“Imagine feeling like you have no power and no voice. Well, you know what, Larry? I have both power and voice, and I am only beginning to just use them,” U.S. Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman said in a now-viral video from the sentencing hearing of Larry Nassar.
When Raisman went to court in January 2018 to confront her abuser — the condemned former team doctor who was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison for sexual assault of minors — she didn’t know her voice would be the one speaking for the many survivors who have gone unheard.
“It’s hard to put into words these last couple of years. I just didn’t really realize how many people could relate to me,” Raisman told FN last month. “Although this is hard and it’s very uncomfortable to talk about it, it is just such a widespread issue that we may never understand how common it is and how many people are survivors.”
Raisman has since embarked on a journey to end sexual abuse, a fight that goes far beyond the gymnastics floor.
In April, she visited the California State Capitol in support of dozens of women who had accused former University of Southern California gynecologist Dr. George Tyndall of sexual misconduct.
Meanwhile, proceeds from her latest collaboration with Aerie will go to Darkness to Light, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing child sexual abuse. And her new partnership with footwear brand York Athletics is inspiring people to stand up for themselves in its #WorththeFight campaign.
Raisman explained, “We are all more than just an athlete, and we have something to say, and we want to do something that’s bigger than ourselves.”
Indeed, she is one of many female athletes who are using their platform to push boundaries and challenge norms placed on women in sports.
Whether it’s WNBA players partnering with Planned Parenthood, Olympic pioneer Ibtihaj Muhammad becoming the first Muslim-American woman to compete at the Olympics while wearing a hijab or Serena Williams not apologizing for her on-court emotions, female athletes are continuing to break barriers both inside and outside of sports.
Nike has been instrumental in spotlighting inspiring women, seen in various ads, including its “Dream Crazier” spot, which Nike Women VP and GM Rosemary St. Clair said is critical. “It’s important for every woman, not just the next generation, to see themselves in those types of ads,” she said. “Using our brand as a catalyst to be able to do that is really important.”
Last month, however, the Swoosh came under fire for its treatment of pregnant athletes. The company responded quickly, announcing that it will now waive performance-based pay reductions for a 12-month period for those who have a baby.
Prior to the news, St. Clair pointed to Nike’s long history of supporting women in sports as evidence of its commitment.
“One of the first things we did was get behind Title IX, [the 1972 legislation that ended discrimination in education and sports]. I would be curious if girls today even know what Title IX is. The idea of the evolution is that we were always there for sport and sport for her,” added St. Clair. “We have some leaps to make.”
And as women’s sports grow in popularity and more young women tune in to watch, athletes won’t stay silent.
The U.S. women’s national soccer team is a prime example.
For years, the players have been fighting for pay equity and equal treatment. On March 8, International Women’s Day, 28 members of the team filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation.
“I don’t know if it’s a responsibility, but I want things to change,” Megan Rapinoe, the team’s co- captain, told FN recently. “There’s such an incredible movement around women happening right now, though it’s not quick enough. There’s still so much tension and pushback, whether it’s racial issues or gender issues or pay disparity.”
The 33-year-old forward has long been a leading force for the team, both with her talent and activism. She has been vocal when it comes to LGBTQ rights, and she has kneeled during the national anthem in protest of the country’s injustices.
“Whenever I’m in the room, I bring those conversations,” she said. “There’s a lot of inequality in the world. I want that to be better. I want people to be treated more equally and more as a whole person. We have to get in there, in the nitty gritty, and break these systems down that are so entrenched and have deep grooves in our society.”
With the FIFA Women’s World Cup kicking off this month, all eyes will be on the U.S. soccer team (the defending champions), who will provide a global platform for female empowerment.
Added Rapinoe, “We have inspired little girls and everybody in a completely different way. It’s not only that they want to play on the national team — we’ve moved past that and hopefully inspired them to dream whatever dream they have.”
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