hope it’s not just a quick one; that it’s something meaningful, and you’re part of something within the company. The DIRECTV [Football on Your Phone] the rap video was certainly odd to me, I had a very small part. This is a 15‑year relationship our family has had with DIRECTTV. They are a wonderful company and they have great people. They are a big part of the NFL, so it’s a good tie‑in.

From IndyCar Driver To Owner: How Sarah Fisher ‘Leans In’

downloadIn the bestseller, Lean In – Women Work and the Will to Lead, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, talks to women across the world encouraging them to “lean in” instead of being stopped by self-made barriers.

Sandberg tells women, “Don’t enter the workforce already looking for an exit. Don’t put on the brakes. Accelerate. Keep a foot on the gas pedal until a decision must be made. That’s the only way to ensure that when that day comes, there will be a real decision to make.”

For, Sarah Fisher, IndyCar owner and retired open-wheel driver, she has accelerated throughout her entire career.

Once-upon-at-time you could have described Fisher’s racing team as the “little racing team that could.”  This season, Indianapolis based Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing (SFHR) is doing more than just surviving in the highly competitive world of IZOD IndyCar racing; the team is celebrating the construction of a $2.5 million fully function R&D facility and fan destination, the addition of a second car to the racing team, and a second place finish at the Grand Prix of Baltimore.

Fisher is the heartbeat of SFHR, she has her foot on the gas pedal and is “leaning in” at 220 mph.

She started racing when she was five years old. Her parents met when her mother beat her father in a go-cart street race, but racing in her family was only meant to be a hobby. It wasn’t until Fisher recognized that she had a knack for the sport, and it was something that she could make a living from did she pursue it as a career.

“One thing my dad and mom did, which was amazing, they put me in a lot of different types of cars,” said Fisher to “So I was able to quickly adapt and transition into a professional series.”

Fisher excelled as a professional open-wheel racing driver. She was the first female in IndyCar Series history to start from the pole position and earn a podium finish. At 19, she became the youngest woman to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, and her nine Indy 500 starts marks the most starts for a woman in the history of the race. But for Fisher, being a woman was never the focal point of her racing career.

“For me it’s about quality, more importantly than being a female. I always had that same thought process my entire career,” Fisher said. “If I am talented and I’m competitive then I deserve a chance to be here just like everyone else. But if I go out there and I’m not competitive, then I should not get that opportunity.”

Despite her own quality versus gender viewpoint, being a female driver is what forced Fisher to adopt race car owner to her resume.

As a driver, she butted heads with an engineer whom she felt was chauvinistic and didn’t want her competing. On several occasions, she discovered parts on the car that were stacked against her, and she wasn’t confident because she couldn’t trust the car or engineer.

“I tried within reason all the different techniques of telling your boss you have a problem, and I couldn’t get anything resolved,” Fisher said. “I was forced to be in this very uncomfortable situation. So that’s why I decided to start this team on the founding principle of having good people working together on an overall mission.”

Together with her husband and general manager, Andy O’Gara, they launched Sarah Fisher Racing (SFR). Fisher noted that her ability to avoid controlling situations and influence those with whom she worked with required writing their paycheck.

In 2008, Fisher welcomed prominent Kansas oilman and serial entrepreneur, Willis E. “Wink” Hartman, as a sponsor. Fisher didn’t find Hartman; he found her.

Shortly before the 2008 Indy 500, Hartman was watching ESPN when he heard the story of Fisher’s attempt to qualify, but a sponsor’s check did not arrive. Hartman recognized her plight and wired the money that she needed to compete. Ultimately, he saw the potential in her American Dream and recognized that what Fisher was up to was much bigger than a one-time sponsorship, so together they formed SFHR in 2012.

In the beginning, Fisher’s race team was small enough that it made sense for her to fulfill the dual role of driver-owner. However, once the team expanded, she stepped away from the driving responsibilities and has since handed them over to Josef Newgarden, currently ranked 14th in the Izod IndyCar Series standings.

“A big part of what we do and why we are able to succeed is because we spend a lot of time doing our homework on the people side to make sure that we assemble the proper team,” Fisher said. “Behind everything that you see, all these great things there are people that we’ve handpicked to work together to elevate our team. That’s a big area of focus for us.”

Another focus of Fisher’s is growing sponsorships. SFHR is primarily backed by Hartman’s sponsorship, but Fisher recognizes from a business standpoint the team needs more. She notes that every team has its own financial plan, and a small team can budget in the $4-5 million range.  But budgeting more in the $7 million range allows for assembling the right team, testing, and R&D.

“It’s difficult for a young team to survive in this sport. It’s a challenging environment and difficult to be competitive out of the box,” Fisher said. “And it’s a Catch-22 situation.  If you’re not competitive, you don’t get sponsors.”

When asked what corporate sponsor is on her wish list, Fisher replied “Procter and Gamble would be my dream sponsor.” As a mother, wife, and CEO, she recognizes the value in developing partnerships with strong brands that will not only propel her racing team but also means a lot to American households.

Fisher attributes her success to trusting in people and finding balance.

“You have to enjoy what you’re doing,” said Fisher. “If you don’t enjoy what you do you’ll just be miserable, and your family will reflect on that. If you don’t enjoy what it is that you’re trying to achieve then find something else. Enjoy life and live for that.”

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