Female athletes are comparatively supported and paid less than their male counterparts, so Essence magazine honors African American women in sports as a means to highlight their achievements publicly during its “Black Women In Sports” Brunch.
Presented by Coca-Cola® and hosted by ESPN sports anchor Elle Duncan, the “Black Women In Sports” Brunch was held at the Westside Cultrual Arts Center in Atlanta, Ga., Friday to honor Olympic Gold Medalist Sanya Richards-Ross and Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) Commissioner Sonja Stills. This marked the fourth iteration of the event.
ESSENCE CEO Caroline Wanga introduced the brunch and the honorees, reminding guests of the significance of black culture, particularly women. “No longer is our cultural impact available to be leased,” said Wanga. “It’s no longer available to be appropriated. It’s no longer available to be diminished. It’s no longer available to be put on a lighter skin tone and then made important. It stands on its own.”
She continued, “It hasn’t always stood with the right protection or the right amplification.” This is the reason for the awards brunch: to amplify the significance and impact of black women in all aspects of sports and at every level.
Women in Sports Insights
During the “Changing the Game: Black Women & HBCU Athletics” discussion panel moderated by NBC Sports’ Football Night host Maria Taylor, guests got insight from collegiate sports executives Peggy Davis, Alecia Shields-Gadson and Tara Owens.
In March 2022, Shields-Gadson, Delaware State University Director of Athletics, was appointed to a four-year term as a member of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I Council. Remarking about the current self-image of female athletes, she said, “We are really just being great, and it’s intentional. I talk a bit about the confidence because we’re learning how to stand up, not dim our light and not be ashamed of who we are as individuals. We can still play a sport and be strong and tough, and still be beautiful and as delicate as we want to be. And we don’t have to choose anymore, which means we can do all of these things and still be great athletes.”
Taylor asked the panelists how they viewed Deion Sanders‘ controversial departure from Jackson State University given their administrative backgrounds. Owens, the Director of Athletics at University of Maryland Eastern Shore, explained, “It increased HBCU visibility so much that student-athletes that had never considered attending an HBCU, now have them on their list of school [choices]. I think all of those things in the last few years that’s happened [with Deion] has exploded the recruiting field for our student-athletes, and it creates an atmosphere where there’s so much buzz around the word HBCU.”
Davis, Virginia State University (VSU) athletic director, was awarded the 2021 Minority Opportunities Athletic Association (MOAA) Distinguished Service Award recipient for her “dedication in promoting the understanding and appreciation of diversity in intercollegiate athletics.”
“One of the great things about living in this country is opportunity,” said Davis. “We are all in our positions because someone gave us an opportunity, and we accepted it. So, I’m proud for him. I’m absolutely proud of what he has done, not only for Jackson State, but for the entire HBCU institution. He has brought recognition to HBCUs, and it is going to continue to benefit our HBCUs.”
Women in Sports Honorees
Among her objectives throughout her 19-year career, Stills wanted to ensure that black student athletes got all the support they need to be successful on campus and in life afterward. She created the “Champs Life Skills Program” that offers both academic and practical support services for student-athletes. “This is why I love HBCUs, because at the HBCU, we take care of the whole person,” said Wanga.
“As a woman in a male-dominated field, it is extremely important that we continue to provide the opportunities for women to have a seat at the table, and to amplify their voices,” said Stills in accepting her award.
The fastest American woman in history at 400 meters, Richards-Ross said she wanted to be like Olympic great Merlene Ottey from the age of 9 while growing up in Kingston, Jamaica. Admittedly, she said, the road to four gold medals was not easy. “It took a lot of work, a lot of commitment. You know, people are afraid of failure, and what I learned on my journey is that failure is a necessary ingredient in the recipe for success. And so every time I fell down, every time I failed, it just made me realize how much more I wanted it, so I worked harder.”
The commonality among the honorees and panelists is their perseverance despite failure. In fact, Wanga encourages people, saying, “They should make room for at least five fails a day, and you don’t get to call it a bad day till you have the sixth one. What that teaches you is how to become an expert in failure recovery.”
Seemingly, rest and recovery is essential for athletes’ mind and body both on and off the field.