National Women in Sports Day is an annual day of recognition acknowledging the accomplishments of female athletes and the struggles they have faced due to their gender. It’s been observed since 1987 and has been used to encourage females of all ages into a life of athletic activity and empowerment.
“The day has been recognized for 35 years,” said Indiana Fever President Allison Barber. “It’s just a way to set apart some focus and attention on the opportunity for girls to be athletes and to become women who are athletes.”
“So often, the trajectory of girls in sports stops in junior high,” said Barber. “This day gives us a real terrific chance to talk about what it means to play sports or work in the industry of sports.”
Barber, who was appointed as the Fever’s president in March of 2019, is only the second individual to hold the position since the organization’s formation over 20 years ago. Previously, she served as president of a strategic communications firm, deputy assistant secretary of defense and special detail to the office of global communications in the White House.
As a part of National Women in Sports Day, Barber shared a message to women going into the sports industry.
“The opportunities for women to work in the sports industry are really expansive now because there are so many new roles,” said Barber, “It used to be that if you were in sports, you were a statistician, a coach, [or] general manager. Now there’s marketing, digital and community outreach and all these wonderful platforms where women can thrive in the sports industry.”
Barber described the opportunities of working in the sports industry as “great” and the environment as “really exciting.”
“It’s just a terrific place to work,” said Barber.
When asked about influential women in sports, Barber pointed out the Fever’s Vice President Tamika Catchings as an inspiration.
“She’s a four-time gold medal recipient and winner in the Olympics,” said Barber. “She won a championship with Tennessee [Volunteers], she won a championship with the Fever [and] she just got inducted into the Hall of Fame. What I love about Tamika is that she brings the same kind of passion and intensity to being the vice president and general manager of the Indiana Fever as she did to the basketball court when she was the star player.”
“It’s really a terrific and poetic story on National Women in Sports Day,” said Barber, “because here’s an amazing female athlete who has gracefully transitioned into an executive at the Indiana Fever and doing it really well.”
Barber also spoke about the treatment of female athletes compared to male athletes in regards to exposure.
“I think it’s really important to compare apples to apples,” said Barber, “The women’s game—women’s sports—it’s a different model.”
Barber talked about the importance of equality amongst male and female athletes as well.
“It’s important for us [women] to push hard for equity and to provide opportunities for women athletes and for sports, in general, to have visibility,” said Barber. “I think once that happens, then things like pay equity and sponsorship dollars will follow.”
Barber explained how there is inequality between male and female athletes in areas beyond financials too.
“If you look at the media coverage, sports news coverage, women only get about 5% of sports coverage,” said Barber. “When we can inspire media outlets to give more visibility to women’s sports, then what will happen is that there will be more fandom.”
There were also concerns about the outreach the WNBA has had in the country.
“There’s plenty of places in this country where they don’t even know there’s a WNBA team they could be cheering for,” Barber said. “I think there are a lot of factors that’ll bring more equality to the game: media attention, partnerships. We’ll build the brands. We’ll build visibility and then fandom will follow.”
As someone with a long career in various fields, Barber also lent her expertise to women in respect to the obstacles they may face when going into the sports field.
“The obstacles are, thankfully, getting fewer and fewer, said Barber, “some of the obstacles that women have to face are just getting a chance to break into the industry,” said Barber. “Once people get into sports, they don’t leave quickly because it’s a great place to work. You [normally] have to wait for somebody to retire, or move, or something. The barriers are being able to find an ‘in-road’ into sports.”
Barber also believes it’s important to “help people network so that women who are looking to work in sports, [can get] help finding opportunities and giving them a platform to be competitive for jobs.”
Even with all these obstacles and discrimination, Barber holds tight to a clear goal for female athletes.
“I think the goal for equality—no matter what group of people you’re talking about—is that you no longer become ‘the first female to do this’, or ‘the only female to do this in the world,’” said Barber. “Equality means that you start to normalize diversity in your organization. That’s the goal. That it just becomes natural that there are women coaching in the men’s side because there’s men coaching in the women’s side.”
Barber bubbled down her message into one sentence.
“[The goal is that] it just becomes natural that you have diversity and it isn’t the headline anymore,” said Barber.
Barber and her staff have created a free virtual panel for National Women in Sports Day that the organization will hold on Feb. 3 from 2-3 p.m. over Zoom. For anyone interested in attending, details can be found on the Indiana Fever’s website.