By Jamie Belfer || Sports Editor and Ella Glenn || Contributing Writer
This past Wednesday, February 3rd, marked the 35th annual National Girls and Women in Sports Day. This day serves as an opportunity for celebration, inspiration, and reflection of both women in sports and the movement towards equality in sports. This past year especially, we had the opportunity to celebrate something new and tremendous regarding post-collegiate opportunities for women in sports. With the inauguration of Athletes Unlimited, a network of professional sports leagues focusing on women’s sports, girls and women can dream bigger and go further in their athletic endeavors now more than ever before.
Athletes Unlimited is working to forge a new and unexplored path in professional sports. They are moving away from the traditional structure of professional sports leagues and moving towards a new innovative athlete-centric system of play. In these leagues, there are no owners, general managers, or coaches. Instead, the participating athletes are the main drivers of decision-making. In addition, teams in these leagues are not associated with a certain city nor are they composed of the same players throughout the season. A league is played in one location and at the start of each week of the season, new teams are drafted by four team captains. The overall champion in a league is a player, not a team, as a point system is put in place to reward players for good performance.
The creation of Athletes Unlimited is a huge next step forward in providing financial support and fueling leadership and empowerment for women playing sports post-collegiately. In many professional women’s sports, it is very difficult for women to fully support themselves financially solely by playing their sport. Whereas their male counterparts are often able to financially support themselves and then some, professional female athletes tend to hold full-time jobs in their off-seasons. For example, the average Major League Baseball player makes $4.38 million a year (work.chron.com) while the average National Pro Fastpitch softball player makes between $5,000 and $6,000 (fanbuzz.com). Athletes Unlimited, however, pays athletes a minimum of $10,000 for participating in the 6-week season with an opportunity for $25,000 in bonuses based on positive statistics and other factors. Furthermore, players who participate will continue to earn money (half of the league’s revenue) from the league for 20 years post-playing to encourage players to continue participating and developing the league (espn.com).
Athletes Unlimited’s first professional league debuted in August 2020 for a 6-week softball season. So far, the league has seen great success, garnering nearly 4 million viewers as their first AU Softball season aired on ESPN2, ESPNU, and ESPN3 (softballamerica.com). Young girls were able to see the best names in the sport, such as Cat Osterman, on the big screen as easily as MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL players.
Athletes Unlimited does not just stop with softball. A new women’s volleyball league is set to start on February 27th and a women’s lacrosse league will be ready to launch in the summer. So, on this 35th anniversary of the National Girls and Women in Sports Day, there is much to be proud of and a lot of excitement for the future of women’s sports.
Junior Jamie Belfer is the Sports Editor. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Senior Ella Glenn is a contributing writer. Her email is email@example.com.