By Dan Woog
We often talk about the “sports world.” It sounds like one big place. Like the real world though, it’s made up of many separate countries. There’s a mind-boggling variety of sports. There are pro, college, high school and amateur sports. There are men’s sports, women’s sports and, of course, LGBT sports.
Meg Linehan has a special vantage point for observing those worlds. As senior editor for Excelle Sports (http://www.excellesports.com) – one of the few websites dedicated to women’s sports – she covers team sports like soccer, basketball and ice hockey; individual sports like tennis and rowing, and everything in between.
Launched less than a year ago – on International Women’s Day last March – the site draws up to 150,000 unique visitors a month. The goal is to keep the spotlight on female athletes in between the Olympics and soccer’s World Cup. “There are lots of stories to tell,” Linehan says.
She singles out, for example, the fight for equal pay now being waged by the United States women’s national soccer team. She has written insightful pieces on athletes like Serena Williams and Breanna Stewart as they emerge as leaders for social change.
Recently, Linehan examined the difference between the term “sports” – which really means “men’s sports” – and the separate category of “women’s sports.” She believes that “women’s sports” can stand on their own: At the 2016 Rio Olympics, U.S. female athletes won more medals than many countries’ men and women combined.
Some of Linehan’s stories involve sexuality. One of her favorites, which has not been widely reported, involves the National Women’s Hockey League. Buffalo Beauts star Harrison Browne is transgender. He plays as a man in the women’s league – with the full support of league officials, the Buffalo team and their fans. (And why not? Browne scored the first goal of the season this year.)
“It’s a cool story,” Linehan says. “It’s not just about the league being a space for women, but about moving past traditional roles.” The fact that it has become, very quickly, a non-story makes it all the more fascinating.
The senior editor – who began her career with Equalizer Soccer, an online source for women’s soccer news – has also been impressed by the positive reaction to Jill Ellis. The out head coach of the U.S. women’s national team did an animated branding video sponsored by Ritz about her life in Florida with her wife and daughter (and peacocks). “It was all very casual and matter-of-fact,” Linehan says.
Linehan is intrigued too by a recent story on Megan Rapinoe. In solidarity with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and other athletes protecting social inequalities, the out soccer star knelt on the sidelines during the national anthem – first with her Seattle Reign professional side, then with the U.S. national team.
“We’re starting to see the intersectionality of athletics, race and sexuality,” Linehan says. “The Black Lives Matter movement is becoming part of sports.”
In the Women’s National Basketball Association, she notes, lesbian and straight players have taken public stands on Black Lives Matter and other social justice issues.
There are vast differences in public perceptions of sexuality in men’s and women’s sports, Linehan acknowledges, with females far ahead of males. Men still face “lingering concerns” about being known – or even perceived – as gay. Sure, there are still “wildly uninformed people” who believe all female athletes are lesbians. But, Linehan says, there is far less stigma about homosexuality in the women’s ranks.
That has not always been the case. For years, women’s basketball – at the professional and college levels – tried to portray a “no-lesbians” image. Now, Linehan says, she does not run into that at all. Women’s National Basketball Association coaches and players have “really stepped up” (and out). The WNBA hosts an entire Pride Month (sponsored by Aquafina).
Nearly a year into the launch of Excelle Sports, the senior editor scans the horizon for new stories. As Donald Trump prepares to take power in Washington, D.C., she is watching Title IX anxiously.
“The Obama administration used it as a way to prevent and address sexual violence,” Linehan says. “They very clearly included trans students in that. A new administration could erase that. We’ll keep an eye on it.”
Her goal moving forward, she says, is to keep telling stories about the issues facing women in sports. Sexuality issues are an enormous part of those stories.
Linehan would like to see the day when “sports” refers to everyone; “women’s sports” won’t need to be separate.
But until that day, she’ll keep her eye on the women’s sports ball.