Today is International Women’s Day and I’d like to take some time with this week’s Hogan’s Highlights to express why that’s important to me.
I was blessed to grow up in a family where my parents taught me I could do anything if I worked hard for it. They pushed me to do the best I could in school. They traveled all over the country to support my swimming career. They were amazing examples of how to treat others with respect and kindness. Looking back now at what my parents did for me, I feel like I hit the jackpot.
On this International Women’s Day, I want to share a story about my mom, Donna. If you’re a regular at New York Islanders games, you’ve probably met her over by our MSG Networks set. She comes to a game or two almost every month. She’s my best friend and the most important woman in my life.
In 2001, I remember coming down for dinner one night with my Swimming World Magazine in hand. I was all fired up and couldn’t wait to tell my parents what I had read.
“Mom, can you believe they are canceling the University of Kansas men’s swimming program because of this stupid thing called Title IX?”
I was a sophomore in high school and I actually said, “I X,” not nine. The look on my mother’s face, and her reaction, after that sentence is something that is seared into my mind forever. She looked me straight in the eyes and said, “You’re going to have a college scholarship because of Title IX.” She was both furious and heartbroken. I was unaware what Title IX was or how it came about. My mother, on the other hand, was part of the movement to help create equal opportunities for women.
That night, we spent what felt like hours at the kitchen table as she explained what playing sports was like for her as a kid. In grade school and high school they didn’t have uniforms but the boys’ teams did. She was in tears talking about how her coach Mr. Beck helped keep the girls involved with sports from middle school all the way through high school. My mom wore a pinny until her senior year when he bought the entire girls basketball team jerseys.
I always knew my mom was a good athlete. She ran track at The Ohio State University in the 1970s, but I didn’t realize there were very few scholarships for female athletes when she went to college. My mom was part of the push for equality, hoping that one day her daughter could reap the benefits. Thinking about it now, I’m sure I broke her heart that night at the kitchen table. She, along with millions of other women, had battled to make things better for us all and I had no clue.
Almost 15 years later, I can say that conversation with my mom was one of the most important conversations of my life. When I accepted a college scholarship to swim, I knew it was partly because I was a good swimmer and had worked really hard. I was also grateful for the women who came before me and wanted to compete, but were not given an equal opportunity. I knew that my experience as a collegiate athlete was something my mother had always dreamed of for herself … and for me.
I’ve carried that Title IX lesson from my mother with me into my professional career. I now work in a male-dominated field. I’m not the first and I won’t be the last woman to cover sports, but I’m aware of the challenges we face in this industry. I’m grateful for the strong women who came before me and set the standard of professionalism. I hope that by working hard and doing what I love, there are young girls who see me and think, “Hey, I could do that.”
I also want those young ladies to understand that it wasn’t always an open door for women. There was a time, not too long ago, when we couldn’t go in the locker rooms for interviews. There was a time when they only wanted us to report on the “fluffy stories.” There was a time when coaches and players were rude or wouldn’t give you an interview because you’re a woman.
To the generation of sportswriters and reporters before me who said, “Let them wear towels,” I thank you. You will be happy to know that on #InternationalWomensDay in 2017, I work for MSG Networks who has supported me from day one.
I cover the New York Islanders, a team with class and respect. I cover players who take the time to talk to me on camera, regardless of my gender.
I’m excited to see where women are in sports in another 15 years. We’ve come a long way Mom, but there’s still work to be done.