Hailie Deegan and Shayla Houlihan on the Difficulties in Achieving Women’s Equality in Sports

Under Armour revealed its “The Only Way Is Through” campaign at its Baltimore headquarters today, making a statement on the work required to conquer the toughest of challenges. While on campus, some of the brand’s women ambassadors shared some their personal struggles, including not being taken seriously because of their gender.

During its women-focused “Gamechangers” panel, cross-country coach Shayla Houlihan and race car driver Hailie Deegan discussed that, because they are women, they’ve had to work extra hard just to be viewed as equals to men in their respective sports.

Houlihan’s résumé in cross-country is an impressive one, highlighted by her seven years as head men’s and women’s cross-country coach at the University of California. (Houlihan, who is now a coach with Under Armour, is also a former professional steeplechaser.) And yet, she explained to attendees, people often assume when meeting her that she’s not the person in charge.

“I always had to introduce myself as the men’s and the women’s coach,” Houlihan said and continued, “It’s assumed that my male counterpart is the one in charge — always.”

Shayla Houlihan Under Armour
Former steeplechaser Shayla Houlihan competing in 2012.
CREDIT: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP/Shutterstock

As for Deegan, she admitted that being a woman, without the size and strength of men in the racing world, comes with physical disadvantages. Despite this, she has worked to become a rising star, with her pro career in NASCAR starting in 2018.

Still, Deegan is forced to push herself even harder to just be considered a peer to men — which retired race car driver Danica Patrick warned Deegan would be the case before embarking on her career.

“I talked with Danica and asked how it was being a girl in racing. She told me all the guys are harder on you than they are on each other,” Deegan said. “I was like, ‘She’s exaggerating,’ and then I started racing and was like, ‘Oh my god, they make it so hard’ because at the end of the day, guys don’t want to be beat by girls, especially in a man’s world.”

“Usually, guys respect each other immediately when they start racing against each other. I had to prove myself beforehand. That was the hardest part: winning races, showing them that I’m willing to outwork them,” she said.

After the panel, Deegan shared with FN how she deals with all this, which falls in line with the messaging behind Under Armour’s fresh brand platform.

“When it comes to people trying to pull you down, I feed off that stuff,” Deegan told FN. “It hypes me up so much when you see someone that’s negative because all you want to do is prove them wrong.

“No one is going to be more proud of your results than yourself,” she said, “and you can’t rely on anyone else. You have to keep pushing through no matter what.”

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