March Madness is officially here, and for the first time ever, it includes the women’s tournament. 

After last year’s weight-room debacle, the NCAA finally caught up with the times and expanded its March Madness branding beyond the men’s contest, making this year’s women’s tournament a first-of-its-kind. 

Some may say the new name is merely a cosmetic fix-up, a way to paper over the NCAA’s past missteps. I’d argue it’s the start of a new era in women’s college basketball, one in which we move away from treating the sport like a charity at best and an afterthought at worst, and instead realize the massive potential that’s waiting to be seized.

@sedonerrr it’s 2021 and we are still fighting for bits and pieces of equality. #ncaa #inequality #fightforchange ♬ original sound - Sedona Prince

Last year, the NCAA was rightfully put on blast by players, coaches, journalists and fans for the egregious inequalities between its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. The men had a full multi-station weight room in their bubble. The women had a single rack of hand weights. The women’s food and swag bags were likewise inferior. 

The most outrageous part of the entire situation was the NCAA’s inability to foresee the backlash. They somehow thought it wouldn’t be an issue. The governing body of college sports didn’t care about the women’s tournament, and they assumed most fans wouldn’t either.

But these fans proved them wrong, not only in voicing their universal outrage, but by consistently showing up for the games themselves. 

Last year’s championship game between Arizona and Stanford averaged 4.1 million viewers, making it the most-watched finals since 2014. As the final buzzer approached, nearly 6 million viewers watched the top-seeded Cardinal squeak by the Wildcats. The semifinal games were likewise up 20 percent over 2019 as part of the most-watched Final Four weekend since 2012. 

These numbers point to a larger issue, one that goes beyond puny weight rooms and lackluster swag bags. While we certainly have to hold the NCAA accountable when it fails to do the bare minimum, the bigger problem has always been its failure to grasp the business opportunity presented by women’s sports.

In the aftermath of last year’s controversies, media rights experts estimated that the women’s basketball tournament could be worth $100 million a year in media-rights fees alone starting in 2025 (when its current deal expires). The NCAA, instead, has bundled the women’s tournament with 28 other sports championships and sold them to ESPN in a package deal worth about $34 million a year.

The weight room garnered the headlines, but it’s this systematic undervaluing of women’s sports that really needs to change.

Stanford’s Haley Jones celebrates during the 2021 championship game against Arizona. (Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

Last year, every game of the women’s tournament was aired nationally for the first time ever. ESPN also put the Final Four games on ESPN instead of ESPN2. Massive viewership followed. 

That upward trend continued this year, with the season opener between South Carolina and NC State drawing nearly 700,000 viewers, making it the most-viewed opening game since 2013. A February contest between South Carolina and Tennessee later drew 876,000 viewers, and that same week, ESPN announced it had already sold out of its ad inventory for this year’s tournament. 

These companies aren’t buying ads out of the goodness of their hearts. They understand the present value and the future potential of women’s basketball, and they want in on the action. 

We’ve come a long way since Sedona Prince’s viral TikTok blew the lid off of things last year. But in order to keep the momentum going, all of us — from the media, to brands, to athletic institutions — need to start talking about women’s basketball not as a charity in need of baseline support, but as a historically undervalued asset that is ripe for investment. 

The NCAA might have only expanded its March Madness branding as a way to move past last year’s blunders. But whether the governing body of college sports realizes it or not, we’ve entered a new era in women’s sports. Fans and brands know it, and athletes are cashing in. From NIL deals for current college basketball players to million-dollar contracts for future NWSL stars, it’s clear the tide is starting to turn. 

March Madness is officially here. And with it, women’s sports is officially entering the era of big business. 

See you at tipoff.

Haley Rosen is the CEO and founder of Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @RosenHaley.

A year ago, I spent seven weeks in Dallas playing in Athletes Unlimited’s new professional women’s volleyball league, the first such league to exist in this country in over thirty years. After spending five years playing in professional leagues overseas and for the U.S. National Team, I could not have been more excited to finally have the opportunity to play professionally on American soil. We were well into planning a return to Fair Park for season two when the Texas legislative session ended in September.

We are a league made up of women, including many women of color, with a commitment to civic leadership and advancing racial equity where possible in the course of our business. AU has already supported initiatives or instituted internal policies around voting, transgender inclusion in sport and a woman’s right to make decisions about her own life and body. Many of the laws passed after our season ended fly in the face of everything we represent and made us reconsider whether Texas was the right home for our upcoming season.

I chair the Player Executive Committee, a group of five of our athletes who work closely with the AU leadership to make all decisions regarding our league. We do not speak for all of our athletes on all topics, but we do make many decisions on their behalf. In September, though we had hotels booked and many plans in place, with our hearts heavy over what was happening in Texas, we strongly considered pulling out of Dallas and finding a different venue.

The first thing we did was to connect with local advocacy groups to get their perspective on the benefits of a boycott in comparison to the ways we could help if we were on the ground. Those groups encouraged us to stay and we decided that our greatest contribution would be to use the platform we had while we were here and support the businesses and people of Dallas in ways that we could not had we left.

That being said, for me personally, it was not an easy decision. Part of me wanted to turn my back on Texas like it turned its back on so much of what I believe in, like it turned its back on people who look a lot like me and my teammates. But that’s not how our country should work. The laws in Texas might not affect us when we are outside of its borders, but they will still affect the people within them. And as we’ve seen in the past few months, the movements behind these laws are not constrained by state borders anyway. Similar legislation has been passed throughout the country and is being defended in front of the Supreme Court. We cannot simply look away as our neighbors’ rights are stripped from them just because they have not yet come to our door to take our own.

I took a moment, therefore, to think about some of our neighbors in Dallas — the child who can’t play the game we love because their gender does not match the one on their birth certificate; the girl who is not ready to be a mother, and the healthcare worker who gets death threats for trying to help her; the teacher who is afraid to even mention race in their classroom; the people who fight every day to ensure that every person is afforded their constitutional right to vote. Though we may be angry and tired and scared, I know there are people in Dallas who are as well, and they are right in the middle of this whether or not they asked for it. When I think about those people, it makes me want to go stand in the middle of it with them, not leave them on their own.

Our PEC, in collaboration with AU, ended up deciding that we’re coming to Dallas, and walking into the current epicenter of a fight that has spanned generations. We will celebrate our women along with the ones who came before us, support businesses owned by women and people of color, and encourage civic engagement and voter registration. And we’ll play some really great volleyball, because that’s part of the work as well.

Gloria Steinem said that “Women’s sports are one of the few places where women learn that our bodies are instruments, not ornaments.” In some ways, just stepping on the court as a female athlete still feels like a revolutionary act. We have 44 amazing women, of all different backgrounds, colors and sizes, who have incredible control over their instruments, and I can promise you it is worth a visit to Fair Park this spring to see it.

Cassidy Lichtman is an outside hitter for Athletes Unlimited, Chair of the AU Volleyball Player Executive Committee and the founder of P/ATH, a non-profit that focuses on using sports as as vehicle to teach skills around empathy, equity and empowerment. Follow her on Twitter @CassidyLichtman.

In a world where the way we look is often considered more important than how we play our sport, Black women continually break through glass ceilings to earn respect. The long history of Black women participating in basketball will not go unrecognized, no matter how many false impressions are given. Still, the importance of women’s sports to young girls across the globe is immeasurable, and it sees no color.

For centuries, Black athletes have excelled nationally and internationally, but for Black women, competing often came at a cost. Instead of being recognized or respected for their athleticism, they were regularly taunted and demoralized. But many of them forged on, because they had a higher calling to help future basketball players excel and flourish in ways they never imagined.

Two of the earliest all-Black women basketball teams were the Philadelphia Tribune Girls, led by center Ora Mae Washington, and the Chicago Romas. The Romas, playing against both men’s and women’s teams, didn’t lose a single game in six years following World War II, from 1939-45. That was in large part thanks to their best players, namely Corrine Robinson, Mignon Burns, Lillian Ross, Virginia Willis, Lola Porter and Isadora Channels. The Romas were unable to capitalize on the many opportunities basketball had afforded men, but they continued to play ball, setting the stage for a future they wouldn’t live to see.

In the last 30 years, women’s basketball has gained more recognition and support. The teams of the 1930s and 1940s passed the torch to players such as Lusia Harris, Althea Gwynn, Elizabeth Galloway McQuitter, Janice Lawrence, Lynette Woodard, Medina Dixon and Cheryl Miller. Those icons then passed the torch to us, who have since passed it on to the current generation.

As public interest in women’s basketball grew, so did the development of professional women’s basketball leagues like the WBL in the 1970s, the ABL in the 1990s and the WNBA in 1997. By 2000, top women’s basketball players from the college ranks and overseas were seen as viable investments for shoe deals and endorsements, just like their male counterparts.

Dawn Staley and Saudia Roundtree became household names thanks to their signature shoe deals with Nike and Reebok. But there were others, like Elizabeth Galloway McQuitter of the now-defunct WBL, who also opened the door for young girls with dreams of playing basketball but have not been as widely celebrated. The WBL was the first professional league in America, and what we did paved the way for others. We need to put every era on the basketball timeline, so the legacies of players like McQuitter are remembered.

Decades later, WNBA players in 2020 have indisputably transformed ignorance into awareness for social, racial and criminal justice, led by Maya Moore, Candace Parker, Tina Charles and Layshia Clarendon, just to name a few. It takes more than Black History Month to recognize all of the players involved in building this empire.

I often wonder how to thank all those who came before me, so I decide to use Kobe Bryant’s “Dear Basketball” as a tribute to Black History Month and the game that changed our lives forever.

Basketball has been a vehicle through which Black women can earn a scholarship, an education and a chance to make a career out of what they love. Truly, basketball has provided me with more than I could have ever imagined. All I had to do was practice.

I pay homage to the sport that saved my life and put my feet on solid ground. You helped me earn a scholarship to play in college, which in turn led me to a career overseas in Brazil, Spain and China. You then opened doors for me in two professional leagues, the ABL and WNBA. I’ve met countless people and traveled the world, all for the sake of growing the game. You helped me build lifelong relationships with phenomenal women from all walks of life. We created bonds that can never be broken — a sisterhood through all generations.

I salute you for being a part of my soul’s journey and for helping me become a towering example for many young girls who have a dream.

Adrienne Goodson (“Goody”) is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. She played 14 years of professional basketball, including seven in the WNBA. A three-time All-Star in the pros and an NCAA champion, she was inducted into the Old Dominion Hall of Fame in 1999. She is the host of the podcast “A WNBA State of Mind with Adrienne Goodson.” Follow her on Twitter @agoody15_wnba.

The WNBA is riding a wave of momentum former All-Star Adrienne Goodson believes the league hasn’t seen since its early days.

WNBA viewership during the 2021 regular season was up 49 percent year over year. The playoffs were the most-watched since 2014. The champion Chicago Sky sold out both of their home games during the Finals and ticket prices soared. Players also signed a record number of endorsement deals. That included Seattle Storm forward Breanna Stewart, who will be the first WNBA player to have her own signature shoe in a decade after inking a long-term partnership with Puma.

Goodson, who played for four WNBA teams during a 14-year professional career that started overseas and in the American Basketball League (ABL), sees those signs of progress as a call to action. Here, in her own words for Just Women’s Sports, Goodson reflects on her experience with growth in women’s basketball and shares her thoughts on how the WNBA can capitalize on the success of 2021.


The league can never be the same, with the increased viewership and the ticket prices rising for the playoffs this season. I mean, a ticket in Chi Town versus the Mercury sold for as much as $1,500. With that and the four Finals games on ESPN averaging 548,000 viewers compared to 440,000 in 2020 and 381,000 in 2019, that’s a huge jump for them. They’re coming along.

And even when I look back in the day, we had massive crowds. Washington had crazy crowds, New York had crazy crowds, Houston had crazy crowds. Utah was off the chain — we went from, like, 3,000 fans all the way up to a playoff game that I think touched 15,000. And we’re talking way back in the day. Then in 2003, the Detroit Shock versus the L.A. Sparks had 1.2 million viewers.

So there is a lot of potential for this league, and I just think that they can do a better job with television. That starts with not following the NBA as much because we have our own market. We’re the sister league and the NBA already had a model in place, so it was like, OK, we’ll just use that model because it’s proven. But we have totally different markets, so I think that the model has to change in the ways that the league is marketed.

And I’ll keep saying it: We need WNBA TV and we need affiliates out there that will also boost the games. So if you’re going to model it after something, model it after NBA TV because it’s television, it’s in-house and it pays the bills. That way, we can get sponsors on TV spots and things like that, and now we can speak to our own market. As much as they’re promoting the league, how we walk and how we talk and our fashion, my God, just imagine all the sponsors that can be unleashed if something like that were to happen.

It’s not a criticism because I love the WNBA app. However, I pay for it because I want to give back to the league. I want to make sure that whatever it is that they put out there, I support it in some kind of way. But trying to view the games on there is not always cool. I think I watched one game this season; all the rest of them were blacked out. So we have to have more options than that or Twitter or some of the channels that we are on like ESPN, where we sometimes get bumped around. We shouldn’t be bumped around.

And what about jerseys? I think it’s time that everybody’s jersey is available across the board, from current players to throwbacks. This is what people are requesting, so you’ve got to give the people what they want. They’re aware of it now.

It’s just time to really take a serious look at the league as a whole, starting all the way back in 1997 to the 25th anniversary. The 2002 collective bargaining agreement — that was fire. That was the beginning of a lot of action. We were fighting for maternity leave because, at that time, players were only getting 50 percent of their salary if they got pregnant. That was obviously not enough, to not work, get 50 percent and be expecting a child. And then we fought to raise the veterans’ minimum salary from something like $30,000 to $60,000, which we felt was really successful. But at that time, it kind of clashed with the league’s budget. We started to see veterans fade out because teams were choosing to pay two rookies versus one vet.

I think there’s a lot of change that’s in the air and in the background with things that come across my email. So I think this is a great time for us. You don’t want to praise the pandemic, but the pandemic was what catapulted us into the limelight because people were at home and they had to watch the league. We were confined to the house and, all of a sudden, people started to pay a little more attention to it. We had the social justice movements going on and the girls took that on, which is something that we’ve always done. We’ve always been a part of those types of movements.

I think it just needs to be a conversation where you get the people in the room who could make it happen. If you have a whole bunch of people sitting around, just hoping for the best, then nothing is going to get done. If you have only one or two people addressing it, that’s still not power. I think there are enough resources out there that will allow that to happen. If we just market the league the way that we need, and not just treat the product as a thing that stays afloat, it can actually make money. There’s potential now, so we can never be the same. And then that takes care of your pension problem and all of the issues that you’re dealing with under the table.

Our market is different and it needs to be tailored in a different way. You can go far, but you always have to tap into your ancestry, understand why you do things the way that you do. It’s not even just about basketball — it’s about elevating women’s sports. We’re all in this together because we all have to deal with that same glass ceiling.

Adrienne Goodson (“Goody”) is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. She played 14 years of professional basketball, including seven in the WNBA. A three-time All-Star in the pros and an NCAA champion, she was inducted into the Old Dominion Hall of Fame in 1999. She is the host of the podcast “A WNBA State of Mind with Adrienne Goodson.” Follow her on Twitter @agoody15_wnba.

I was 8 years old when my twin brother had signed up to play youth football. I was not allowed to play, out of fear I might get hurt because I was a girl. Up until that moment, my brother and I had been playing soccer together on a co-ed team since we were five. Both of us were naturally athletic and had great coordination and dexterity. Sports came easily. I held my own with the boys, and was better than most.

As for football, I had already been playing tackle with my brothers and their friends on the street, in backyards and on rock-filled school playground lots. But now my parents were worried about me getting hurt? It didn’t add up. Still, no matter how much I protested or how much my brother advocated on my behalf, they never changed their minds. I was forced to sit in the stands and watch from afar, and my football-loving heart ached with envy with every snap of the ball.

A few years later, the head coach of my indoor soccer team pulled me aside after a game. I was the only girl on the team and we had all been playing together for a while. As my coach knelt gently in front of me and put his hands on my shoulders, I saw it in his eyes even before he said the words. They went something like, I wouldn’t be able to play with the team any more, because it was getting too rough. I stopped listening after that. The all-too-familiar feeling of being told I couldn’t do something because I was a girl had settled into my gut, and my eyes were wet. I didn’t say a word during the car ride home, even when my brother tried to console me. It wasn’t his fault, of course. But he couldn’t understand. He’d never understand.

In writing Hail Mary and listening to players describe how it felt to finally get to play a sport that everyone told them they couldn’t and shouldn’t be playing, I reconnected with my 8-year-old self. I knew how they felt and could imagine how rewarding it was for them to take the football field on game day, to put on their uniforms and to play in front of a crowd. They played because they loved the game. And they played for all the young girls out there who, like me, were told no, this sport isn’t for you.


This article has been excerpted from Chapter 5 (“The Troopers’ Reign Begins”) of Hail Mary: The Rise and Fall of the National Women’s Football League by Britni de la Cretaz and Lyndsey D’Arcangelo. Copyright © 2021. Available from Bold Type Books, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

“I did not pose for that,” Gail Dearie, now eighty, said of the iconic photo. “We were having a scrimmage at practice. I had just stood up after the huddle. I was thinking about my route for a play. And a [European] photographer snapped that picture. Apparently, she liked what she got. She thought it was worth trying to send it to Life magazine. The picture really took off. Now, we say ‘it went viral.’ A lot of things happened as a result of that picture.”

In June 1972, Life published a photo spread with a short article about a new women’s football team—the New York Fillies. (The Fillies, however, appeared without the support or blessing of Sid Friedman. They were not under his umbrella of teams, and were owned by someone else.) Life’s writeup of the Fillies was only the second such feature about women’s football in the magazine’s history.

Twenty-nine-year-old Dearie from Red Bank, New Jersey, was one of the players featured in the photos, and one photo in particular stood out from the rest. Dearie is clad in a grass-and-dirt-stained white jersey with the number 84 on the front, her long blond hair falling out of her large gold helmet and down onto her shoulders, and her high cheekbones and full lips distinguishable underneath the thick gray face mask. The full-page photo contrasted beauty and brawn, and it attracted national attention.

In spring of that year, before Dearie became the most recognizable Fillie on the roster thanks to the Life magazine photos, she was working in New York as a go-see model in commercial print media when her husband showed her a wanted ad in a national paper looking for women to join a new professional football team. Dearie was intrigued and decided to see what it was all about. Her main reason for going, she said, was to “put away a slap-in-the-face kind of attitude that some people have about athletic ability and women—not being able to use it fully because it didn’t seem feminine.”

She wasn’t the only one. Nancy Berardino, a seventeen-year-old from Far Rockaway, had also seen the advertisement. Her twenty-four-year old sister, Lynda, wanted to try out for the team as well. Dearie, the Berardino sisters, and Dearie’s friend Carol Brown were among the hundred or so women who showed up to the Fillies callout.

“Some of them had never played football before. Some didn’t know very much about the technicalities of the game,” Brown told womenSports magazine in 1974. “But every woman there wanted to be a professional football player.” The women who showed up for the tryout did so with the hope of proving wrong anyone who didn’t believe they could play football, and also because they loved sports and wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to play.

Dearie stood tall above the crowd, not just for her athleticism but also because of her beauty. In truth, Dearie was the perfect person to dispel the myth that a woman couldn’t be both a good athlete and feminine at the same time. While she turned heads wherever she went in the city, it often frustrated her that her looks were the main thing some people chose to focus on. Like all women, there was much more to Dearie than her outward appearance. She was a mother of two, a wife, a devout Christian, a model, and a part-time college student. She was also an athlete.

When Dearie finally got the opportunity to step on the football field on the day of football tryouts, she turned heads for a different reason—her height at five feet eight inches, athletic ability, and strength made her the perfect wide receiver or tight end. “It was legitimate,” Dearie said, recalling the tryout. “They weren’t making fun of women, if you know what I mean.”

Dearie and Brown made the team, along with forty other women from the surrounding New York City area, ranging in age from sixteen to forty years old. They were promised twenty-five dollars per game, fully funded by Fillies owner James Eagan: a cocky New York City attorney.

Eagan started the New York Fillies because he believed it was a solid monetary investment, and was hoping to make some extra cash on the side. It was certainly not because he wanted to help elevate women’s football. For him it was a business venture, nothing more. He didn’t care about the women’s dreams or aspirations on the gridiron. To Eagan, the women were simply a means to an end.

“They drew 6,000 at three dollars a head in Erie,” the young and slick Eagan told the Philadelphia Daily News before the Fillies debut game. “Can you imagine that kind of crowd in Erie, Pa.?”

Eagan knew very little about football and the game itself, and spent time at practices familiarizing himself with the rules. He brought in Bill Bryant, a former semipro football player, to be the head coach of the Fillies and he hired additional assistant coaches to handle all the technical stuff, like training the team and getting them ready to play their first game in front of what Eagan anticipated to be a huge crowd.

Bryant did his best to teach the Fillies plays on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. “I’m trying to teach these girls the fundamentals,” he told the Daily News. “You have to start at the beginning and some learn quicker than others. These girls are a lot more serious than you think. They’re playing to win.” But when Eagan, who was quick to shave expenses, decided not to purchase medical insurance for his players, all four coaches quit the team in “protest and disgust” the night before their first game.

The fact that the women were willing to play without insurance coverage indicates how badly they wanted to be out there, how deeply they understood what a rare opportunity they had.


Baseball may be America’s pastime, but football is Ohio’s. On Friday nights in the early twentieth century, the mill towns would shut down for football games. As early as 1922, Ohio State University built a sixty-six-thousand-seat stadium, a shrine of sorts, which was at the time the largest poured-concrete structure in the world. Before there was the NFL, there was the Ohio League, a loose alliance of independent, semipro teams—not all that different from the women’s football teams under Friedman—from cities including Toledo, Cleveland, and Youngstown. The Pro Football Hall of Fame is located in Canton, Ohio, the same place the NFL was born. In Ohio, parents put their boys in the sport from the time they are in elementary school.

Throughout the entire United States, too, football is almost like a religion. Some people go to church on Sundays to say their Hail Marys; others sit around the television and turn on the football game, hoping to see a Hail Mary of a different sort. Americans worship their teams like they do their gods, and everything else ceases to matter while the game is on. Game day is a holiday, a holy day.

For girls growing up in this culture, forced to always be the spectator—in Ohio and Texas, yes, but also anywhere in America—it was only natural that there would be an overwhelming feeling of missing out. While there may have been other sports that were becoming more accessible to girls in the seventies, like rec league basketball or softball, those sports were consolation prizes. As much as the girls loved playing them, in Ohio at least, football was the sport: lionized by their friends and family, and always off-limits to the girls. If they were lucky, they could scrimmage with their brothers or the neighborhood boys, but that was as close to tasting organized football as they ever thought they could get. The reality of putting on pads and helmets and jogging out onto a real football field, with fans in the stands cheering them on, was one that existed only in their wildest daydreams. Even though girls were gaining ground in other sports leading up to and after the passage of Title IX, they were still shut out of football. And, in Ohio, this meant shutting girls out of the sport that mattered most.

But that didn’t make football matter any less. Just how much football mattered—to these girls, in this state—was evident in the Troopers’ first tryout.


More than eighty women showed up to try out for the Troopers in 1970. But Stout only wanted twenty-two: the best athletes, the most committed players, who would put in the work he knew would be required to turn a bunch of rookies into champions. His players practiced five nights per week in Colony Field, a weed-covered patch of grass hidden between US 23 and a rundown section of Toledo.

There were plenty of teams whose coaches believed they were more than a gimmick and viewed them as real athletes. Bill Stout, however, would be the first to go to bat for his players and help them create and envision a league that took them as seriously as they took themselves. He would also continue the tradition of women’s football in the Rust Belt city of Toledo, located near the Michigan border and on the shore of Lake Erie.

Stout was a former All-City noseguard for DeVilbiss High School in Toledo whose pro football dreams had crumbled. Before he began coaching the Troopers, he was a struggling factory worker with a gambling problem. He felt like he was out of options, so he turned to coaching women’s football—which he didn’t take seriously until he saw the dedication and determination of his charges. He was a white man in his late twenties who carried his weight in his belly and wore mutton chops down his cheeks. He almost exclusively wore that very 1970s brand of athletic shorts and a polo shirt, a whistle draped around his neck.

Stout enlisted Carl Hamilton to coach the Troopers defense. Hamilton, a stocky Black man who wore a dour expression in photos but had a knack for getting the best out of his players, had played football at Bowling Green University. A high school teammate of Stout’s named Jim Wright, a white man with a full head of brown hair parted to the side, a crooked smile, and a dimple in his right cheek, came on board as assistant coach. The team played most of their home games at Waite High School, a large brick building near downtown. Another woman who would go on to blaze trails for the women who came after her also has a Waite connection—Toledo native Gloria Steinem attended in the late 1940s.

In the Troopers’ first season in 1971, there weren’t many options when it came to opponents in Friedman’s collection of teams. They played only three games that year, one against the Buffalo All-Stars and two against the Cleveland Daredevils. They won all three by large margins. Almost immediately, Stout internalized the narrative that this was a team of winners, that they were champions, and he began to parrot it until his players believed it, too. It didn’t matter that they’d hardly had any competition: his team was the best, and by asserting it he would make it true. Even so, privately, he harbored some doubts as to how successful his team could be. “The brand of football wasn’t that good when we started,” he later told the Toledo Blade. “I never thought people would pay a second time to see us play.”


The 1972 season established the Troopers’ core identity: it was the year Linda Jefferson, the greatest halfback in the league, joined their team, giving the offense a jolt. The player—called a “bionic femme,” in an article comparing her to O. J. Simpson of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills—rushed for 1,179 yards in her first season with the Troopers. She averaged an astonishing 41 yards per touchdown run. Meanwhile, the team’s defense, known as the Green Machine, really took shape under defensive coach Hamilton. Now, they were stopping opposing teams in their tracks. “The defensive animal squad is Carl’s pride,” read a poem from their yearbook, which also indicated there’d be repercussions for any points the defense allowed: “Let them score—it means leg lifts and you wish you’d have died.”

Midway through the season the Troopers also acquired Gloria Jimenez, a Mexican American hairdresser who joined the team at the urging of her friend. The two were “young and rambunctious and didn’t have enough to do,” so they decided to go out for a football team. Jimenez had virtually no experience with organized sports at the time. What she did have, however, was five brothers and a lot of enthusiasm. “My dad always used to say, ‘I’ve got five sons and my daughter plays football.’ . . . I had more trophies than all my brothers put together.”

Over the course of her time as a Trooper, Jimenez would be a true gadget player, a jill-of-all-trades who could slide in wherever she was needed. She played defensive end, defensive tackle, middle linebacker, offensive tackle, a little bit of fullback, and she was also the kicker. Jimenez played both ways, she played special teams, she did it all. She essentially never came off the field during a game.

When they went 8–0 in their second season in 1972, the Troopers’ team yearbook declared them “NUMBER ONE” and “the best damn team in the league.” And they were, by a long shot. In games against the Cleveland Daredevils, the Detroit Demons, the Buffalo All-Stars, and the New York Fillies, the Troopers scored 298 points, while their opponents scored just 32. Five of their games were shutouts. Bill Stout got what he wanted; he really was coaching a team of champions.

At least, that was how they rounded out their first two seasons. But their first game of the new 1973 season would be against a new team, the Dallas Bluebonnets (some historical records put this game in the Troopers’ 1972 season, citing that season’s record as 9–0). When the Troopers got down to Dallas and exited their bus, they walked into a real stadium. It felt as if women’s football might just be on an upswing. Goodbye, high school football field, hello home of the Dallas Cowboys.

Of everything I’ve felt since The Athletic first broke the Paul Riley story, the overwhelming feeling has been exhaustion. 

The details of the situation, from Riley’s predatory behavior to the NWSL’s apparent disinterest in investigating the claims, may shock the average fan. But the general pattern is chillingly familiar to those of us who have spent our lives in women’s sports. 

Over the last week, I’ve talked with many of my former teammates and friends within the soccer community. Everyone was shocked but not surprised by what they read. The simple, terrible truth is that we all had seen similar stories play out, of an all-powerful coach whose behavior crossed a line. 

We’ve all grown up watching movies about inspirational coaches and underdog teams overcoming the odds to win some elusive trophy. But anyone who has played a sport at an elite level knows that usually isn’t how it works. The culture of insecurity that Riley created, the artificial environment in which he was a god-like figure, isn’t unique to him. And while the vast majority of coaches are not sexual predators, you’d be shocked by how many of them crave this level of control, how many of them oscillate between excessive anger and praise, leaving their players chasing their approval.

I played club soccer, college soccer, and professional soccer both in America and abroad, and I’ve seen these dynamics at every level. It’s not just abusive men, even if their cases are more numerous, particularly in the NWSL. I’ve been around female coaches who were just as manipulative, and whose comments also veered into uncomfortable personal territory. It’s left me convinced that we simply live in a culture that’s obsessed with women’s bodies and is relentless in subjecting them to judgment and control.

This is only amplified in sports, where coaches have a professional excuse to care about their players’ fitness. Abuse can hide itself more easily in this space, but we all know it’s pervasive across the fabric of society. It’s the same in the workplace, and I know, because I’ve seen it. It’s an older man stopping a meeting to tell you he’d date you if he was younger. It’s investors telling you to do more on-camera stuff because they like the way you look on Zoom. It’s being told right before you’re about to pitch your company alone to a room of men that you look cute that day. 

But again, it’s women too: I can’t tell you how many female VCs have lectured me on how I dress or do my hair. I’ve been told that I look too girly and that I look too masculine. That I need to dress more sporty but also more professionally. That I should and should not wear makeup to meetings. That I have to wear sneakers. That I have to wear heels. 

I don’t want to sound petty. I’m just exhausted. I’m tired of being the only woman in the room, and then hearing men praise themselves because they let a woman in the room. I’m tired of hearing my athlete friends whisper about the shady comments their coaches have made. I’m tired of reading stories like the one in The Athletic

All these things happen because people in power assume no one will speak up. They depend on the inequities which create and reinforce a culture of silence, in which victims of both sexual harassment and offhand comments are forced to choose between their dignity and their dreams. 

As the saying goes: power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. In the world of women’s sports, absolute power is often concentrated in a handful of coaches and executives. It’s they who determine whether you make the team, whether you play, whether you get called into the national program, or whether you get cut without a moment’s notice. They are the gatekeepers of each player’s dream.

In some ways, leagues like the NWSL are a beacon of progress and change. They’re a place where talented, outspoken, pink-haired and LGBTQ players take the field, take up space, and make their voices and ambitions heard. They win, lose, compete and make mistakes, and revel in the glory of athletic expression. 

At the same time, they struggle: side jobs are necessary, housing insecurity is rampant, and abusive coaches are tolerated because they could cut you at any minute.

This must change. And it starts with players like Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim refusing to be silenced, no matter how many times they’re told to go away. Players shouldn’t have to be heroes in order to be protected. But the bravery of these women is changing the game, as is the work of journalists like Meg Linehan, Katie Strang and so many other reporters who are committed to giving light to these stories. 

I started Just Women’s Sports for all the aspirational reasons you can imagine, but also because I was genuinely upset. I was tired of seeing this space being held back by those on the outside who refused to give it a chance, and those on the inside who only used it for power. 

Beneath the weight of this past week, I still haven’t lost hope. As heartbreaking and depressing as everything has been, it’s impossible to ignore the swift and overwhelming response from fellow athletes, journalists and fans. There are too many people speaking up for this to quietly go away. There are too many players taking a stand for the NWSL to go back to business as usual. 

Statements and resignations and investigations are just the start. But replacing the people running the machine won’t fix the machine. Real, systemic change will require everyone in women’s sports to rethink their role. 

Protecting the players has to be the bare minimum. That means establishing protocols and procedures for reporting and investigating abuse. That means requiring teams to be honest about when they’re firing coaches for misconduct. That means delivering a CBA that protects players from being cut without warning or compensation. 

All of that can be done in the immediate future. In the long term, our focus has to be on building the space. Growth is more than an economic necessity — it’s a moral imperative for women’s sports because of the inequities that continue to persist and jeopardize players’ safety and careers. We need more fans, more dollars and more sponsors. We need players who are secure in their livelihoods so that they can speak truth to power and chase their dreams. 

That’s the future we’re trying to help build with Just Women’s Sports. As difficult as this past week has been, it has the chance to be a turning point in women’s sports. 

Now is the time to get to work, with a renewed sense of vision and purpose. 

Haley Rosen is the Founder and CEO of Just Women’s Sports. She is also a former pro soccer player and was an All-Pac-12 midfielder at Stanford. 

For 24 hours a few weeks ago, possibly for the first time in history, the eyes of the entire world were on the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament. You know why. 

It wasn’t because of Aliyah Boston or Paige Bueckers, Baylor’s title defense or Stanford’s dominant run through the Pac-12 tournament. 

It was because of the “training facilities” the NCAA had set up for its female athletes, which paled in comparison to those it supplied the men. The outrage was swift, fierce, and absolutely justified. 

But now here we are, a week and a half later. The Women’s Final Four is shaping up to be must-see TV. Yet how many outlets are talking about the contrast of style in play between South Carolina and Stanford? Why aren’t Aari McDonald or Evina Westbrook household names all across the country? 

After Oregon forward Sedona Prince posted that now-infamous video of the women’s weight room and the backlash began, every single media outlet jumped on the bandwagon. They shared photos and videos taken by players, critical statements from coaches and analytics, all while soaking in the likes, shares and retweets for as long as the topic was trending. For 24 hours, everyone agreed that the women deserved to be treated as equals, rather than second-class citizens. 

But since then, have any of those same media outlets increased their coverage of the women’s tournament? Did anyone assign additional reporters to cover the games? Are highlights being shared more widely? How many podcasts and debate shows are talking about the women’s tournament at all, let alone with any regularity? 

The answer is not much. According to data from sports analytics firm, Zoomph, between March 15-30, the biggest sports media outlets sent out more than 5,000 organic posts across their social media channels, yet only 98 of them revolved around the Women’s NCAA Tournament (less than 2%!). And nearly half of those posts surrounded the weight room situation. By comparison, the men’s tournament has seen more than double the number of posts from those same outlets, with the focus overwhelmingly on the games. 

The NCAA deserves all the criticism it got this past month. But piling on the NCAA is easy. 

How many of us in the media industry have looked in the mirror since then and asked ourselves what we’ve done — and continue to do — to help enable and perpetuate this disparity? The NCAA clearly undervalues its female basketball players. But how many media outlets have implicitly told them this is OK, given that they, too, underinvest in covering the women’s game? 

It was precisely this disparity in media coverage that led me to create Just Women’s Sports. Just 4% of sports media coverage is devoted to women’s sports, and so long as men’s sports remain the bread and butter of mainstream platforms, these outlets will continue to sideline women, or only give them coverage when a story of inequity breaks into the mainstream. 

It’s long past time for women’s sports to have its own spotlight. By building a platform that exclusively invests in women’s sports and gives them the space and attention they deserve, we can build a superior experience for current fans while also creating the content necessary to attract a new audience. It’s our genuine belief that every sports fan is a potential women’s sports fan — but they need to see more stories than just those highlighting inequity. They need to understand that this is a dynamic space full of dynamic individuals with incredible stories. 

It’s fair to say that there has been slightly more coverage of the women’s tournament this year than in years past, but it still pales in comparison to the level of attention given to the men’s tournament. Interestingly, that data from Zoomph also showed that social media posts about the women’s tournament have garnered more engagements, impressions, and a higher engagement rate from fewer posts. If anything, seeing Paige Bueckers and UConn trending on Twitter multiple times in recent days is further proof that the audience for women’s sports exists. It just isn’t being fully served on a regular basis. 

A world in which women’s sports are only given token verticals on websites and irregular media coverage is the same world in which these women are given dumbbells and a yoga mat while their male counterparts receive a fully-equipped weight room. So long as women continue to receive inferior coverage, they will continue to receive inferior treatment.

Since launching last year, we’ve already proven that an audience for this content exists, and that it’s passionate and hungry for more. We’re not the only ones trying to change the game, but I can promise you the game is being changed. 

Haley Rosen founded Just Women’s Sports in 2020. A former professional soccer player, Rosen was named to the All-Pac-12 team while playing at Stanford. 

Growing up playing soccer, Mia Hamm was my idol. I had a huge poster of her plastered on my wall, I read and reread her memoir, Go for the Goal, and I even made an exception to my strict no-doll policy with an original “Mia Hamm” Barbie.

She was my biggest inspiration — watching her attack backlines and weave in and out of defenders, she showed me how beautiful, creative, and powerful soccer could be. Her dominance ignited a passion for the game I didn’t know was possible. I was determined to be the best soccer player I could be, to see if I could elevate my play to the level she achieved.

But even though Mia was the greatest in the world, I could only ever see her play every few years during the World Cup or the Olympics. There wasn’t any way for me to follow her career.

That didn’t feel right as a kid, and it still doesn’t today.

Just Women’s Sports is here to change that. We’re building a platform for just women’s sports, one that will showcase these athletes for the athletes they are. Through highlights, news, analysis, interviews, players features and long-form content, we want to talk about everything that makes sports universal entertainment: the thrilling wins and the crushing defeats, the grueling training and the career-changing injuries, the unexpected trades and the silly antics between teammates.

We know that representation matters, that role models are necessary, and that without better coverage of female athletes and women’s sports we are robbing future generations of their inspiration and courage.

Because Mia Hamm wasn’t just my idol — she inspired a whole generation of female soccer players to change their lives through sport. But what type of impact might she and her teammates have had if they had actually been given a consistent platform? How many more athletes could she have inspired if they’d been able to follow her career? If her sport hadn’t been treated as a once-every-four-years event?

Women today are not only 50% of the population, but 50% of all sports participants. And yet they only receive 4% of all sports coverage. This massive discrepancy in media attention is more than just a disadvantage to female athletes everywhere — it’s a disservice to fans, who are only ever exposed to half of all sports stories.

We know that athletes push us. They challenge us to consider who we are, what we want, and how hard we are willing to work for our dreams. In their dedication and ambition, they embody our innate desire for achievement and self-fulfillment. In their victories and defeats, in all their strength and vulnerability, they depict in its purest terms the drama of being human.

Female athletes partake in all of this while also having to navigate the unique complexities of being a woman in the world of sports. From dealing with condescending questions from reporters to returning to play after childbirth, from pay disparity to hyper-sexualized media coverage, these women are competing with more than just each other to prove themselves as athletes. Their very existence challenges the way women are perceived in society today.

For decades, female athletes have been fighting for better coverage on existing platforms. At this point, we’re done holding our breath.

We’re launching Just Women’s Sports because we know this lack of coverage isn’t just an inconvenient reality inherited from the past — it’s a barrier that’s actively hindering the growth of women’s sports.

We’re done waiting for the old platforms to catch up.

We’re building our own.

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