If You Let Us Write About Sports
Aimee Lehto Schewe / WNW Member
Do you remember that great Nike ad that started with “If you let me play sports?” by Janet Champ and Rachel Nelson? The one that talked about how a girl will be less likely to get into all sorts of trouble, and more likely to have all kinds of confidence, if you let her play sports?
I’ve been thinking about that ad a lot lately.
Because it’s crazy to me that in 1995, saying “let girls play sports” was considered bold. And because gender equality is a hot topic right now. And because the College Football and NFL seasons are starting, and the World Series is coming, and so are the NBA and NHL openers. And I’m wondering if we’re about to see a whole bunch of great, funny, inspiring sports ads. The kind, like that Nike ad, that made me want to get into advertising. And I’m wondering how many will have been written by women.
Not just the ones about “Women’s” sports, or moms supporting their children's sporty endeavors, but the ones for Steph Curry’s new shoe. Or UnderArmour’s newest football padding technology. Or ESPN’s next brilliant SportsCenter ad.
I’m wondering, because I’ve worked on a few sports brands, and I’ve sold a few sports ads. In fact, some copy I wrote for Adidas in 2003 (the manifesto for the Impossible is Nothing campaign) is now listed as the #1 Muhammad Ali quote on ESPN.com. The internet has attached those words to one of the most famous male athletes of all time, when the truth is they came from an ad written by a 25 year old girl.
Not written by Ali… written by little old me.
And while I was lucky to get to work on brands like Adidas and The WTA, and pitch ideas to the WNBA and ESPN, almost all of those assignments were for running or tennis, not major sports like the NBA, football, soccer, hockey or baseball. The truth is, it’s pretty rare for a woman to be put on a sports assignment that doesn’t have a W in front of it.
Which is a tiny bit understandable, but mostly total bullshit.
Here's why you should let women write about sports:
Not because “anybody can write about anything” — you do need to have some knowledge or at least be paired with someone who does — but because a lot of what you’re writing about when you’re writing about sports ISN’T insider stuff. It’s about determination, and ambition, and underdogs, and grit. You know, the same characteristics that describe every woman in the creative department.
And also, women do know about sports. Yes the insider stuff. Because, um, women play sports! Which means we also watch them. (I love basketball and wanted to be Kareem Abdul Jabbar when I grew up.) And if a person is passionate about something, that’s the person who should be on the assignment. Regardless of whether or not that person looks like the target or the client or the athlete in the ad… Also, maybe rethink your target, because, ahem: WOMEN LOVE ALL SPORTS.
And if you can wrap your head around that truth, here’s another one for you: Sports assignments are the fun assignments. They’re the best assignments in the building, and everybody knows it. They’re teed up for action and cinematic moments and inspiring stories, and the best directors want to work on them. So when you keep women off of sports assignments, you’re blocking them from the chance to do the best category of work there is. Don’t pretend for a second that you can produce the same quality of work, as easily or as often, on femcare or cleaning products or fashion or shampoo.
If you don’t put a woman on sports, or beer, or any of the supposedly “male” products that actually do big budget, or just plain funny ads, how can she possibly have as famous a portfolio as a man, who is so much more likely to be put on those brands? It’s not that women don’t do great work. It’s that women are often kept off of the very projects that enable it.
I’ve heard a lot of excuses for keeping women out of these meetings and off of these assignments. And the worst part is the men who use them think they’re innocuous.
“It’s nothing against women, it’s just that guys know more about X.” Bullshit. Did you even ask her? Or did you just automatically assume that and skip over the woman and assign it to a male? If it’s fun or interesting, I promise women are into it. In fact, women are into everything.
“Optics: We have to cast the meeting.” Bullshit. Don’t pass the blame onto the client. Don’t assume the clients are sexist. And even if they are, why enable that? “Neutral” actions like that are not neutral.
“You don’t want to be in a room with those guys, they’re pigs.” Bullshit. First of all, we can handle it. Second, women not being in the room is exactly how those guys got to be pigs in the first place.
And just as you could replace “sports” with “beer” or “comedy,” you could replace “advertising” with “tech” or “gaming” or “business” or anything. Conscious and unconscious biases based on false assumptions continue to keep women from having the same shot as men at the biggest and best opportunities in every corner of every industry. And that’s all I’m talking about. Being considered for the opportunity.
I hope things have been changing. I hope I sound like a dinosaur. I hope that every Olympic and ESPN and NBA and MLB and NFL and beer ad I’m about to see has women in the credits. Or that at least some of them do.
But if you think putting a woman on sports, or [any project here] sounds crazy, I am talking to you.
If you let us write about sports, you get a bigger talent pool.
If you let us write about sports, you might just get the ad you’re looking for.
If you let us write about sports, you might get something even better.
If you let us write about sports.
P.S. I wrote this piece in August before the Olympics. And since then, the Nike Unlimited campaign came out, which is AWESOME!, and does have a female in the creative credits. So congratulations to you, AD: Susan Land, and thank you W+K and Nike for bringing the heat. I hope there will be more pleasant surprises during the football, basketball, and hockey seasons and The World Series.
*This piece originally appeared on Medium on August 1st 2016, and has been slightly updated.