Challenges for female athletes start early. By the age of 14, girls are quitting sports at twice the rate as boys, and by 17, over half of female athletes drop out of sports. For those who persist, by the time they reach the collegiate level, 48% of female athletes exhibit symptoms of depression or anxiety. When some female athletes finally achieve the coveted dream of playing professionally, they receive between 15 and 100% less in salaries and prize money than male counterparts.
The same world that idolizes men’s sports continually allows women’s sports to fall to the wayside.
This neglect of women’s sports and the voices of female athletes is exactly what Voice in Sport was founded to address. Founded in 2019, the platform aims to inspire female athletes through connection to a number of tools and programs designed to address the challenges and inequalities women face in sports. Numerous Stanford alumnae and current student-athletes have since joined the organization.
Through the Voice in Sport (VIS) League, athletes such as WNBA forward Alanna Smith ’19 provide mentorship to young girls and women in sports.
The VIS mission “really resonated with me because I lacked that access to mentorship,” Smith said on her inspiration for getting involved with the company. “I was surrounded by men in the basketball world and boys, and I never had a mentor who was a woman that I could talk to freely like that.”
A native of Melbourne, Australia, Smith closed an impressive four-year career with the Cardinal with a first-round pick by the Phoenix Mercury in the 2019 WNBA draft. During her time on the Farm, Smith appeared in 143 games and recorded 1,703 points, the tenth-highest career total in Stanford history.
Alongside Smith, a number of current Stanford athletes are serving as mentors and content creators — including women’s basketball junior Lacie Hull, lacrosse senior Galen Lew and junior Mackenzie Chapman and track and field sophomore Brielle Smith. The first Cardinal student-athlete to join, however, was women’s soccer junior Bianca Caetano-Ferrara.
Like Smith, many of Caetano-Ferrara’s own experiences as a young female athlete prompted her to get involved with Voice in Sport.
“There were a lot of times where — I think a lot of female athletes go through this — where they’re feeling really lost, especially getting recruited to play in college or just staying in sports,” Caetano-Ferrara said. “I felt so lost getting recruited and through that whole process.”
In addition to simply guiding young athletes through some of the more complex processes within sports at various levels, the mentorship program also serves as a way for collegiate and professional mentors to speak on more sensitive topics and issues that they have encountered during their careers.
“[We] basically talk about specific topics that are important to us at Voice in Sport and for female athletes in general,” Caetano-Ferrara said. “So mental health, body image, things like that… girls can hop onto the Zoom call and really learn from these women who’ve been in these positions.”
While the efforts of the Cardinal players are invaluable, issues of such magnitude cannot be solved by a single group of college and professional athletes — which is just one of the reasons Voice in Sport strives to elevate the voices of female athletes across the board. According to the athletes involved, lack of visibility of female athletes often perpetuates the exclusive idolization of male counterparts and further contributes to growing inequalities women experience in the sports world.
“There’s equality in pay that we’ve been fighting for for a very long time and just a visibility in the media, in general,” Smith said of the struggles of being a female professional athlete. “I only know about the NBA and the WNBA, but the NBA gets way more coverage than the WNBA.”
“This year we’ve gotten [more media] coverage and we had like 50% more viewers than we did last year,” Smith added. “When you give the opportunities, people watch, people care.”
But VIS’ goals extend beyond increases in sports visibility and athletic mentorship.
In preparation for the 2020 presidential election, the company launched #moreVOTESmoreVOICES, a voting initiative designed to encourage all student-athletes to register to vote. In conjunction with organizations such as Rock the Vote and Girls, Inc., VIS created the movement as a way of inspiring student-athletes to utilize their platforms and recognize the importance of their role in shaping society and politics in the United States.
“We wanted to create a space where student-athletes could come together and use their right to vote,” Caetano-Ferrara said.
“I think there’s this kind of stigma that, you know, student-athletes have to be so perfect and not really sure of their opinions,” she said. “But I think it’s really important that athletes use their platform to get more people to vote.”
Though the goals of #moreVOTESmoreVOICES may revolve around the Nov. 3 election, the mission and work of VIS continues afterward, too. With the help of athletes like Smith and Caetano-Ferrara, the group has been able to slowly chip away at the obstacles, both athletically and politically, placed in the paths of young female athletes.
Athletes involved stress that the goal is not to clear the road entirely of challenges for girls in sports but to level the playing field with male counterparts. In doing this, the company hopes to change the conversation so women’s voices in sports are just as important, earned and impressive as their male counterparts.
Contact Savanna Stewart at savnstew ‘at’ stanford.edu.