On Tuesday, LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan joined the Chicago Council on Global Affairs for an online forum on “Playing Fair by Embracing Gender Equity in Sport,” sponsored by the Women’s Sports Foundation.
Whan appeared with Sarah Axelson, the senior director of advocacy at the Women’s Sports Foundation along with Oksana Masters, a Paralympian with eight medals who competes in both summer and winter games in cycling, rowing, cross-country skiing and biathlon. Also joining the discussion was U.S.A. Track and Field Olympian Alysia Montaño, who is a six-time U.S.A. Outdoor champion, but who is perhaps best known for competing in 2014 and 2017 while visibly pregnant.
The discussion covered a myriad of topics, including the pay gap between male and female athletes, corporate sponsorships, and the challenges female athletes face on a daily basis. Masters told a story of being one of the most accomplished Paralympic athletes in history and still having to sleep in her car because she ran out of money at an event. And Montaño talked about the challenges that face every female athlete who might want to become a mom.
“From the very first time I donned a uniform as a professional athlete, I didn’t realize the barriers that faced women as we progressed in our professional careers,” Montaño said. “When I started my career, I wasn’t thinking about having children…But the fact of the matter is, we should not have to pivot and make a choice between either (career) or (motherhood).”
Montano mentioned Kobe Bryant and other male athletes who became dads without any hiccups to their careers. She then pointed out that the same is not true for women.
“After I made the decision to become a mother, even after I made the Olympic Team and World Championship team, I thought how ridiculous it was that I had to give myself permission because of what I had already done - that I had earned the right to become a mom now and continue my career… It’s time for us to call BS. It’s time for us not to be afraid and to be assertive and ask and demand for change.”
Whan joined the discussion, pointing to one of the longest-running and most successful assets for athletes who are also moms: the Smucker LPGA Child Development Center on the LPGA Tour.
“This was five or six years ago, I was giving a reporter a tour of an LPGA Tour event and we walked around a corner and he said, ‘What’s in there?’ and I said, ‘Oh, that’s LPGA daycare,’” Whan said. “And I love the fact that it’s sponsored by Smucker’s – I think that’s a homerun. But I said, ‘That’s where our moms drop their kids off when they’re playing and practicing and then we pack it all up in a truck and take it to the next location, so it’s the same caregivers and generally the same kids of moms on Tour who are kind of growing up together.’”
Not only did Whan praise the Smucker LPGA Child Development Center as an example of doing the right thing for athletes, he pointed out that it is also good business.
“I don’t want Stacy Lewis on the LPGA Tour to win a bunch of majors and then make the decision that it’s time to be a mom and leave,” he said. “I’m invested in Stacy. She’s a face of my Tour. Brittany Lincicome, Brittany Lang: I’ve got a lot of major winners on Tour who are now moms. If they had to make a decision to leave, it’s not only financially painful for them, I can tell you as a commissioner, it’s painful for me because I’m invested in them. They’re the face of the Tour. People know them, not me.
“Creating an opportunity for them and making that part of the natural career track does two things: One, it allows me to keep investing in athletes and never worry because I know they can do both. And the second thing, I can promise you, when you create real opportunity for women to compete by giving them daycare and other resources, your 21-year-olds, your 19-year-olds, your 17-year-olds, they’ll watch.
“And just like Oksana was talking about having to see it to be it, there are a lot of women on my Tour who are 18 who are not thinking about being moms. But their impression about being a mom and an athlete changes every day when they walk by that daycare.
“If they believe they have to choose the day that they stop being an athlete and become a mom, then I’ve got Tour problems. I’ve got business problems. So, not only is it the right thing to do for the athlete, why would you run your business any other way?”
To watch the full forum, click here:
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