Stanford won its first national championship in a men’s sport in 1928. In contrast, the first women’s national championship was delivered by the 1982 tennis team — which became the beginning of the Cardinal’s most prolific program and sparked a dominance in women’s sports.
Despite a much shorter history, women’s sports have accounted for 59 of Stanford’s NCAA-record 126 team national championships (47%). Given this success despite inequity, it is no surprise, then, that a former Cardinal is attempting to remedy one of sports media’s most glaring blights: 4% of coverage is dedicated to women’s sports.
Haley Rosen ’15 began her soccer career with a national championship in 2011 and ended with an All-Pac-12 First Team honor in her redshirt senior campaign. Now Rosen is seeking loftier goals with Just Women’s Sports, a Stanford media startup aimed, as the name implies, at bridging the gender chasm in sports coverage.
Her breakout senior season led Rosen to a professional career in the U.S. and abroad that shaped her current perception of women’s sports media. Upon entering the professional scene, Rosen felt like a stranger in the soccer world she has been a part of for so many years because she knew so little about opposing teams and players due to the lack of media coverage. She said that this trend continued when she left the soccer world, and the energy she had experienced as a player was not replicated in the coverage.
So Rosen took action and founded Just Women’s Sports.
“I think representation matters,” Rosen said. “I know for me personally, had I been able to follow these women, these leagues, these awards, I think it would have really helped me in my playing career.”
Of course, Rosen was not alone in her assessment of the disparate landscape. When the site launched in 2019, over 100 different athletes posted about it on social media. Three of the biggest names in women’s sports — three-time beach volleyball Olympic gold medalist in Kerri Walsh Jennings ‘01, 2016 WNBA MVP Nneka Ogwumike ’12 and two-time water polo gold medalist Maggie Steffens ’17 — have signed on as athlete partners. The fourth and final partner, 2018 hockey gold medalist Hilary Knight, was born in Palo Alto.
“Honestly, the Stanford community is strong,” Rosen said. “We’ve been really lucky to connect with athletes that are obviously phenomenally gifted at their sport, but they’re also advocates for change. They’ve done a lot to push their sports forward [and] to push women’s sports forward.”
“[The partners] keep us in check and make sure the content that we create, our voice, and all our branding, everything that we do, is authentic to the women’s sports world,” Rosen said.
The Stanford connection continued with Rosen’s interviews of both Sophia Smith, who was drafted to the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) in January after her sophomore season, and sophomore goalkeeper Katie Meyer, whose penalty kick heroics delivered a national championship in November. On the way to that title, Stanford women’s soccer defeated UCLA in the semifinals. Now, Stanford has 16 more women’s sports team championships than the second place Bruins.
“Stanford is a major university. We have a major football program, we have a major basketball program,” Rosen said. “And even in this environment, there’s a world where women’s sports gets a ton of attention, and people are super excited to go to the games, cheer and be a part of the playoff run.”
Stanford’s dominance in women’s soccer came during one of the best years historically for the sport. The Women’s World Cup in France drew worldwide attention as the U.S. Women’s National Team sprinted undeterred to victory. The spotlight it generated carried over to the NWSL, as more people began to pay attention to the domestic game.
“I think it’s amazing that we’re starting to see more headlines [about women],” Rosen said, “but there’s still so many athletes, so many stories that we’re just not talking about.”
Luckily, there is now a platform to follow and find out.