If you don’t like something change it;

if you can’t change it,

change the way you think about it.

~ Mary Engelbreit

Digging the quote, yet wondering what ERA stands for?

ERA is Equal Rights Advocates, a nonprofit legal organization dedicated to protecting and expanding economic and educational access and opportunities for women and girls, since 1974. On Friday, June 8, I attended ERA’s 38th Annual Luncheon in downtown San Francisco. The focus was celebrating Title IX’s 40th Anniversary of “Making Girls into Strong Women,” and the quote above is how Executive Director, Noreen Farrell, opened her remarks to a crowd of over 600 supporters including attorneys, business leaders, and women’s rights advocates.

When asked to blog for this event, my instinct was it would be a powerful and   inspiring opportunity to network, reflect, and leave reinvigorated. This was quickly confirmed when it was stated, “girls and women expect equality and if they don’t receive it, they go to ERA—a partner to help you fight.” “How fantastic,” I thought, “I had found another phenomenal national organization, based in Bay Area, doing the kind of work that I love to support.” I wasn’t alone as Julie Foudy, the luncheon’s keynote speaker, began by enthusiastically stating, “38 years and I’ve never been to one of these. You all are like my peeps!” Needless to say, the room was filled with like-minded advocates and Title IX trailblazers, including Amy Love.

Don’t know who Amy Love is? Well, you should…

At nine, Amy was told she couldn’t play soccer because she was a girl. In response, she had a very simple question for her parents, “What does the fact that I’m a girl have anything to do with my ability to play soccer?” This question became a defining moment in Amy’s life that led her parents to contact ERA. By doing so, Amy was ERA’s first Title IX case. Together their class action suit ensured “girls across the state of California and across the country had the right to play on competitive sports teams.” I was able to chat with Amy and ask her, “How does it feel to celebrate 40 years of Title IX?” Her response:

“It feels fabulous! One of the most important things for us to always recognize though is that no right is ever guaranteed, and so it’s important to keep in mind the social perspective yet also propel ourselves forward.”

Curious, I followed up by asking, “What do you mean by ‘propel[ling] ourselves forward’?”

“Every four years, we as a country get excited around the success of the women athletes in this county, yet it’s hard-pressed for them to find a way to establish career opportunities in professional sports. Clearly, the WNBA is the best example along with the WTA and the LPGA, yet in the grand scheme of things, there’s still tremendous opportunity for women to look to the future for continued opportunities to choose sports as a career.”

What great insight to receive from just one trailblazer in the room to only later realize Amy Love, ERA advocate and former client, is the same Amy Love who started Real Sports magazine—The Authority in Women’s Sports™. The same magazine I remember coming across when it’s inaugural issue was printed in the fall of 1998 when the University of Tennessee’s Michelle Snow graced the cover dunking. I true full circle moment for me.

ERA’s luncheon was a special celebration of their education equity work and Title IX while having Julie Foudy there as a shining example of the impact Title IX has had on one accomplished female athlete on and off the field. For those of you who missed Julie Foudy’s almost two decade career as a member of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team, here’s a quick rundown: 4-time All-American; 3-time Olympic medalist; 2-time World Cup champion; a member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame; served as President of the Women’s Sports Foundation; member of the 2002 Title IX Commission on Opportunity in Athletes. In addition, she has tirelessly worked on issues of child obesity and the use of child labor in the making of soccer balls, as well as empowering girls through sport via the Julie Foudy Sports Leadership Academy and the Julie Foudy Leadership Foundation.

Not only did I get to hear her speak in person, I was able to interview her as well, which I will share in an upcoming post. It was a true honor to meet Julie, first, as an accomplished female athlete and Olympian, and then, as a like-minded advocate who believes in equality and the power of sport to development leadership and other important life skills. Julie was most notably, kind, gracious, passionate, and humble while possessing a contagious energy and zest for life. This was highlighted in her opening remarks, she stated, “First and foremost, thank you to ERA for all you are doing. When I read about the work you do, I truly feel this sense of relief that we are safer and better because of all you are doing, so big round of applause.” Even so, Julie made it clear that “we all have a part to play in this fight to advocate on behalf of Title IX.”

Then Julie revealed, “Title IX has been the most remarkable gift in my life,” and sport was the vehicle that helped her to become the woman she is today. It allowed her to attend the “fine institution” of Stanford University, as well as play for the U.S. for 18 years. In fact, when asked, “What was your greatest moment?” upon her retirement in 2004, Julie shared that

The expectation was a sports moment like winning the World Cup or the gold medal in the 1996 Olympics. Of course, winning was important to us [Mia Hamm, Kristine Lily, and the other members of the U.S. women’s soccer team], we were competitive, feisty athletes. Yet, what resonates the most is that I got to learn from 18…20…30 amazing women over the course of two decades about life. Just how to be a good human being and advocate for the things that are important. I couldn’t have gotten that education anywhere else.

One of those lessons was to dream big, break boundaries, and believe in yourself and your teammates. And that’s exactly what Julie Foudy and her teammates did. When she and Kristine Lilly joined the team as idealistic 16 year olds as Julie reminisced, there was no women’s soccer in the Olympics or women’s World Cup. For them, the simple question was why not? Of course, there wasn’t a simple answer, except skepticism that intended to keep these post-Title female athletes enclosed by the glass ceiling. Julie disclosed the responses they received, such as “That’s crazy. It’s not going to happen. There’s not enough women that play the sport, sillies. Stop thinking so big; stop dreaming like that.” Yet, they asked, “Why shouldn’t we ask for this?”

“It’s a good thing this courageous group of women and the people who supported them didn’t listen;” otherwise, they would have never realized their potential and an amazing one at that. Julie then humorously shared her Top 3 sports moments/lessons:

  • Winning the first Women’s World Cup in 1991: An event Julie had to convince her own dad to attend and who later shared, “I’m glad I didn’t miss this.” Despite the win, however, Julie quickly faced the reality of being a student-athlete by having to take college finals upon her return.
  • Winning Gold at the 1996 Olympics: In front of a home crowd of 78,000 people in Atlanta, GA.
  • Winning the 1999 World Cup (“This was a real life-changer.”): Despite being told to play it safe and play in small 5,000 seat arenas that could be guaranteed to sellout, the team with the support of the U.S. Soccer Federation believed in themselves, the draw of being a world event, and people’s desire to watch and support women’s soccer could fill much larger stadiums. In the end, they proved the skeptics wrong as they played the opening game to a sellout crowd of 80,000 people at Giants Stadium, the second largest audience outside of the Pope, and with 40 million watching the final match on ABC.

As Julie shared these three experiences, she asked us to consider,

How many times in life do people tell you that you can’t do something or that you’re crazy?

She went on to share,

“I’m constantly passing along the message to girls and boys that you’re not crazy you’re courageous. Just find people around you that support that belief, that support that dream. ERA supports dreams and that’s what Title IX does in so many ways. …I leave you with this challenge: Make sure young girls understand their history. It’s not just ERA’s responsibility to educate the public about what Title IX is. It breaks my heart that young girls don’t know about it and if they do, it has a negative connotation. They think it’s why men’s minor sports are being cut.”

Often, Title IX is the scapegoat rather than institutions budgeting and spending their money better. What’s more, Julie shared, “my next big battle, I was telling Jillian today, I want to advocate for getting it into the curriculum.” I couldn’t agree more and I too am committed to figuring out how to make this happen. That said, I close with a question asked by Noreen that is still resonating with me and I suggest you consider,

What are the moments that have empowered you to be what you are today?

This event solidified a handful of my defining moments, which confirmed this luncheon was exactly where I was supposed to be on the last day of my 20s. Thus, leaving me empowered.

Stay tuned for my next post where I share my interview with soccer great, Julie Foudy…

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