All Scores

The Safety of Sports

COURTESY OF CASEY MAGGIORE

In the back of my mind, I think I always knew about my sexuality. For one, I wore knee length khaki shorts, Nike sneakers, and a sporty t-shirt almost every day in middle school. I was the spitting image of a prepubescent tom-boy that was a little too excited to play the “husband” during house at recess so I could hold hands with a pretty girl. I was bullied all throughout elementary school and middle school for not dressing like the other girls, or because I loved playing sports with the boys.

I didn’t know why I was different, but I was. At that age, I couldn’t comprehend what it meant to be lesbian or bisexual. All I knew was that I liked dressing sporty, playing basketball and softball, and that I was slightly obsessed with the popular girls at school.

My love for sports was a continuous escape from the mental torture I put myself through for being different. I played basketball and softball on extremely competitive travel teams. This forced me to train constantly, and as a result, I put my emotions on the back burner.

At fourteen years old, in the middle of my freshman year of high school, the distractions I used to occupy my mind became less efficient at helping me avoid the inevitable.

This happened because I became obsessed with Alabama Softball. I religiously followed the team, knew all the players, and talked about them just enough for my teammates to start raising their eyebrows and asking questions. Of course, I denied everything, claiming it was their style of play I admired. While this was true, it was not true to the extent that I emphatically tried to explain to my teammates.

I started making my computer backgrounds and phone backgrounds pictures of players on the Alabama team. While I told myself it was for inspiration, my subconscious knew that wasn’t the sole purpose. I forced myself to develop crushes on boys. I made it known to my entire friend group that I liked certain boys at school to distract myself from the mental anguish of my complex emotions. I even went as far as to occasionally make homophobic comments to really mask the true me inside.

I did such a good job of selling it, my entire basketball team crowned me “the most boy crazy girl” in school.

At times, I felt like I was living a double life. There was the fake me that pretended to have a crush on every testosterone-filled body that walked by, and then there was the real me — the one who, deep down, knew her obsession with certain strong female icons was a little more than just inspiration itself.

This is where sports began to play a bigger role in my life. As an athlete, sexual preference, gender-identity, and emotional hardship don’t follow you to the court or the field. When I was at practice, the world was simple. All that mattered was the next rep, the next play, and the unity of working together with a team. It wasn’t a coincidence that I finally developed the bravery to accept my true self while I was on the field.

I was sixteen years old when I had the “ah-ha” moment. I remember I was in the outfield fielding balls for batting practice when I started to succumb to the pressure of my thoughts. I just kept repeating the same words over and over in my head: “Maybe you’re just gay.”

Later that night, I fought back tears and laid on my bed staring at the ceiling trying to pull myself together to make sense of my thoughts. I was terrified to truly acknowledge my feelings. But the more I processed my emotions, the more I began to feel this overwhelming sense of relief. The weight was lifted off my shoulders. I’d finally come out to myself.

That was step one. The next step was the hardest, and that was coming out to everyone else.

I told my closest friend that night that I may like girls. She welcomed me with open arms and told me that being gay just made me uniquely myself. Her response was a big reason I developed the courage to continue coming out at such a young age.

The more I came out, the more I realized which people I needed in my life, and which I didn’t. I was ridiculed and judged by many, but I found support from my teammates and closest friends. And by surrounding myself with people who accepted me, I grew stronger.

Sport continued to build me up, even when I struggled with the judgement from others. There were many times when I felt like I had to apologize for my sexuality. Yet, on the court and the field, I didn’t have to apologize to anyone. There was no judgement. And in sports, you don’t have to apologize. The game accepts you for who you are.

Soon, all of my varsity basketball and softball teammates came to close supporters. They loved me because I was Casey Maggiore. The real Casey Maggiore.

This support from teammates and friends carried over into college at Tufts University. The athletes there inspired me to not just be out about my sexuality, but to openly fight for the broader LGBTQ+ community.

Growing up, I had to be my own gay hero because I had no one to look up to for guidance. I know that if I had someone to tell me it was going to be okay, I wouldn’t have gone through the mental anguish I did. At Tufts, I wanted to create something where everyone, regardless of their sexual preference or gender identity, would be welcome. With the encouragement and support of an inspirational Tufts’ men’s soccer player, I crafted the idea of Pride Games: a spring sport event where spring sport teams play a game in honor of the LGBTQ+ Community.

I was nervous that there would be backlash, but on the day of the event, the support was overwhelming and heartwarming. The Pride Games created an environment full of smiles and acceptance that allowed people to be uniquely themselves. They were yet another example of how sports can be used to unify the world.

It’s been five years since I came out, and each year I come to appreciate sports that much more for allowing me to develop into a person I am proud of. There is no greater environment in which to thrive in and become yourself.

It’s through sports that I became not only a better athlete, but a truer Casey Maggiore —  a softball-loving, dog-adoring, goofy badass who is unapologetically herself. And it’s through sports that I believe we can build a more accepting and generous world.

Rose Lavelle hoping to return to play ‘in the next couple of weeks’

uswnt midfielder rose lavalle trains on a soccer field in florida
When healthy, Rose Lavelle is a trusted asset in the USWNT's midfield. (Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

Rose Lavelle is hoping to return to the field soon. 

The 28-year-old midfielder has been sidelined with a lower leg injury since the Gold Cup in early march. Since then, she has yet to play for new club Gotham FC in the NWSL. She also missed a potential USWNT appearance at the SheBelieves Cup in April, where senior team newcomer Jaedyn Shaw saw success assuming Lavelle's role in the attacking midfield. 

At the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee media showcase on Monday, Lavelle told reporters that she’s doing well and hopes to be back soon.

"I’m doing good — I’m hoping I’ll be back in the next couple weeks," Lavelle said. "It’s frustrating to start the year off with an injury, just because I feel like you come off preseason and you’re revving to go, so it’s so annoying."

Lavelle is still looking to compete for one of just 18 Olympic roster spots. When healthy, she ranks as one of the national team’s most trusted assets, but considering this most recent injury, her health is an obvious concern. Faced with an onslaught of experienced competitors and young talent, incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes will have some big decisions to make when selecting the Paris-bound squad — a reality Lavelle seems to be taking in stride as she works to regain full fitness.

"We have so many special players, we have so much depth, and so many different weapons to utilize on and off the bench," Lavelle said. "Unfortunately that means really good players are going to get left off, too. And I think for all of us, it’s just about being ready for whatever role is given to us, embracing that, and looking to put it into a collective picture so that we can go into the Olympics ready to go."

Kate Paye tapped to take VanDerveer’s place at Stanford

new stanford head coach kate paye spins a basketball on the court
Stanford associate head coach Kate Paye has officially been promoted to head women's basketball coach. (Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports)

Stanford has found its replacement for legendary head women's basketball coach Tara VanDerveer in associate head coach Kate Paye.

The Cardinal confirmed the hiring on Tuesday via a press release. Paye was largely expected to replace the longtime head coach, as the college mentioned they were still negotiating Paye's contract when they announced VanDerveer's retirement.

In Tuesday's statement, Paye reported that she was "humbled" to have been tapped to lead the women’s program.

"Stanford University has been a central part of my life for as long as I can remember and I am humbled to have the opportunity to lead its women’s basketball program," Paye said. "I’d first like to thank Tara, who has played such a pivotal role in my career for her friendship and guidance. It’s not what she’s done, but how she’s done it, that has had such a profound impact upon me."

A Woodside, California native, Paye played under VanDerveer from 1992 to 1995, taking home a national title her freshman year. After graduation, Paye briefly joined San Diego State as an assistant coach before making her professional debut with the ABL's Seattle Reign in 1996. After finishing her playing career with the WNBA's Seattle Storm, she joined the team’s coaching staff in 2007 and has been with the organization ever since, picking up another national title win — this time as associate head coach — in 2021. Paye's brother John played quarterback for Stanford from 1983 to 1986, while also serving as a point guard on the basketball team.

In her own response, VanDerveer said that she was "grateful" that Stanford picked Paye to follow in her stead. Last week, the decorated coach stated that this year would be her last after 38 seasons at the helm and three national titles under her belt.

"She has long been ready for this opportunity and is the perfect leader for Stanford at this time of immense change in college athletics," VanDerveer noted. "Kate was the choice for this job and I am confident she will achieve great success as head coach."

After a record-breaking Draft Night, WNBA roster cuts loom

2023 WNBA no. 1 draft pick Aliyah Boston playing for the indiana fever
Despite going No. 1 overall in the 2023 WNBA Draft, Aliyah Boston had to fight hard to make it onto Indiana's roster. (Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

The 2024 WNBA Draft has officially concluded, leaving the newly minted rookie class facing a tough road ahead.

Only 144 roster slots are available throughout the league’s 12 teams, the reason why the players are sometimes referred to as the “144.” And Monday’s draft picks are set to join a large group of established players competing for those same roster spots, from seasoned veterans to young athletes determined to prove their value on the court.

Last year, just 15 of the league’s 36 draftees made it onto their drafting team's opening-day squad.

In reality, there are oftentimes fewer than 144 spots available, as not every team maxes out their roster. Per the league's CBA, each team roster must maintain a minimum standard of 11 players, but those lists can include players out with injuries or on other forms of leave. Players can also be assigned to short-term hardship contracts, something waived players must be prepared for at any point during the season.

Earlier this week, Laeticia Amihere — a 2022 national champion with South Carolina who currently plays for the Atlanta Dream — took to TikTok to provide some insight into the WNBA training camp process. 

"You can either get drafted on Draft Night, or you can get signed by a team," she said. "Once that happens, you go to training camp literally like two weeks later... Basically everybody's got to try out. There's 12 roster spots, and there's like 18 people at the at the trial."

@laeticiaamihere Replying to @dantavius.washington #wnba #draft ♬ original sound - Laeticia Amihere

Amihere also had an important point to make: Getting cut does not signify a player’s abilities. 

"If you get cut after training camp, that does not mean you're not good," she said. "That does not mean that player sucks, don't stop supporting that player. Literally, there's so many reasons somebody can get cut."

"If you guys look at the best players in the league, most of them have bounced around teams," she added. "And I promise you it is not a bad thing, it's just how the league is."

Things, however gradually, are changing. With Golden State's WNBA team scheduled to launch in time for the 2025 season, league expansion is just around the corner. On Monday, Commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced that the league is aiming to grow to 16 teams by 2028. But by then, it might be too little too late for the generation of talent emerging from an increasingly competitive NCAA system.

WNBA draft shatters records with 2.45 million viewers

wide shot of BAM during the 2024 WNBA Draft
It wasn't just attendees that were glued to the on-stage action at the 2024 WNBA Draft. (Photo by Melanie Fidler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Monday night’s WNBA draft added to the nationwide uptick in record-breaking women's sports viewership, pulling in 2.45 million viewers throughout the nearly two-hour broadcast and peaking at 3.09 million, according to an ESPN release. 

That number shatters the previous draft viewership record — 601,000 in 2004 — which was fueled primarily by then-No. 1 pick Diana Taurasi entering the league after UConn's historic three-peat March Madness performance.  

The 2023 WNBA draft drew 572,000 viewers, the most for any televised WNBA event since 2.74 million tuned in to NBC for a Memorial Day matchup between the New York Liberty and Houston Comets back in 2000.

While many came to watch Caitlin Clark get drafted No. 1 overall, it’s important to note that viewership didn’t take a massive dip after the superstar shooter left the stage. The numbers show that a bulk of the audience stuck around to watch the remainder of the show, making 2024's event not just the most-viewed WNBA draft in history, but also the most-viewed WNBA program to ever air on ESPN platforms.

Draft Day's popularity is yet another sign indicating an expected rise in WNBA regular season viewership. Clark and Iowa's NCAA tournament showdown with the Chicago Sky-bound Kamilla Cardoso's South Carolina side drew a record 18.7 million to ABC's Sunday afternoon broadcast. Banking on this trend, 36 of Indiana's upcoming 40 games are set to be shown on national television. In-person ticket sales are also soaring, leading the defending WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces to re-home their matchup with the Fever to a venue that can accommodate some 6,000 more fans.

Start your morning off right with Just Women’s Sports’ free, 5x-a-week newsletter.