Like many events around the world, espnW Summit NYC is returning to an in-person gathering on Wednesday, May 4. However, it’s also available to livestream, so everyone can enjoy the day-long celebration of the year in women’s sports, as well as a discussion on the lasting impact of Title IX. ESPN basketball host and analyst LaChina Robinson spoke with The Root about the growth of women’s sports and the importance of Black women in sports media.
In case you didn’t know, women’s sports is more popular than it’s ever been. The ratings for the recent NCAA Women’s Basketball Final Four rose, leading to a South Carolina-UConn championship game that averaged 4.85 million viewers, up 18 percent from last year, per Sports Media Watch. Like the rest of us, Robinson knows people are watching, so it’s time to start respecting the influence of women’s sports.
“The interest has always been there, the commitment just wasn’t there,” Robinson said. “I don’t know if some people see the coverage in women’s sports as a test, but if it is a test, we’re passing, because the viewership numbers are up and people are demanding more.”
The exceptional level of competition we’re seeing now can be traced back to Title IX. Passed in 1972, it’s a civil rights law that reads: “No person in the United States shall, based on sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
This landmark law changed the landscape of women’s sports and frankly, women’s rights. The young people who were able to attend college and participate in sports based on Title IX are now running corporations, holding political office and yes, playing professionally.
“The impact of what sport has done for women’s careers beyond being a professional athlete speaks for itself,” Robinson said. “All the things that sport does for young girls and women in the business world is shining through.”
In addition to a panel celebrating the Title IX documentary 37 Words, there’s also a conversation with the “Women of ESPN” featuring Robinson, SportsCenter host Elle Duncan, basketball analyst Monica McNutt, and occasional First Take host Christine Williamson. Robinson is especially excited to share the stage with her amazing colleagues.
“Those are my girls. I was in disbelief when I got the email and saw that we were all going to be on one panel,” she said. “It’s important for people to hear the stories of the journeys of Black women in sport media, because how else can we change what has been holding us back from the diversity we’ve said we’ve wanted for years? Until we know what those barriers are, and what it has taken for someone like Elle to be the face of SportsCenter and Monica McNutt to be one of the brightest NBA and women’s basketball analysts or Christine to be fully embraced as a bald Black woman and be excellent at her job. These are stories of women that deserve to be told and need to be elevated, so that we can continue to move the mark when it comes to the visibility of Black women and the diversifying of voices telling the stories of sport.”
There was a time when having all these fantastic Black women on stage together discussing their experiences as sports journalists would have been unimaginable. But now you can’t make it through the day without one or more of them schooling their male counterparts on one of the channel’s many debate shows—much like WNBA legend Candace Parker has made a habit out of doing on a rival network.
“We’re seeing tremendous growth when it comes to the visibility of Black women in sports media,” Robinson said. “I’m just grateful to the people that said, ‘We’re going to change the face of sports media by making it diverse. Why not?’ Making it look like the rest of the world. Making it look like the athletes that are on the court.”
“For me, covering the WNBA is an honor,” she continued. “It’s a league that’s 80 percent Black women and when I got into this, there weren’t a lot of Black faces covering this sport. It was a very singular perspective in terms of these women and where they came from. And often a distant perspective from a white male or female. So it’s been awesome to see the commitment to putting Black women in front when it comes to sport media, because that’s where they belong, and not because they’re Black, because they’re excellent.”
Virtual registration for the espnW Summit NYC is now available.