The NBA — known for its bright lights, highlight-reel plays, and big personalities — has added another vibrant aspect to its Hollywood-like culture. The league has relaxed its sneaker policy and will allow players to wear shoes in the color of their choice for any games in the upcoming season.
“All the brands are already working on loud and crazy, colorful stuff,” added Nick DePaula, NBA feature writer at ESPN and creative director at Nice Kicks. DePaula was the first to break the news, which spurred immediate reactions from players and fans on social media.
The news quickly spurred comparisons to other professional leagues, where players are considered to have less freedom.
“Immediately after I tweeted the story, the biggest line of feedback was people making fun of the NFL and tagging NFL players to point out the league’s approach and how they allow different expressions in their shoes on the field and court,” DePaula said. “We’ve seen the NBA in terms of how they treat social issues and encourage players to take stances. Obviously, sneakers are a less impactful part of that, but it’s definitely one element in terms of allowing players to be creative and expressive.”
In years’ past, black, white or team colors were the mandate, save for a number of “theme games” per season, during which players could break out their colorful kicks. Now, players have total power when it comes to colorways.
“Equipment managers provide season-long schedules of uniforms, and in the past, they’ve coordinated sneaker schedules with big games,” DePaula said. “Now, it’s going to next level where if, for example, Mike Conley from the Grizzlies plays in Cleveland, he can wear Ohio State tribute sneakers.”
That ability to show off their personality on the court is particularly important for NBA players, according to Victoria Jacobi, who works in brand consulting and athlete relations.
“Especially in the basketball world, even those guys who don’t have a sneaker deal and their own design, it kind of gives them a platform to showcase their fashion style,” she said. “They can send a message on the court…On that level, it’s become its own phenomenon, and it’s getting more important now. The NBA gives you that platform to pick and choose and do your own thing.”
Sneakers also give fans the opportunity to show off their own style and relate to players; the entire sneakerhead phenomenon is fueled by fans’ desire to feel a connection to the players, according to Halfhill.
“Sneakers are one of the few items that these elite players have that average Joes can have,” Halfhill said. “I guess they both have iPhones, but other than that, their watches, cars, and closets are not the same as ours — except the sneakers. Sneakers are a way to connect to these players, and for a lot of people, there’s a really deep personal story.”
For the media — particularly sneaker blogs and popular outlets like Nice Kicks — the rule change opens up a whole new world of opportunities when it comes to sneaker coverage.
“There might be that much more interest across the board, across all media, because of the nightly interest,” DePaula said, pointing to the extensive coverage that LeBron James received last season as he debuted 51 unique versions of his LeBron 15 shoes. “There was so much interest in real time and on Instagram.”
“What players wear on the court has always been big part of Nice Kicks, especially with our Kicks on Court column, which tracks what NBA players are wearing,” Halfhill added. “As we started gaining visibility, NBA guys were hitting us up directly, and they first got in touch with us over sneakers. There became an internal competition on who wore the greatest shoes, and Kicks on Court is still one of our biggest columns. The sneakerhead culture was underground, and now it’s mainstream.”
The new policy also creates endless opportunities for vibrant PEs, particularly for players that may not play for teams with traditionally popular colors.
“I think this whole color restriction lift will be helpful for smaller market guys and guys that Nike may not work as much with their colorways, like Giannis [Antetokounmpo] and Russell Westbrook,” DePaula said. “The Milwaukee Bucks and OKC, historically, their colors aren’t particularly good sellers in terms of colorways. That could be something that helps them out, and also for smaller markets like Orlando and teams like that.”
Jacobi pointed to a number of players in small markets who could benefit from more opportunities for multi-colored shoes, especially those who are known for their flashy sense of style like Westbrook and Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns.
“It doesn’t matter where they are, these guys are adopting this fashion culture,” she said. “They travel enough and see enough of the world to apply it wherever they want.”
DePaula also mentioned that, although most eyes may be on Nike, which was worn by about 68 percent of the league in 2017-18, the policy change also gives brands like Adidas, Under Armour and Puma an opportunity to thrive. Those organizations each outfitted less than 20 percent of the NBA’s players last season, but they all have the chance to make waves with the new creative freedom.
Given all the buzz around the announcement, it’s clear that sneakers represent a lot more than just some leather and rubber stitched together. They have the power to communicate messages that are much greater than basketball, and it’s safe to assume those messages will be even bigger and brighter this season.
“This is where the personality is going to live,” Halfhill said. “I think sneakers are a great canvas. You can tell a lot of stories through colors and materials, and make a lot of statements. When you lace up a certain shoe, there’s a statement being made.”
Photo courtesy Brian Bae
To his left was a bag overflowing with Ricola cough drops. To his right were the rosters of the Northeastern University and College of William & Mary men’s basketball teams. As Charlie Bame-Aldred sat at the scorer’s table for an afternoon matchup at Matthews Arena, he thought back on his time as a public address announcer.
“I’m happy to do it, because I’d be sitting there [in the stands] if I wasn’t sitting here announcing,” he said. “Why not at least be part of the action and be able to participate and help make it an exciting environment, not that it really needs it? It’s already exciting, but I just try to add as much as I can.”
Bame-Aldred, 55, is an avid sports fan, so when he was hired to teach accounting at Washington State University in 2002, he went on a mission to get involved with the athletic department. He decided he wanted to be the public address announcer for the Cougars’ athletic teams, despite never having announced a sporting event before. After months of persuading the sports information director to give him a chance, he got his first assignment – a women’s volleyball game.
“I went and did a lot of research on volleyball terms,” Bame-Aldred said with a smile. “The first game I did, I was uncertain about what I could or could not do.”
Over the years, however, he developed confidence as he continued announcing, and he expanded his range to track and field, baseball and other sports (though he revealed that volleyball remains his favorite sport to announce).
In 2007, though, Bame-Aldred decided to head back east. He is a Franklin, Mass., native and actually attended Northeastern as an engineering major for a short period of time.
“I fell in love with cheap scotch versus going to class,” he said of his experience as a student at Northeastern. “I squandered my opportunity for a Northeastern experiential degree. When the opportunity to come back here became available, I jumped at it. In 1980, I needed someone to grab me by the ear and tell me I was screwing up my opportunity. I came to Northeastern to help those students understand the importance of the Northeastern experience.”
So he arrived back at Northeastern – this time as a professor – and it was only right for him to bring his passion for sports and his booming PA voice with him from Washington. An executive professor of accounting, Bame-Aldred now spends his evenings and weekends announcing Northeastern sports, from field hockey to basketball to ice hockey.
“I’m always testing the boundary of what I can do, and people will come over and say, ‘You’ve got to stop doing that,’” he said. “I’m fine with that, but I’m always going to try and figure out how I can push the envelope a little bit more.”
For example, Bame-Aldred used to announce the starters in hockey games by stating the visiting players’ names in a dull monotone before announcing the Northeastern players in a strong, thundering voice, before the athletic department higher-ups asked him to take a more balanced approach.
“It was hilarious,” he said. “But listen, I serve at the discretion of the athletic director, and if the athletic director says, ‘Stop doing that,’ I’m going to stop doing that.”
Still, he continues to take risks, and his passion doesn’t go unnoticed by the fans. Bame-Aldred is well-known across campus, and he waves and smiles at everyone from the students to the arena security staff before the game.
“You can feel Charlie’s energy in the whole building, and it translates up into the DogHouse,” said Ashley Demirali, one of the leaders of Northeastern’s student section. “He gets us excited at the start of the game, letting his personality through in his announcing.”
Much like his announcing style, Bame-Aldred brings that same passion to his classroom, although he did mention he has gone to class with a strained voice on the days after particularly dramatic games.
“My classroom is not subdued,” he said. “I have a basic educational philosophy. Unconscious people do not learn. My goal is to entertain and educate. I call [it] ‘edutainment.’ Each week I put on a variety of shows.”
From the classroom to the arena, Bame-Aldred believes his jovial spirit is part of what keeps everyone engaged.
“I still mess things up a lot, but no one really cares,” he said.
“It’s really not the words that I’m saying or the pronunciation. It’s the intonation and the excitement. People really aren’t focused on the little details. They’re focused on the bigger picture that somebody, at least, is enthusiastic about what just happened.”
His greatest gratification comes from contributing an atmosphere that leaves an impact on students during their time at Northeastern, as well as after they graduate.
“[Alumni] can walk in and smell all the smells from Matthews Arena and see the environment…but then they also hear the voice boom out, and it brings them back to when they were students,” he says. “However meaningless or meaningful it is, having that connection for alumni to come back and just feel like, ‘I remember what it was like as a kid. I remember when I was a freshman here, and I remember that crazy, crazy bald guy doing what he was doing, and he’s still doing it.’”
Northeastern’s 69-67 win over William & Mary turned out to be thrilling in itself that afternoon, but the vigor with which Bame-Aldred announced the game was evidence of his love for the Northeastern community. And as the clock ran out, along with his supply of Ricola cough drops, the crazy bald guy at the scorer’s table signed off with his go-to exclamation that has come to define the conclusion of Northeastern sporting events.
“Please drive home safely, and as always, GO HUSKIES!”
Photo courtesy Northeastern Athletics
As I stepped into Jack Grinold’s office in Matthews Arena one March day in 2015, Jack chirped, “I have a task for you, Bails.” I smiled as he used his favorite nickname for me, but I knew with that one sentence that I was in for a day of work. As the Northeastern athletic communications co-op, one of my responsibilities was to serve as a sort of assistant to Jack, helping out when needed (often with various technological duties, as Jack was more comfortable with an old-fashioned approach to things). He handed me a heavy stack of lined papers covered front-to-back in his trademark scrawl. As I flipped through the pages, I saw that he had meticulously chronicled the entire history of Northeastern men’s rowing in his own words, from his own memory. The pages were to be typed up as a script for an upcoming video celebrating the program’s 50-year anniversary at Northeastern.
I began typing, and as I made my way through the crinkled pages, I was transported through decades of Northeastern rowing history, not a single detail omitted. Fifty-four pages later, I had completed the transcript, having acquired a whole arsenal of rowing facts and anecdotes in the process. In that moment, I realized there was no better storyteller than Jack, and thus no one better to serve as the press steward of Northeastern Athletics for more than a half-century.
I share this story because in the brief time I knew Jack, no instance more accurately proved his knowledge and love for Northeastern rowing. Though illness may have affected his mobility, his mind was as sharp as ever until the very end, and it was evident on those pages.
My interactions with Jack were like that of his interactions with so many others — warm, engaging and illuminating. I never left Jack’s presence without feeling uplifted and enlightened, and I feel confident that all those who knew him would say the same. Jack may have left his mark on Northeastern rowing, but no imprint was greater than the one he left on the people who knew him.
The Early Days
Jack Grinold, who died last spring at the age of 81, had been a part of the Head of the
Charles since its inception in 1965. He had arrived at Northeastern as the sports information director in 1962 after serving as a Merchant Marine. Northeastern didn’t have a rowing program at the time, but after Northeastern student Harry Paulsen brought forth a petition calling for a crew team, Jack, along with athletic director Herb Gallagher, president Asa Knowles and board member Chandler Hovey, worked tirelessly to implement the new varsity sport. The men’s program and its first head coach, Ernie Arlett, were announced on May 23, 1964.
“Jack was instrumental in the setup of the program,” said Bill Miller, who rowed from 1966 to 1969. “He was there when they researched about organizing, funding and finding a coach. He did a lot of the leg work — it was kind of his baby, a brand new sport that he had a hand in birthing. I think that being on the ground level in organizing the existence of Northeastern crew was dear to him, with his part in making it happen.”
The birth of the program had an immediate and significant effect on the university as a whole. In a way, rowing is associated with respect and prominence, and its implementation helped elevate Northeastern to the status of its more established crosstown rivals.
“When they put rowing in, it gave Northeastern a chance to get on par with Harvard and Boston University,” said Roger Borggaard, who rowed from 1965 to 1967.
Comprised of novice oarsmen, the 1965 crew shocked the nation by conquering 33 of 34 crews, winning the Dad Vail Regatta and earning an invitation to the Henley Royal Regatta in England. Northeastern rowing had cemented itself as a powerhouse, not only in New England, but in the country. Five months after their Dad Vail triumph, the Huskies finished second to Potomac in the first Head of the Charles.
It turned out that the magical early years weren’t beginner’s luck, but a sign of everlasting success in the decades to come. Northeastern rowing would earn 32 Eastern Sprints medals, 28 IRA medals and six more trips to Henley in the 50 years following its inception. The program would see the building of the Henderson Boathouse, as well as a coaching transition from Arlett to Walter “Buzz” Congram in 1978, then to John Pojednic at the turn of the century. Jack was there through it all, offering his undying support.
Much of the program’s continued success stemmed from significant financial contributions from Jack and his wife, Cathy. In 2008, the Grinolds established a $1.25 million endowment for men’s rowing. In appreciation of the contributions, Northeastern’s new rowing training facility was dedicated to the Grinolds in 2013.
“I think one of the biggest things that has reshaped the landscape of the program is the ability to recruit at a higher level than we have in the past,” said Justin Jones, who rowed from 2010 to 2014, and now serves on the men’s rowing staff as an assistant coach. “A lot of that comes from the support that Jack provided. Renovating the boathouse wouldn’t have been possible without Jack. The training facility helps us really recruit up there with the top teams.”
“In truth, without Jack and the work that he did, the Henderson Boathouse, the permanent home of Northeastern crew, would not be where it is today,” Congram said at a celebration of Jack’s life in September.
The Grinolds’ financial influence has endured, as supporters recently donated more than $350,000 for the Grinold Family Scholarship for student-athletes at Northeastern.
“Jack ultimately helped to insure a sense of permanence and financial stability for the program, something that is absolutely essential for long-term success,” Pojednic said. “No one did more to cultivate the growth of rowing at Northeastern over time than Jack.”
Rowing’s Biggest Fan
Evidenced by his altruism, and all of his contributions to rowing in general, it was clear that Jack had a special affinity for the sport.\
“It’s the ultimate team sport,” Miller said. “If there’s somebody who stands out, then something’s wrong in a nine-man crew. It’s got to blend as one unit, and Jack had an element of admiration for that — everybody is working toward one goal.”
Dave Lister, a member of the crew from 1965 to 1968, added that rowing carries a certain sense of tradition and esteem that Jack appreciated.
“I think that because he went to [Browne & Nichols] prep school and he went to Bowdoin, it was a little of that preppy atmosphere he grew up with,” Lister said. “So, Jack comes to Northeastern as the sports information director — and this was still a blue-collar commuter school at the time — but now with rowing, all the sudden we were in a sport that’s directly connected to the Ivy League. All of that added to his love of the sport, and throughout the years it was all solidified.”
Perfect Man for the Job
Not only was Jack passionate about the sport of rowing itself, but he was dedicated to his craft as a sports information director. One of his most considerable duties each year was to introduce inductees at the Northeastern Varsity Club Hall of Fame ceremony. (He, himself, was inducted in 1985.)
“Every year at the Hall of Fame ceremony, for years and years, he would speak at these events,” Lister said. “He just had a certain style of the way he introduced each athlete, with a story about them relating to their accomplishments. It was mesmerizing.”
That storytelling ability, paired with his famed memory, allowed Jack to spread the word about Northeastern rowing in the most captivating way.
“He was tremendous with words, and he could write tremendous stories,” Lister said. “And he didn’t just go back to his record books. His head was like an encyclopedia of athletes and statistics and performances.”
Jack’s pure time commitment to the rowing program should also be noted — he rarely missed a home race during his tenure at Northeastern.
“That just shows his dedication and love for the sport,” Miller said. “He was always there, always supportive. You could always count on him.”
He also spent copious amounts of time generating publicity for the program, utilizing his connections in the media for press coverage.
“Jack brought integrity to the way the sport was covered and promoted,” Pojednic said. “He brought the sports reporters to races on the Charles and to the Eastern Sprints and IRA. He introduced younger generations of media and sports information professionals to rowing and helped them to see what a great sport it is. He made sure that as sports information evolved, rowing was a part of that evolution.”
The best sports information directors have compassion for the athletes they work with, and Jack had that and more. Brian O’Connor, who rowed from 1971 to 1974, told a story of a memorable instance of Jack’s thoughtfulness at Henley one year.
“They decided the food they were serving us in the hotel wasn’t good, so they got steaks shipped over from Oklahoma,” he said. “These things would happen, and later you’d find out that Jack was the guy behind it, taking care of it all.”
O’Connor added that Jack went above and beyond to mentor the athletes and guide them as best he could.
“I think, partly because he and Cathy had no children, he really became a father figure for a lot of us,” he said. “We were all at an influential age, impressionable. Jack played that pivotal role of a father figure, really.”
In addition to mentoring athletes, Jack supported Pojednic as he transitioned into the lead role in 2000 as a young coach.
“[He] gave me the shot of a lifetime at age 24,” said Pojednic. “Jack was tough, direct and very supportive…Honestly, my first impression of him was that he was a tough-love, no-nonsense boss who expected me to do a really good job, and I appreciate that as much as anything.”
Jack’s Great Gift
Anyone asked about Jack’s personality will likely mention his charisma and charm.
“He truly was a celebrity,” said John Maslowski, who was part of the famed 1972 and 1973 crews known for their impressive performances in England. “He was like the mayor of Henley.”
It wasn’t just in the boathouse where Jack built and maintained relationships — he was a master at staying in touch. Without fail, Jack would reach out to the people he became close with over the years to say “hello”, and each winter, he and Cathy would send out Christmas cards to their many friends. Recently, Jack became part of a sort of dinner club with about 15 of Northeastern’s first rowers who gather a few times a year to catch up.
“We started inviting Jack, and you could tell he was just in his glory,” Lister said. “He just loved being here. He would sit at the head of the table and tell stories. You could tell he was enjoying it.”
That magnetism and ability to relate to others is what made him so unforgettable, according to those who knew him.
“I think that for everybody who met him — he just had that connection, that personal interest,” Miller said. “He connected with everybody. It was his empathy and the interest. That was his great gift.”
Rowing the “Jack”
After decades as a staple at the Head of the Charles, Jack’s memory will be at the forefront of this year’s regatta.
“It is going to be strange not seeing him there for the first time in about 50 years,” Maslowski said. “We spread his ashes in the Charles, though, so I feel like he’s there. His presence will be felt.”
A number of Northeastern rowers will be paying homage to Jack in the best way they know how.
“This upcoming Head of the Charles is going to be special,” O’Connor said. “We’ll be rowing in the Senior Master Eights in the ‘Jack’ and we are dedicating this row to him.”
Surely, there is no place Jack would rather have his legacy honored than on the Charles River. And though he will be missed, his influence will live on for decades to come, at Northeastern and beyond.
Jones summed it up simply: “He was our biggest supporter and fan. We owe the guy everything.”
Game 3 of the 2018 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers lasted a record-breaking 18 innings. Among those who witnessed that epic game in person were the teams’ heads of social media, tweeting through all seven hours and 20 minutes of it.
“You know that everyone stayed up really late — it was 2 a.m. on the East Coast for our fans,” said Kelsey Doherty, digital media manager for the Red Sox. “I tried to acknowledge our fans for staying up late with thank-you tweets, like, ‘We appreciate you,’ and acknowledge that our fans are warriors.”
“I try to keep it fun — you never want fans to log off from social because it’s not fun,” added Sue Jo, the Dodgers’ social media coordinator. “I get that it’s a long game. Nine innings is long, but 18 is a lot longer.”
Jo — who is in her third season with the team but just her first season running the show — knew she wanted to maintain the social strategy she had leaned on all season.
“We kind of used the strategy we’ve built since I started, which is ‘make you feel like you’re watching with us,’” she said. “The whole point of social is to enjoy everything together, and that’s what my goal was. When we’re doing really well, I tweet a lot of things and post a lot of content. The fanbase gets very excited when something good happens, so I like to be there with them, like a fan, like they are.”
Doherty, who has been with the Red Sox for nearly seven years, said she focuses on a variety of components, both throughout the regular season and the playoffs.
“Our strategy is to provide four things,” she explained. “There’s the sales component — we want to fill seats. There’s the news component — we know we’re not really going to break news regarding trades or signings, but we want to be the official word on that stuff and give score updates. There’s the customer service piece, responding to fans. Finally, the last piece is just an overarching representation of the brand.”
With those strategies in mind, Jo and Doherty provided coverage for Game 3 as they normally would, having no idea that the game would last more than double the time of an average baseball game.
“For me, it was a very long day,” Doherty said with a laugh. “We were all very excited to be on the West Coast and go grab dinner at In-N-Out, but then it was like, ‘Oh, nevermind.’ I had been dreading extras. I was nervous of having to live-tweet extra innings because every pitch matters.”
Of course, the game did go into extra innings, and according to Jo, not all extra-inning games should be treated the same.
“We were set to win that game, and [the Red Sox] ended up tying it up, so the mood shifted,” she said. “It’s tricky going into extras. If we score to tie it or they tied it up, I try to read the room. If we tied to force extras, the content is different, like rallying the troops. If the other team tied it, I step back a little, let fans cool off and take in what happened.”
Once the game gets into double-digit innings, it’s time to mix things up, Jo explained.
“In the 11th, 12th, 13th innings, it hits weird baseball time, so I was just using GIFs and keeping it fun,” she said. “Hitting the 13th, 14th, 15th innings, at that point it’s really a more intimate way to talk to fans — you’re part of history. It’s not like a regular-season game.”
“I like to ask them questions, like, ‘Hey, are you still with us?’” she added. “Those get the most engagement. I posted on Instagram after the 15th inning, saying, ‘Are you still with us?’ and within 15 to 20 minutes, there were, like, 3,300 comments.”
Beyond the fact that the game lasted more than seven hours, there were also 14 scoreless innings and only five total runs.
“I used a lot of reaction GIFs,” said Doherty. “It’s one of those things in late innings where it’s kind of fun to have an ‘anything goes’ approach.”
“Fans get frustrated, so it was mostly just rallying the fans, saying, ‘Next inning, we got this,’” Jo said of the scoreless innings. “I got the Rally Ruler GIF out. It was about getting them excited… Really, my main thing with social is talking to the fans and engaging as a friend watching with them. At the end of the day, it’s about putting out the freshest content and great photos and GIFs and video clips, and letting them enjoy that.”
In the extra innings, the game had the chance to end at any moment, so Doherty and Jo had to be ready for anything to happen.
“When we took lead in the 13th, I went down to the tunnel because a certain number of us are allowed on the field afterwards, but I couldn’t see the game, so I had everyone texting me letting know what was going on,” Doherty said. “I was hearing crowd reactions, and realized something wasn’t right, that the Dodgers had tied it up, so I went back to the booth with my tail between my legs, and the game continued.”
Jo also tried to be prepared without actually being able to see the action.
“I would sit down in the photo workroom in the top of the inning and watch the game from there, then head back to the stairwell for the bottom of the inning,” she said. “You don’t know what’s happening, and you just hear the audience based on cheers, but you don’t know what they’re for. At that point, my phone was dying with 10 percent left and I was trying to find someone with chargers and charging in hallways. After I had charged it, I happened to hear the walk-off and everyone cheering.”
Because she couldn’t be watching all of the action, Jo added that she wasn’t even aware that Max Muncy was the player who hit the game-winning homer when she went onto the field to catch the celebration.
“For me, I don’t know who hit it, if it was a base hit or a homer,” she said. “Once I got out there, I had to watch who was hugging who and feel out who hit it. At that point, it’s funny because I just go out and I don’t know what they had done at that play, so I see after when I’m posting highlights. I had just started running onto the field, capturing content.”
Live-tweeting from 5 p.m. until 2:30 a.m. isn’t an easy task, but Jo said the excitement of the moment kept her going through all 18 innings.
“It’s great, the adrenaline, and it’s almost second nature to me now,” she said.
Doherty agreed and also mentioned that caffeine played a big role in her night.
“I was just hitting ‘send’ on things at some points,” she said. “The entire postseason is like that. We’re up until 4 or 5 a.m., with hours of posting and team travel. We’re running on pure adrenaline, and you don’t even realize that until after.”
Although the Dodgers won that Game 3, the Red Sox went on the win the World Series. The work wasn’t done for either Jo or Doherty yet, though.
For the Dodgers, there was no celebration at the end of the series, but cordiality was still important on social.
“When we congratulated the Red Sox on social, those are things the Dodgers believe in as an organization and that we stand by,” Jo said. “It was a great series, and we like to congratulate teams. There were negative comments on that, but there were a lot of the positive comments too.”
“This season, we had our backs against the wall a lot, and we grinded it out,” she added. “You see that with fans and letting it unfold on social, those come-from-behind wins. It was awesome to see all of that, and the fans really enjoyed it as much as I did, seeing how far we came this season and that fight in the team.”
For the newly-crowned champions, the opportunities for content were endless.
“It’s finally, this week, slowly dying down,” Doherty said. “I stayed up almost all night after the World Series posting and responding. There was so much content and incredible photos from on the field to the champagne to video clips and highlights and interviews with guys tearing up who love their teammates.”
Once back in Boston, the Red Sox celebrated with a championship parade through the city. Even during the post-win madness, Doherty made it a point for her staff to appreciate the big moment.
“The parade was a beast, but I wanted to make sure we could all enjoy the parade and take it in,” she said. “When else will you have thousands of people cheering at you?”
One day, she’s in Los Angeles watching the Connecticut Sun’s Chiney Ogwumike hit a game-winning layup against the Sparks. Another day, she’s touring the Great Wall of China with the Atlanta Dream’s Elizabeth Williams. Another day, she’s in Prague watching the New York Liberty’s Amanda Zahui dominate in the EuroLeague. And on another day, she’s in Portland at the Adidas headquarters with the Sparks’ Chelsea Gray.
As an agent for some of the WNBA’s top players, Allison Galer’s work is both widespread and nonstop.
“I’m always on the phone with people or at games, traveling where my clients are and where the business is… I’ve tried to do the right things to build in the best way,” Galer said.
Galer received her undergraduate degree from Brown University and then launched her own agency called Disrupt the Game at just 22 years old. She was admitted to the California State Bar after getting her law degree at UCLA and is a licensed WNBA agent and FIBA agent — all before the age of 29.
“I approach it as more of a leg up than anything,” Galer said of her relatively young age. “I can relate to clients…I’ve tried to alleviate any concerns about my age by hustling, being proactive and building my business.”
Much of Galer’s success stems from a passion for basketball and her deep roots in the sport. Her uncle, Lon Rosen, is the EVP and CMO of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and was the longtime agent to Magic Johnson. He frequently brought her along to Lakers games and events, where Galer took advantage of the opportunity to meet people and make a good impression.
Galer’s networking drive led to an internship with the Sparks when she was in high school, which introduced a new passion for her.
“I attended the inaugural WNBA game when I was 7-and-a-half, but I didn’t really grow up following it,” she said. “When I got exposed to the WNBA my senior year of high school, meeting personnel and developing an understanding of the league, it definitely intrigued me, especially because of my playing background.”
She went on to play basketball for a year at Brown, but she decided to put her focus toward a different side of the sport. After working for companies like Fox Sports Net, Lagardere Unlimited and RaptorAccelerator, she knew what path she wanted to take.
“Playing basketball has always been a big part of my life, but I always knew my future would be on the business side of it,” she said.
So even before she attended law school, Galer founded Disrupt the Game, a full-service agency of sports and entertainment talent that focuses on contract negotiations, marketing and endorsements, broadcasting, speaking engagements, and public relations.
“If you can do it yourself, why not bet on yourself?” she said. “If you know you can help people, feel confident enough to get them to trust that you are working for them, and have their best interests at heart, bet on you…I’m confident, but I don’t pretend that I know all of answers. I have really hustled, picked the brains of my uncle and the many people I’ve built relationships with in the business. Any questions I have, I always ask.”
Galer’s hard work has paid off — her impressive client list includes names like Hall-of-Famer Lisa Leslie, Alexis Jones of the Minnesota Lynx, Monique Billings of the Atlanta Dream and Kelsey Mitchell of the Indiana Fever, in addition to Williams, Zahui, Gray and Ogwumike.
“I think I have a unique relationship with each of my clients — it all depends on their needs and what they’re looking for,” Galer said. “Lisa met me when I was an intern with the Sparks. We built a relationship, we knew some of the same people. She took a chance on me because she wanted someone who she would be a priority for and would work hard for her…For Chiney, it’s important to have someone in lockstep with her, and that’s what I am with her. We are always hustling, planning, building together, with me trying to push her both on and off the court.”
“Allison is one of the rare people in the industry that’s young, motivated, self-made and a woman,” said Ogwumike, who is also an ESPN NBA analyst. “We’re like teammates, learning at the same time…Because she played ball, she understands the aspirations that women ball players have. Because she’s young, she can help us navigate our lives and guide us and keep everything in balance.”
“A lot of my job is helping people — if I wasn’t helping people every day, I wouldn’t like what I did,” she said. “I’m there for my clients for their triumphs and through their adversities.
One challenge of working in the WNBA specifically is that the work doesn’t end once the WNBA season ends, for Galer or her clients. Many WNBA players also compete overseas in the offseason, so Galer makes it a point of watching them play in person.
“Being overseas with my clients is pretty powerful,” she said. “A lot of people have no idea what these women go through overseas — the living conditions, extensive travel, language barriers. If I can’t go somewhere and spend a couple days there, how can I send my clients there?”
Galer also knows from personal experience that forming connections and relationships is crucial in the sports industry. Part of that includes helping her players build connections that will further their careers after they retire from playing.
“I want my clients to meet people and be dedicated to bettering themselves,” Galer said. “They are smart, articulate women, and they’re super impressive, but it takes that in-person interaction. The more people they meet and the more relationships they build, the better they’ll be now, and in the future, especially in areas they want to go in.”
Galer continues to take steps to expand her own repertoire, as well. In addition to her full slate as an agent, Galer and Disrupt the Game represent two sports brands — Chance Athletics and AllNet Shooter.
Even with all of her projects and ventures, Galer values her clients and the relationships she’s built with them the most.
“That’s why my clients work with me — not every player is for me, and I’m not for every player because it really is a relationship with me,” she said. “They know I care, and that underlies my whole business.”
Photo courtesy Lauren Scornavacca
The 2016-17 season may not have ended the way the Northeastern men’s basketball team had planned—the sixth-seeded Huskies fell to Towson University by a 28-point margin in a swift exit from the quarterfinal round of the conference tournament. If there was a silver lining in Northeastern’s season, however, the case could be made for senior guard T.J. Williams, the Colonial Athletic Association’s leading scorer and Player of the Year.
“I thought T.J. had one of the strongest single seasons on record here at Northeastern,” said head coach Bill Coen. “It really was remarkable from the opening game to the final buzzer. He did everything for us. He was our primary ball handler, he was our leading scorer, he was our leading assist guy and many times our leading rebounder. He gave us a chance to win each and every game.”
Williams has been a staple of Northeastern basketball for the past four years, playing in 123 of a possible 131 games. And although Williams started in nearly every game during his Northeastern career, it wasn’t until this season that his numbers stood out. Throughout his first three seasons, he averaged less than 10 points and three assists per game. During his final season, he averaged 21.4 and 5.3 and ranked 13th in the nation in scoring. Williams made leaps in nearly every area of his game, including free throws, steals and rebounds.
On top of his improved statistics, Williams said he felt that his leadership skills also developed.
“I knew going into this year, my leadership was going to play a big role in how the season would go. Before we even started the season, I kind of set everything in perspective and allowed myself to transition into being that guy,” he said. “I definitely had to refocus and allow myself to have a growth mindset where I was able to be a leader not just on the court but off the court as well.”
Williams’s teammates took note of his newfound ambition and said his influence led to much of the team’s success this year.
“His biggest role wasn’t to score, it just happened that way,” said junior guard Devon Begley. “His main role was to get other people involved, and once he got everyone else involved, everything opened up for him.”
This season, Williams’s style of play reminded Coen of another basketball player who is well-known for his determination and drive—Russell Westbrook. Coen was quick to acknowledge that Williams has a long way to go before reaching Westbrook’s level of skill, but he made comparisons between the two players’ ambition and physicality.
“[Williams and Westbrook] are big, physical guards who’ve got toughness and competitiveness, and those are all great traits,” Coen said. “I would say Russell is about as competitive as you get, and he’s a good guy to emulate.”
In addition to Westbrook, Williams was compared to some former Northeastern basketball greats throughout the season, like J.J. Barea and Reggie Lewis.
“It’s a blessing and an honor just to be able to be in the same category as those guys, and those guys are going to be talked about forever here,” Williams said. “For me to be in the category with those guys and for me to be able to accomplish something like that means the world to me, it really does. I don’t take it for granted, because it doesn’t happen just to anyone.”
What made Williams’s advancements so special was that they were self-motivated after an underwhelming junior year, Coen said.
“Last year he had a rocky junior year, and not because he was not talented, but because all his energies were not focused in the right direction,” Coen said. “He made a conscious decision to where he wanted to put his energies, and that just grew in the off-season… […] I think he used that adversity to re-channel his focus and re-dedicate himself to his dream.”
Begley said Williams’s increased role this season also stemmed from the absence of former Northeastern standouts like David Walker and Quincy Ford, who graduated last year.
“In the previous years, it was hard because we had David and Quincy, and they were like the big stars,” Begley said. “But once they left, T.J. kind of knew that he had to step up in order for us to be a good team, and I watched his mindset change and watched him eliminate most of the distractions.”
Williams echoed those sentiments, acknowledging that he put in more effort this year than in the past.
“If I could go back and change one thing from my incoming freshman year and my sophomore year, I feel like I would’ve approached every year like I did this last year,” he said. “That’s a more mature me speaking now than then, but if I could do it again, I would do that.”
In addition to his strong 2016-17 season, Williams will be etched in the history books for his role on the 2014-15 team that won the CAA championship and made a March Madness appearance.
“That was very special year for us, for the school, especially because we basically made history,” Williams said. “That will be a memory that Northeastern can forever remember, and it will be a memory in my life forever, and all those guys that were on that team.”
Looking ahead, Williams is set to appear at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament in April, which is held for 64 of the top college seniors in the country and is attended by a number of NBA scouts and general managers.
“As of right now, I’m looking forward to working my tail off and putting as much work as I can in the gym, in the weight room, and trying to find anything and everything I can do to get better,” Williams said. “Being in the CAA, everybody on the outside looking in, they kind of brush the CAA to the side. I feel like they don’t really take it as seriously, and they really don’t know how much goes into what we do. It’s bigger than me, and I understand that.”
Photo courtesy Northeastern Athletics
On Saturday, Feb. 3, Boston Bruins’ goaltender Tuukka Rask held the Toronto Maple Leafs to a single goal, leading his team to a 4-1 victory at TD Garden. Just two nights later, Northeastern goaltender Cayden Primeau stood between those same pipes that Rask typically occupies and stopped 37 of Boston College’s shots, securing a 3-0 win for the Huskies in the Beanpot semifinal.
Though he said he studies every NHL goalie, the 6’4” Primeau mentioned that he gains inspiration from Rask, who measures in at 6’3” and a similar body structure.
“It’s nice to take things from each individual goalie, but I like watching Tuukka,” Primeau said. “He plays well, he’s smart and he makes himself big.”
Studying Rask’s game seemed to pay off because shutting out BC (14-12-3) is no easy task — the No. 18 Eagles score nearly three goals per game this season and haven’t been held scoreless since Jan. 16, 2017. After his monster performance against BC, Primeau credited his teammates’ defense for the shutout, but there’s no denying that he has been the heart and soul of the Huskies’ defensive efforts this season. Northeastern (16-8-5) is ranked 11th in the nation, and Primeau leads the league in goals against average (1.97) and boasts a .925 save percentage through 25 games in his first season as a Husky.
“It shows you that, for an 18-year-old, he’s got the confidence, and he’s got the trust of the leadership of our core,” head coach Jim Madigan said. “That’s important, and our team plays with a lot of confidence with Cayden Primeau in net. He’s given us confidence, and we’ve got a lot of confidence in him.”
Primeau took the reins as the starting goalie in November after an injury to junior Ryan Ruck, and he has been the Huskies’ go-to guy ever since.
“When you have that mental toughness, which Primeau has, he never goes high or low, and he just stays the course,” Madigan said.
Senior captain Dylan Sikura echoed Madigan’s statements and cited Primeau’s attention and concentration for his rise to success.
“He’s our best goalie in practice, he works hard, takes care of himself, does all the right things off the ice and on the ice, and it’s huge for him,” Sikura said. “Obviously, the first year, there are a lot of nerves. It’s pretty tense, but he stood in there, and he’s been solid for us, so he’s been a rock.”
Playing time is never a given, especially considering the constantly changing roster of a college team, so Primeau is putting team success first.
“As long as I’m here, I’m just trying to be the best teammate that I can be,” he said. “If I’m the guy, then I’ll try to give the team the best opportunity to win, and if I’m not the guy, then I’ll be whoever is in the net’s biggest cheerleader.”
Given his strong performance thus far, Primeau has a chance to make a splash not only in college, but in the pros as well — he was picked by the Montreal Canadiens in the seventh round of the 2017 draft. But for now, his only focus is the Beanpot. Another steady performance by Primeau may just be the key to ending the Huskies’ 30-year Beanpot title drought as they take on Boston University in the championship game. In fact, in the team’s four Beanpot titles, strong goaltending was the difference-maker — Northeastern goaltenders were named the MVP of the tournament in three of those four championship years (Tim Marshall in ’84 and Bruce Racine in ’85 and ’88).
Primeau said he is conscious of the significance of the title game and the pressure that will be riding on him.
“We know we’re the better team going into it, but then again, a lot is at stake,” he said. “It’s tough to say it’s any other game because it’s not every day that you’re playing in the Garden in front of a bunch of people like that, so we want to win, and we’re going to do our best.”
He may not be an NHL star like Rask just yet, but leading his team to victory on Monday would cement Primeau in the Beanpot history books, and for an 18-year-old fresh onto the college hockey scene, that would be an accomplishment worth noting. The Beanpot championship will be the biggest stage Primeau has played on in his young career, but if the semifinal game was any indication, he’s up to the challenge.
Photo courtesy ESPN.com
When Melissa Ludtke joined Sports Illustrated as a bright-eyed, 23-year-old, she had no idea that she would be the catalyst in a court decision that would forever alter the landscape for female sports journalists. All she knew is that she wanted to be baseball writer.
“I had always loved baseball,” Ludtke said, who grew up playing sports and going to baseball games with her family in Amherst, Mass. “It was just the sport I was drawn to.”
Sports Illustrated was Ludtke’s first job in sports. She studied art history at Wellesley College then moved to New York City and became a secretary at Harpers’ Bazaar, but by then, she had decided she wanted to write about sports. After some persuasion and perseverance, she was hired at Sports Illustrated in 1974 as a researcher-reporter, or a “glorified fact checker” in the words of Ludtke. Over time, though, she proved that she knew baseball and was assigned to cover the New York Yankees.
“From ’76 to ’78, I was really the only woman in the country covering Major League Baseball full-time,” she said. “I was the only woman reporter who was consistently showing up at major league ballparks, writing about baseball on a consistent basis.”
“She was very familiar with the subject matter,” added Peter Carry, senior editor of baseball at Sports Illustrated at the time.
Shortly before Ludtke began covering the Yankees, Major League Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn had preemptively alerted all MLB teams not to allow female journalists into their clubhouses, citing issues of player privacy. Kuhn’s policy was generally followed by the teams, but the Yankees were an exception. Ludtke had a strong relationship with the Yankees and their public relations manager, Mickey Morabito, so she was allowed in the clubhouse before games.
“I had no restrictions,” Ludtke said. “My hunch is that Mickey knew me so well, that he understood that I was in this for the long haul. What I would do was use the passes only before the game, between batting practice and the game…That was my whole aim, was to make it work, not to be a firebrand.”
She had free rein to interview manager Billy Martin in his office, and she could roam the locker room that featured characters like Reggie Jackson, Graig Nettles and Thurman Munson.
However, something changed before the first game of the 1977 World Series between the Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“Everything was fine,” she said, describing her feelings that day. “I’ve got the pass, they guards know me at the door, this is not a problem.”
But then, in the fifth inning of the game, Ludtke was called up from her seat in the press box to speak privately with Morabito. He had been told to deliver a message to Ludtke on behalf of the commissioner’s office — Kuhn’s mandate would be enforced, and she would not be allowed in the clubhouse for the series.
“I think that there was a sense of internal anger, and there was really confusion in my mind at first,” Ludtke said.
As a result, she was forced to stand outside the clubhouse while PR director Larry Shenk (who worked for the Phillies but was brought on by the MLB for the series) attempted to bring players out to her to be interviewed, a strategy that had limited success.
“I mean, access to talk to people and to do what you need to do report a story is everything,” Ludtke said. “If you don’t have that access, it’s rather crippling.”
“There was no ‘separate but equal’ here,” said Carry. “Either you had full access, or you had no access. You couldn’t do the impromptu stuff to give a natural feel to what you want to write, with scenes and stuff. If you denied somebody access to that intimate situation, you were putting them at a disadvantage.”
Despite the frustration, Ludtke kept her head down and continued to do her job, but the higher-ups at Sports Illustrated knew —without hesitation, in the words of Carry — that they wanted to take action.
“I said to myself, ‘This is ridiculous — they’ve let women in the lockers rooms in other sports for five years now,’” said Carry.
“I’m really glad that people at SI saw that and continued to push for more,” Ludtke said. “It was a great relief to not feel like I was on my own.”
Fritz Schwarz, a partner at Cravath, Swaine & Moore at the time, was hired to represent Time Inc. and Sports Illustrated as they took the MLB to court.
“I chose to sue in federal court rather than in state court,” Schwarz said. “My theory was there would be more risk that state judges would be influenced by the political power of the New York Yankees [as an extension of the MLB], and that was less of a concern in the federal courts.”
Schwarz also had to appeal to the judge, Constance Baker Motley, who, according the Schwarz, had some biases that would work against Ludtke’s case.
“Motley knew nothing about sports, she didn’t care about sports,” said Schwarz. “She was also said to be a bit of a prude.”
Luckily for Schwarz, Motley had spent much of her life fighting for civil rights, so he capitalized on that. To address the sports bias, Schwarz presented proof that the MLB had been instrumental in issues of race and labor laws. To show that Ludtke’s presence in the clubhouse was not an issue of impropriety, Schwarz produced a layout of the Yankees’ locker room, which showed that the players had individual cubicles for privacy.
“You try to prepare in a way that’s going to win the case with the facts with the judge you have,” Schwarz said simply.
Throughout the case, the MLB’s side argued that it was necessary to “protect the image of baseball as a family sport” and maintain “traditional notions of decency and propriety,” but it wasn’t a strong enough argument for Motley. On Sept. 27, 1978, the Southern District Court of New York ruled that the 14th Amendment had been violated and that the MLB was denying women the fundamental right to pursue a career based on their gender. Ludtke had won.
Not everyone was happy about the decision to grant women access to locker rooms.
“Judge Motley told me she got more hate mail for that decision than any of the famous civil rights things she did,” Schwarz said.
For Ludtke, though, the court’s decision revealed a whole world of possibilities for her career, and the careers of other female reporters.
“It made all the difference in the world to be able to have that access,” Ludtke said. “Once we could be there, then we were on an equal playing field, so how well we did our job was going to be based on how good we were.”
Despite the progress, Ludkte said the job isn’t necessarily easy for women these days, even 40 years later.
“Access is one thing, attitudes are another,” Ludtke said. “You had to have a thick skin, and you still do. You’re going to have to find ways to fit in…You’re probably going to have to absorb some slights that you wouldn’t necessarily want to absorb for the sake of just trying to keep doing this job that you love. It was exhausting, and it still is exhausting.”
Ludtke moved on from sports journalism not long after the lawsuit and spent time at CBS News, Time Magazine and Harvard University’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism. Even though she no longer works in sports, though, she is aware of the significance of her impact on the industry. She cited women like Jessica Mendoza, Doris Burke and Beth Mowens as trailblazers who have continued her legacy.
“There are now an abundance of women who are doing production work, there are huge numbers of women who are sideline reporters,” she said. “We are seeing evidence of women coming into the broadcast booth, which we have never seen before. There are a number of women doing these jobs which we would never have imagined back in the ‘70s. I’m really delighted to see a few women at this point really breaking through.”
Ludtke, now 66, lives in Cambridge, Mass., and is working on a memoir called Locker Room Talk: A Woman’s Struggle to Get Inside. Her apartment is littered with old writing clips, both her own and the stories of others. She runs a Facebook page dedicated to addressing equal opportunity and highlighting accomplishments by women. In the midst of all of her past and present accomplishments, Ludtke contemplates her life, and it’s clear that, even 40 years later, her work toward gender equality will never cease.
Photo courtesy Front Office Sports
WNBA teams find success through creative partnerships
When it comes to nailing down sponsorships, the WNBA has long been ahead of the curve.
Nearly 10 years before the NBA started allowing teams to sell sponsorships for their jerseys, the Phoenix Mercury were already sporting LifeLock patches on their uniforms and now feature logos for Casino Arizona and Talking Stick Resort, as well as league sponsors Verizon and Nike. Since then, the rest of the league has jumped aboard, and the franchises have continued to involve their partners by displaying more logos on their jerseys and throughout arenas.
Now, 10 of the 12 WNBA teams’ uniforms include the logo of their marquee sponsor.
“You almost see that we’re the guinea pigs at times,” said Cay Young, director of corporate partnerships for the Los Angeles Sparks, who started with the Farmers Insurance logo on their jerseys in 2009 and have since transitioned to the life insurance company EquiTrust. “We’ve had the prominent logo placement on jerseys for around a decade, and it’s been a great asset for us in getting exposure for companies.”
Much of the WNBA’s innovative sponsorship approach is driven by pure necessity. In a league where TV deals, ticket sales, and merchandising may not bring in the same revenue that other professional leagues enjoy, sponsors open new revenue streams for the WNBA. According to Lyn Agnello, vice president of corporate partnerships for the Connecticut Sun, the team depends on sponsorships for about 40 percent of its revenue.
The key to success in the sponsorship realm is to have something that sets the team apart, according to Young and Agnello.
“Like anything to do with sales, companies are bombarded daily with sales inquiries from many sources of sales folks wanting to sell advertising and partnership opportunities,” Agnello said. “So, [from] sending something from the team to get their attention, to having a player call the CEO, we try to separate our approach.”
“The Lakers are a high-investment value, and not everyone can afford that,” Young added. “We pride ourselves on being affordable for fans and small business owners. A lot of companies need to get their foot in the door, and then they stick with us.”
Carlissa Henry, senior vice president of marketing partnerships for the Mercury, emphasized the importance of teaching potential sponsors about what the WNBA can offer them.
“We educate our partners that we’re a thriving league with a different demographic,” said Henry, who is also in charge of sponsorships for the Suns and their G League affiliate. “We’re family friendly, and there is strong loyalty among our fans who support the brands that sponsor the team.”
When searching for sponsors, the teams take into consideration how a company may fit with their core values. Young discussed the Sparks’ partnership with their marquee partner, EquiTrust.
“[EquiTrust is] a company with a lot of women executives,” she said. “They really believe in what we’re doing, they believe in the product… It is culturally relevant right now to get behind a variety of cases that stem from women and LGBTQ.”
“We want the company to have some association within Arizona so there’s that commitment in terms of employees and consumers,” Henry added. “We’d like them to share the same values — forward-thinking, integrity, respect, accountable for the goals of the organization.”
Once the teams lock down sponsors, they turn their focus toward planning various programs and events. Together, the Sparks and EquiTrust offer a financial literacy program called Driven2Hoop, which educates underprivileged youth in Los Angeles on weekly budgeting, debt management, credit responsibility and other financial tools.
“We see a lot of companies that use us for exposure but also for the impact and meaning,” Young said. “We are the communities we serve, so we offer community-enriched sponsorship packages.”
The Sparks also come together with their sponsors to offer game day initiatives with themes like Pride, mental health, military service and breast health awareness. They even partner with Nike to present Sneakerhead Night, which taps into Los Angeles’s vibrant sneaker community.
“We work with the presenting sponsor so they’re braided into every part of the evening, so when you walk in, you see them right away,” Young said. “I think the great thing is, as partnerships grow, it allows us to do out-of-the-box activations.”
Executing a sponsorship activation is a comprehensive effort that requires cooperation from the entire team, according to Henry. Staff members from departments like community relations, public relations, and game operations are all involved to help it run smoothly.
“There is lots of collaboration, and we’re really fortunate to work with every single other vertical from a company standpoint,” Henry said.
Despite all that goes into the job, Young concluded that forming strong relationships with sponsors comes down to generating excitement and creating a connection between the team and the company.
“We look to tell our story through [the sponsor’s] current consumers and employees,” she said. “And my job is to take our fans’ passion for the Sparks and WNBA and direct that passion to the brand.”
Sitting atop the throne of elite athletes are women like Serena Williams, Simone Biles and Candace Parker. They have reached the peak of their respective sports and are among the most decorated athletes of all-time. Furthermore, they transcend sports and are prevalent in pop culture, with appearances on programs like Dancing with the Stars, the Ellen Show, the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and in the case of Williams, a Beyonce music video. However, below that top tier of female athlete popularity, a disparity remains. There exists an entire community of female athletes that, in the eyes of the average sports fan, may as well not exist at all. A recent study, titled, “It’s Dude Time! A Quarter Century of Excluding Women’s Sports in Televised News and Highlight Shows,” showed that only 4 percent of sports coverage focuses on women’s sports, despite the fact that 40 percent of athletes are female. Although the Olympics tend to be an outlier, women’s sports leagues in the U.S. generally receive significantly less viewership and coverage than their male counterparts. So, unless a female athlete has reached peak fame like Williams, Biles and Parker, the landscape of women’s sports isn’t so glamorous, for both the athletes and those that advocate for them.
Media Relations in the CWHL: A One-Woman Job
On any given Boston Blades game day, Merisa Boyd arrives at Lawrence Larsen Rink in Winthrop, Mass., hours before puck drop. As the media relations manager of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League’s Boston-based team, Boyd wears a variety of hats. She is in charge of writing game recaps, taking photographs, recording and transcribing quotes from the players and coaches, running the team website, communicating with the media and working with the league to promote the CWHL brand.
“I didn’t even know about a professional women’s league until about two years ago,” Boyd said. “Now, it’s something I’m passionate about and want build my career around.”
It’s no surprise that Boyd was unfamiliar with the CWHL. Although the players receive extensive coverage during the Olympics, they tend to fade into obscurity back in CWHL action — 17 CWHL players were chosen to compete in the PyeongChang Winter Games, but the media resumed its paltry coverage of female hockey players once they returned to normal league play. Because of this lack of coverage, women’s teams like the Blades have modest PR departments. While most professional men’s teams employ a department full of media relations staffers, Boyd is a team of one.
“Working in women’s hockey has really opened my eyes to the inequalities woman athletes face,” she said.
The NHL and CWHL: An Extreme Disparity
For proof of the disparity in the quantity of news coverage, a comparison can be made between the NHL’s Boston Bruins and the Blades. Bruins games are broadcast on the New England Sports Network (NESN), with around 15 of their games televised nationally on NBC each season. Although Blades games can be streamed online, the team doesn’t have a TV deal, and only four total CWHL games were broadcast on television in 2017-18. Bruins games also feature a press box packed with reporters, photographers and broadcast crews — more than 100 media members per game. At any given Blades game, Boyd said there may be one photographer and up to three journalists, often from niche publications and blogs like the Ice Garden and FanSided. Regardless of the media platform, the team is appreciative of any amount of coverage.
“As pro athletes, we’re grateful for the faithful reporters that don’t worry about getting as many likes, but they still know that our sports and these athletes deserve to get covered,” said Lauren Dahm, goaltender of the Blades.
Jordon Hall, communications supervisor for the CWHL, admitted that the league aims to work with more established media outlets with a wider reach than the blogs that currently cover the teams.
“Our passionate fan base lends itself to a strong presence throughout hockey blogs, but we are continuously working with more formal media outlets to showcase the incredible athletes and stories throughout the league,” said Hall, who added that this year’s CWHL championship game coverage was an improvement from past seasons, with stories by outlets like CBC, the Toronto Star and The Athletic.
Until that formal media coverage is a constant in the CWHL, though, Hall said the league must depend on its own creativity to generate content.
“As women’s hockey and women’s professional sports grow in the sports landscape, formal media coverage will become more connected to that growth and will be important in that growth,” she said. “However, as a grass-roots operation with a not-for-profit structure, we’re limited in the creation of our own marketing campaigns to create a draw from those media outlets.”
According to the athletes, improved game broadcasts should be a top priority, in addition to the general press coverage that Hall described.
“With college games, or even our games, usually it’s one camera in the middle of the ice, panning,” said Dahm. “There’s not much replay or in-depth analysis, which you see in the NHL. That’s a bigger deal than people might think because people just assume those big plays don’t happen in women’s hockey, but they definitely do. People should know that it’s happening every weekend in the CWHL, and if the coverage was there, they’d know.”
Regardless of the medium, though, those who work in the CWHL know the importance of coverage to the league’s success.
“Probably one of the most important things we can do is build our brand and educate fans that don’t know there’s a professional women’s league,” said Jessica Martino, Boston Blades coach and general manager. “Media coverage is the way to educate them.”
The Disappointing State of Coverage
The CWHL has set out clear and ambitious goals for expanding media coverage, but the league is fighting an uphill battle. The researchers that analyzed the 4 percent of women’s sports coverage also looked at its quality, discussing the tone and word choice that is used when women’s sports are covered.
“Frequently absent from such women’s sports stories were the commentators’ voluminous vocal inflections, exclamatory descriptions of athletic successes, and heartfelt laments of failures that saturate the commentary in men’s coverage,” the study stated. “The general lack of an excited tone and agentic language in most of the reporting on women’s sports helps to mark women’s sports as less interesting and, in many instances, even boring.”
Michael Messner, one of the authors of the study, noted that there are some outliers when it comes to women’s sports coverage.
“Coverage during the recent Olympic games for women athletes was high in quantity,” said Messner, a professor of sociology and gender studies at USC. “This often happens, though, during Olympics and then the mass media returns to mostly ignoring or presenting women’s sports in boring, gender-bland ways. I think of this as a case of nationalism…temporarily trumping sexism.”
One positive note that the study mentioned was that, in recent years, “portrayal of women athletes has become increasingly respectful, and news and highlights commentators have become far less likely to joke about women or portray women as sexual objects.”
However, despite improvements in the last few years, there is still a disparity in the how female athletes are covered. Shira Springer, who covers women’s sports for the Boston Globe and NPR, said that female athletes are still held to a higher standard by the media than their male counterparts.
“My gut reaction is, too often, we focus on female athletes as role models, as inspirational, not as much as athletes,” Springer said. “That’s changing, but slowly. Oftentimes female athletes have to be something more than athletes to get attention, whereas a guy can just be a really good athlete, but a female athlete has to be a really good athlete and something else.”
espnW writer Marisa Ingemi added that women’s sports coverage too often focuses on the gender, rather than portraying the participants purely as athletes.
“When coverage of professional and college teams is there, it should be more about what’s happening on the ice or the court or the field instead of, ‘Oh my God, look! Girls are doing things!’ which it tends to be a lot of the time, which can be really frustrating,” Ingemi said.
One person who was particularly disappointed by the disparity in news coverage was Kim Donaldson, so in 2016, she founded a media site called Excelle Sports.
“We were covering all women’s sports, not just a few like basketball and tennis, but lacrosse to volleyball to swimming to squash,” Donaldson said. “We were covering college, pro and Olympic levels, and our goal was to tell the stories of athletes, coaches, teams, on and off the field.”
Over the span of nearly two years, Excelle Sports published 5,745 articles and brought in 2.6 million visitors to the site, but the success wouldn’t last. In December of 2017, the site was discontinued because of a lack of revenue.
“We could never get enough investment,” Donaldson said. “The investors just weren’t there and, frankly, the sponsors weren’t either. There are companies within the sports world and outside who say they support women’s sports, but they really don’t. They’re really not too concerned about helping women’s sports grow, and it’s very disappointing.”
The Media’s Responsibility, and a Realist’s View
Some proponents of women’s sports believe that the media has a duty to cover women’s teams, regardless of how much traffic those stories will generate.
“Women’s sports, coverage-wise, is seen as a stepping stone, but I kind of think that female reporters have an obligation to cover women’s sports and make sure they are properly covered because if we don’t, nobody will,” Springer said. “Well, maybe not an obligation, but I did feel like it was my responsibility that women were well-represented. If I’m going to push for equality and more coverage, I’m going to walk the walk.”
Not everyone agrees that more coverage of women’s sports is feasible — editors and producers, like Jason Lisk, often believe that generating traffic is media’s main role. Lisk, managing editor of the Big Lead, wrote a column denying the media’s role in a lack of interest in women’s sports.
“If only the dang media would talk about women’s basketball more, people would be interested and watch!” he wrote sarcastically. “The more likely causation flows the other way. The consumer interest is relatively low in news articles and analysis of women’s basketball, and thus there is less coverage.”
As alluded to by Lisk, the debate comes down to the question of whether media coverage generates fan interest, or if fan interest drives media coverage.
“We put things out there that people read and consume,” he said. “You’ve got to decide how much to push something that, right now, the public doesn’t show much interest in.”
Some people, like Springer, believe it’s a two-way street between the readers and the media.
“It depends on what marketplace you’re in, but it’s difficult to compete with men’s teams,” she said. “I think fan interest drives it a bit, but sometimes you should just cover a team just because. I don’t think it should be pity coverage. These women deserve coverage because of they’re interesting stories, and they’re interesting people.”
After studying the issue for over three decades, Messner argued that the media has the power to create interest and could increase the popularity of women’s sports if it chose to.
“This is a classic chicken-and-egg question,” he said. “Leaders in media say they just give audiences what we want, what we are interested in, but mass media marketing folks know that when they promote and cross-promote their products, they generate higher audience interest. They do this systematically with men’s sports, so, yes, more coverage would generate more interest in women’s sports.”
Donaldson agreed, saying that an audience for women’s sports exists, but that audience needs more convenient access to news on women’s teams.
“In my opinion, it’s 100 percent got to be the coverage that happens first,” Donaldson said. “The interest is out there. There’s a massive audience out there, even if you just start with the girls who play sports, former athletes, coaches and families. Half our audience on our site was always men, so it’s not only women who like women’s sports.”
Lisk, however, had a different take, writing that content is driven by what the majority of readers show interest in.
“The truth is that a large segment of the sports-consuming public doesn’t care about women’s sports,” he wrote in his column. “I would gladly write a women’s bracketology column like I do for the men’s tournament if I thought anyone would read it…The media is not a monolith. People can cover what they want, and what will pay the bills. If the interest is there, coverage will follow.”
Despite receiving backlash for his column on social media, Lisk was firm in his stance.
“Maybe I wasn’t sensitive or clear enough,” he said. “But I was trying to be a realist in how it is.”
“People always want to say that it’s because there’s not the interest there, but why is there not the interest there? It’s because people aren’t aware of it,” Ingemi said in response to Lisk’s column. “People like to say it won’t get the views, but my NWHL [National Women’s Hockey League] stories at espnW were getting more views [than stories on men’s sports]. It’s all about the exposure, and I just don’t think guys are paying attention because they don’t know why they should care quite yet.”
Considering the Solutions
Outside the sports world, researchers say the subpar coverage of women’s teams has larger ramifications and plays a role in gender relations and stereotypes in society.
“Wall-to-wall celebrations of men’s sports, and poor and lower coverage of women’s sports serves to reinforce shared ideological beliefs in male superiority,” Messner said.
To combat those stereotypes, Messner has suggested some ways in which women’s sports could gain some ground in the media, starting with building general awareness.
“Higher coverage of a sport creates interest among kids, not just as future audiences, but as athletes who can imagine their futures as adult athletes,” he said.
Teams like the Blades are taking it upon themselves to educate and connect with the younger fans, according to Dahm.
“We’re really accessible to the community, and that’s a strength of our game and women’s sports in general,” Dahm said. “We take that upon ourselves to have that personal interaction with fans. It’s important to market our players just to help people identify and have a strong pull and want to watch it and support it.”
In addition to increased awareness, another key to more coverage is expanding the fanbase, according to Martino, the Blades’ GM.
“A lot of our fanbase is families,” said Martino. “There’s a huge gap between our fanbase — we’re missing that middle age group. Maybe it’s on us to do more outreach and get more of that college age involved. A lot of it is education because there are a lot of people that don’t even know theres a professional women’s hockey league. We can educate people that there is a pro league, and it’s very competitive.”
Springer added that increasing visibility of female athletes can bring more attention to their sports, as well.
“It’s unfortunate that women have to win a World Cup or a gold medal to get attention, but I think that’s what drives more success,” she said. “Getting women’s sports figures into popular culture is another aspect. Even something as subtle as appearing on a popular TV show or the Ellen Show sounds silly, but it takes that kind of stuff. I think it’s the exposure and availability and the more they get out there.”
Athletes like Serena Williams and the Olympic “Fierce Five” gymnasts fit into Springer’s logic. They found success at the highest levels and then built upon that by staying in the public eye through pop culture appearances.
“With men’s sports, you know a lot about many male athletes because they’re part of our culture,” Donaldson said. “There are almost no female athletes like that because they’re not written about. Until we get enough coverage of women’s sports and they become part of our culture, they’ll never get respect.”
According to Springer, the solution with the most potential is for the sports media industry to hire more women. The Women’s Media Center released “The Status of Women in the U.S. Media” which found that only 11.4 percent of sports stories were written by women in 2017. Furthermore, the number of female sports editors at 100 of the top U.S. and Canadian newspapers was less than 10 percent.
“First, always, decision-makers matter,” Springer said. “When you have women in the room, whether that’s as reporters bringing stories to their editors, or as editors, that stuff matters.”
Springer’s statement may explain why Lisk and the Big Lead generally don’t cover women’s sports.
“Our site is all guys,” Lisk said of the Big Lead. “I’ve pushed for that, that we need more diversity, but we don’t have a lot of budget.”
Lisk admitted that he, himself, doesn’t consume much women’s sports, even as an avid sports fan.
“I would say I am a very casual [women’s sports] fan,” he said. “I have two daughters, I’ve coached their basketball teams, so, in that sense, I watch all my kids sports.”
Publications with a lack of diversity and male journalists with a disregard for women’s sports are the main reason for a lack of women’s sports coverage, said Donaldson.
“Getting more women into those sports organizations will make the biggest difference,” she said.
The Future is Bright
During the off-season, Merisa Boyd’s work with the Blades will not cease — she is set on developing more relationships with the media and encouraging coverage of the team. She will ramp up her efforts in the next few months, reaching out to media members via Twitter and email.
“Doing more outreach this year to get more contacts coming to the games is going be huge,” she said. “It’s only getting better throughout the years. It’ll be all over the place.”
It’s too early to tell whether Boyd’s plans will come to fruition, but considering the challenges women’s sports have faced throughout history, and continue to face today, her determination may be the key. Female athletes have come a long way since the passing of Title IX in 1972, and sports media has come a long way since the insulting and humorously sexualized stories that were common a few decades ago. The work is not done, but there is reason for hope. Despite the challenges that remain, Boyd will continue to work behind the scenes and exert all her efforts toward getting the Blades the coverage she feels they deserve.
“It can be tough because not everyone gets to see the big moments like I do, and I want so badly for more people to care about women’s hockey and women’s sports in general,” she said. “They work incredibly hard, and I’m happy that I get to be a part of it in some way and do everything I can to highlight their work.”