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Aleshia Ocasio on Being an Athlete and Advocate

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – JUNE 02: Florida State University (8) third baseman Aleshia Ocasio after making a play on a foul ball versus Louisiana State University during the 2017 Division I Women’s College World Series on June 02, 2017, at the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, OK. (Photo by Torrey Purvey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Aleshia Ocasio is a professional softball player for Athletes Unlimited, a new, player-focused pro league coming to the Chicago metro area this August. A graduate of the University of Florida, Ocasio helped lead the Gators to the 2015 WCWS Championship. Below, she spoke with Just Women’s Sports about what it means to her to be a LGBTQ athlete, why she signed on with Athletes Unlimited, and the importance of using her platform to push for social change.

What does it mean to you to be openly part of the LGBTQ community in sports?

I think for anybody it is important to stay true to yourself, and understand that you are unique, and that what’s normal in other people’s eyes is not necessarily always the case. I feel like, more now than ever, people are normalizing being in the LGBTQ community because you look at history and you look at how it was taboo to even speak about being gay, lesbian, bisexual. So I’m openly bisexual and I’m proud to be in the community and to be playing a sport that is so open. There’s a lot of representation in the game of softball as far as LGBTQ. I’m happy to be part of a sport that is open arms.

Do you think that being an athlete helped give you the confidence to come out and to be true to yourself?

I don’t necessarily think so. I have a great support system. Before anybody knew, I told my parents, and that was it. They were so open. They were like, I love you. I don’t care who you love. And I think that gave me the confidence to kind of be more open to living in my own truth. When you have a support system that welcomes you with open arms and unconditional love, I think that lays the foundation for you being comfortable with who you are.

How do you think attitudes towards LGBTQ athletes have changed during your lifetime?

So I came out openly in college and I don’t necessarily remember anybody talking about being gay, being lesbian, as necessarily a bad thing. And I’ve known plenty of people that have been in the community growing up as well. It’s never been something that was frowned upon. I just feel like I found myself growing up and figuring out who I was and what I liked and what drives me. So I feel, like I said, in softball, there’s a wide community of LGBTQ athletes, and I’m just happy to be in a place that has open arms.

In a recent Athletes Unlimited video, you talked a lot about how there’s a wide representation of LGBTQ athletes in softball but how there’s also a lot of stereotypes. Can you speak to that? 

I think that growing up, you look at softball, you look at basketball, and you automatically think, well, they’re gay. Like that’s the stereotype, no matter what you look like or even if you are straight. Cool, but, you know, there’s always a stereotype there. Even in high school, I remember people coming up to me, “You play softball, so you must be gay.” And at that time, I wasn’t fully aware of who I was. So I’m like, you know, whatever. I never really fought against it. I was just like, “You know what? You think what you think.” I know that there is a wide representation of both straight and LGBTQ women in the sport. And I hope that people are open to understanding that not only in softball are there LGBTQ representations, but in every sport, whether you know it or you don’t.

I do see in the world that it’s becoming more accepted. As I grow older, I realize that. I feel like people are starting to understand that every sport, including softball, has large representations of both straight and LGBTQ athletes. So I don’t necessarily see the stereotyping as often as I used to. But like I said, in high school people would tell me I play softball, so I have to be gay.

How inclusive do you feel like softball is as a whole? What can it do to improve?

When I think of softball and inclusion, I automatically think how much equipment is needed in order to even play the game. So my head automatically goes to adolescent kids who don’t necessarily have the means to buy these loads of equipment. We have the opportunity to play it, but some lower income areas don’t necessarily have the funds in order to provide the equipment to play the game. I’ve had talks with multiple people throughout the past couple of weeks about diversity and inclusion. And I think it starts with our youth. I think we have to give them the opportunity to play these team sports that require so much equipment.

You look at softball and you see your one or two black players on a softball team. I hear people talk about it all the time, the tokens on the team. We have to be above average to be considered average on a team full of our white counterparts. We’re stereotyped in our own community. We’re on a team and we’re looked at as the fastest. And some of these stereotypes aren’t necessarily negative, because a lot of times we are the fastest, but we’re put into a bubble of what we have to be because of the color of our skin. You see that a lot. I saw that a lot. I’ve heard that a lot. I’ve dealt with it a lot. But as far as inclusion, to get more diversity in the game of softball, I think it starts with our youth and giving them the tools in order to be able to play in the lower income areas. We have to focus on equity. We have to infiltrate those communities with the equipment, so they know that it’s accessible.

Do you feel obligated as an athlete to use your platform to speak out about these issues?

I feel more than obligated. I feel like it’s a priority to be able to, and it’s a privilege to be able to use my voice, and I’m taking full advantage of it. Being a woman of color, being in the LGBTQ community, it is so important that I’m able to use my voice so that I can represent people who look like me and feel the way that I do. Having a platform as an athlete, it’s so important to be the voice for people who don’t necessarily have one, so they can know they have somebody to look up to.

And I have seen a lot of people speak up in the softball community. A lot of our white counterparts are reaching out and they’re educating themselves. I see a lot of talk on social media. I see a lot of forums and Zoom calls going on, but I just want to challenge everybody to remember that this isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. And we’ve got to have stamina to be able to create change. But I think now more than ever, the timing matters… As far as this movement and then Pride month, I think that they’re both important. I feel that we’re both communities that are lacking. So I’m running with my BLM. I’m advocating for my LGBTQ community. Right now, I feel like my calling is to educate people and to allow them to see the systemic racism and the underlying, the overt and covert racism that plagues our community as much as COVID does, as much as anything else does and even more so.

I wanted to switch gears and talk a little bit about Athletes Unlimited. What are your thoughts about the league and what are you excited about?

I was really skeptical at first to sign my name on the dotted line just because of the dynamics of the league. We talk about team sports and, you know, we’re on a team for a season, for multiple games, and you look at Athletes Unlimited and we’re switching teams every week. So I was initially skeptical, but after talking with other players and hearing the investors speak about this, I feel like this is a good opportunity to change the game.

I really have high hopes for this league. I feel like it’s going to bring on more viewership as opposed to how the NPF has been the past couple of years. And two, we talk about equal pay. Your average person on the NPF was making, I think like five to ten thousand, and I think the base compensation for Athletes Unlimited is around ten. So you have so much room for bonuses and to earn extra money. And granted, we’re still not where we want to be because our MLB counterparts are making… well, they have no salary cap. We’re talking about just a tiny step in the right direction. But again, I really hope that this takes off. It’s going to be a little bit different, but I’m excited to see how it all pans out.

What has training looked like for you right now?

With quarantine, it’s been kind of tough to stay motivated. It’s been challenging. It’s easy to kind of lose yourself when everything is on lockdown. But I have a bunch of equipment at home. I have tees, nets, softballs. Anything you can imagine, I have. I’ve been setting my tee up and my net outside, getting some hits in. I’m actually going somewhere today to hit in the cage for probably the first time in months. But I’ve been doing what I need to do. I got my Apple watch and my activity logs on it. So I’m making sure I’m tracking my workouts.

I really think that this quarantine was a good time to kind of take a step back and think about the passions I have beyond softball. But I for sure have been working out and staying active. I think it’s really important to be able to stay in shape even if we’re not playing because it makes the transition back so much easier.

As a last question, if you don’t mind me asking, what are some of those passions that you have outside of softball?

I’m actually working on an apparel brand. I’m really excited about it. It’s going to be just women’s fitness gear, if you need sets and sports bras and stuff. I’m coming out with a couple of pieces. We’ll figure out when the date is. I would like it to launch it August 15th, on my birthday. But the way things are going with COVID, it’s a little bit slow. But I’m really excited about that. I even bought a sewing machine and everything.

USWNT to face Costa Rica in final Olympic send-off

uswnt sophia smith and tierna davidson celebrate at shebeilves cup 2024
The USWNT will play their final pre-Olympic friendly against Costa Rica on July 16th. (Photo by Greg Bartram/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

U.S. Soccer announced Tuesday that the USWNT will play their last home game on July 16th in the lead-up to the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris.

The 2024 Send-Off Match against Costa Rica will take place at Washington, DC’s Audi Field — home to both the Washington Spirit and DC United — at 7:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, July 16th. The friendly rounds out a four-game Olympic run-up campaign under incoming head coach Emma Hayes’ side, with the last two set to feature the finalized 2024 U.S. Olympic Women’s Soccer Team roster.

Hayes will appear on the USWNT sideline for the first time this June, helming the team as they embark on a two-game series against Korea Republic hosted by Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado on June 1st followed by Allianz Stadium in St. Paul, Minnesota on June 4th. 

The team is then scheduled to meet a talented Mexico squad on July 13th at Gotham FC’s Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, where the Olympic-bound lineup will attempt to rewrite February’s shocking 2-0 loss to El Tri Femenil in the group stages of this year’s Concacaf W Gold Cup. And while clear roster favorites have emerged from both of this year’s Gold Cup and SheBelives Cup rosters, a spate of recent and recurring injuries means making it to the Olympics is still largely anyone’s game.

Broadcast and streaming channels for the USWNT's final July 16th friendly at Audi Field include TNT, truTV, Universo, Max, and Peacock.

Caitlin Clark’s WNBA start to serve as 2024 Olympic tryout

Clark of the Indiana Fever poses for a photo with Lin Dunn and Christie Sides during her introductory press conference on April 17, 2024
The talented Fever rookie is still in the running for a ticket to this summer's Paris Olympics. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The USA Basketball Women's National Team is still considering Caitlin Clark for a spot on the Paris Olympics squad, says selection committee chair Jennifer Rizzotti. 

On Monday, Rizzotti told the AP that the committee will be evaluating the college phenom’s Olympic prospects by keeping a close eye on her first few weeks of WNBA play with Indiana.

The move is somewhat unconventional. While Clark was invited to participate in the 14-player national team training camp held earlier this month — the last camp before Team USA’s roster drops — she was unable to attend due to it coinciding with Iowa’s trip to the NCAA Women’s Final Four.

Judging by the immense talent spread throughout the league in what might be their most hyped season to date, competition for a piece of the Olympic pie could be fiercer than ever before.

"You always want to introduce new players into the pool whether it's for now or the future," said Rizzotti. "We stick to our principles of talent, obviously, positional fit, loyalty and experience. It's got to be a combination of an entire body of work. It's still not going to be fair to some people."

Of course, Clark isn’t the first rookie the committee has made exceptions for. Coming off an exceptional college season that saw her averaging 19.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 4 assists per game for UConn, Breanna Stewart was tapped to represent the U.S. at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil less than two weeks after being drafted No. 1 overall by the Seattle Storm. Eight years prior, fellow No. 1 pick Candace Parker punched her ticket to the 2008 Games in Beijing just two weeks after making her first appearance for the L.A. Sparks.

In the lead-up to Paris’ Opening Ceremony on July 26th, USA Basketball Women’s National Team is scheduled to play a pair of exhibition games. They'll first go up against the WNBA's finest at the July 20th WNBA All-Star Game in Phoenix before facing Germany in London on July 23rd.

While an official roster announcement date hasn’t yet been issued, players won’t find out if they’ve made this year’s Olympic cut until at least June 1st.

WNBA teams make history with 2024 season ticket sell-outs

Arike Ogunbowale on the wnba court for the dallas wings
The Dallas Wings are now the third team to sell out their entire season ticket allotment in WNBA history. (Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images)

For the first time in history, three different WNBA teams have completely sold out of season ticket plans well before the league's May 14th kick-off.

Call it the Caitlin Clark effect, attribute it to this year’s tenacious rookie class, or look to the skyrocketing visibility of veteran players across the board. But no matter the cause, facts are facts: Tickets to the 2024 WNBA season are selling like never before. 

On Monday, the Dallas Wings became the third team to sell out of season ticket memberships in the league’s 27-year history. The announcement from Arlington came shortly after the Atlanta Dream issued their own season ticket sell-out statement, also on Monday, and almost seven weeks after the back-to-back WNBA Champion Las Vegas Aces made headlines by becoming the first-ever WNBA team to sell out their season ticket allotment.   

According to the Wings, season ticket memberships will fill nearly 40% of the 6,251 seats inside their home arena, College Park Center. The club also said that their overall ticket revenue has ballooned to the tune of 220% this year, spanning not just season tickets but also a 1,200% increase in single ticket sales. There’s currently a waitlist to become a Dallas season ticket holder, a status that comes with extra incentives like playoff presale access and discounts on additional single-game tickets. 

In Atlanta, season tickets aren't the only thing flying off the shelves. The Dream also announced that they broke their own record for single-game ticket sales during a recent limited presale campaign. Sunday was reportedly their most lucrative day, with five different games totally selling out Gateway Center Arena. Individual tickets for all upcoming matchups will hit the market this Thursday at 8 a.m., while a waitlist for season ticket memberships will open up next Tuesday at 10 a.m.

"Excitement around women's sports, particularly basketball, is at an all-time high and nowhere is that felt more than here in Atlanta," Dream president and COO Morgan Shaw Parker said in the team’s statement. "We’ve continued a record-setting growth trajectory over the past three years under new ownership — both on and off the court — and 2024 is shaping up to be our best season yet."

As of Tuesday, season ticket sales revenue for Caitlin Clark’s hotly anticipated Indiana Fever debut haven’t yet been announced by the club. But if these numbers are any indication — not to mention the explosive demand for Fever away games felt by teams around the country — it won’t be long before we see some scale-tipping figures coming out of Indianapolis.

Nelly Korda ties LPGA record with fifth-straight tournament win

Nelly Korda of the United States celebrates with the trophy after winning The Chevron Championship
Nelly Korda poses with her trophy after acing her fifth-straight tour title at The Chevron Championship on Sunday. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

25-year-old American pro golfer Nelly Korda secured her spot in LPGA history on Sunday, notching her fifth-straight title at this weekend's Chevron Championship in The Woodlands, Texas.

Ranked No. 1 in the world by Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, Korda joins Nancy Lopez (1978) and Annika Sörenstam (2005) as just the third LPGA player to rack up five consecutive tour wins. She is also the third No. 1-ranked player to capture The Chevron Championship victory since the rankings debuted in 2006, accompanied by Lorena Ochoa and Lydia Ko.

The Florida native shot three-under 69 in Sunday's final, besting Sweden's Maja Stark despite Stark's valiant come-from-behind attempt in the 18th. Korda finished with a four-day total of 13-under 275, celebrating her two-stroke win by cannonballing into Poppie's Pond, much to the crowd's delight. She left The Club at Carlton Woods with $1.2 million from an overall purse of $7.9 million.

It wasn't long ago that the two-time major champion's current winning streak seemed unimaginable. After maintaining her No. 1 position for 29 weeks, Korda underwent surgery to remove a blood clot from her left arm in 2022. She returned to the course not long after, but failed to win a single tournament in 2023 before seeing a surge in form during the first four months of 2024. As of today, she hasn't lost a tournament since January.

Korda will attempt a record sixth-straight win at next week's JM Eagle LA Championship at Wilshire Country Club in Los Angeles, where she'll vie for a cut of the $3.75 million purse.

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