Growing up, Jennie Finch was forced to wear baseball cleats as she rose to prominence as one of, if not the best fast-pitch softball player to ever play the game. It wasn’t only until after a record-setting career at the University of Arizona when Finch was able to partner with Mizuno to create a line specifically for girls and women in her sport.
Opportunity wasn’t presented on a silver platter for Sydney Leroux, who was raised primarily by her mother after her parents separated before Leroux was born. Knowing she wanted to play soccer for the United States Women’s National Team, Leroux relocated from Canada to Arizona, living with multiple host families on her rise to stardom.
While their stories of triumph are certainly inspiring, unfortunately the obstacles are all too common, especially among girls and women’s athletics. That’s why Dick’s Sporting Goods announced its 2020 Women’s Initiative on February 4, a day before the world celebrated National Girls & Women in Sports Day.
As part of the initiative, the company announced: a three-year, $5 million grant to the United States Soccer Foundation to increase opportunities for girls in the sport, their role as the Official Sporting Goods Retailer of USA Softball, and its commitment to working with brands and merchandise partners to increase retail products and offerings specifically made for girls and women.
“It’s unbelievable,” Leroux, a gold medalist and World Cup winner with the USWNT, said at the Dick’s Here For Her Summit in New York City. “That speaks to me because I was one of those girls who didn’t have the means to play at the highest level and I needed help to get there. I want these little girls to take full advantage because we’re missing out on some really good athletes because they don’t have the money or the means. This is definitely a step in the right direction and I’m excited to see what happens.”
“I think the goal is to equip, empower and encourage young women and that’s what Dick’s has done by stepping up to the plate getting behind USA Softball and pouring into the grassroots level of youth soccer by providing young women with an opportunity,” said Finch, a two-time Olympic medalist. “Less than 1% of corporate dollars goes toward female athletics. Without the marketing, without the funding … no wonder why it’s been an uphill battle for so long. Hopefully many will follow their lead and get behind young girls.”
The Dick’s Foundation Sports Matter grant to the U.S. Soccer Foundation will be geared specifically toward the organization’s United for Girls initiative. Funding will be utilized to create safe spaces to play, increase coaching and training opportunities, and support programs in underserved communities. The goal is to engage 100,000 girls by 2023.
Dick’s will also serve as the official merchandise vendor for USA Softball’s Stand Beside Her Tour, which is the team’s exhibition and training tour ahead of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo this summer.
Supporting girls and women’s athletics is a priority, according to Dick’s president Lauren Hobart, who cited eye-opening statistics, including that by age 14, twice as many girls are dropping out of sports than boys, and girls have 1.3 million fewer opportunities to play high school sports than boys.
“We do believe at its core, sports do make people better and provide values and life lessons that last for their entire lives—how to win, how to lose, how to work on a team—all while having a place to go after school where they’re safe and active,” Hobart said. “Given that sports are so important and girls are dropping out more frequently than boys, we felt we had to do something about it.
“In 2020 we’re going to be very focused on women’s and girl’s sports and really trying to provide access for young girls and making sure they have what they need to compete.”