Washington Spirit club owner Michele Kang and several of your favorite Spirit players were invited to attend the Women’s Sports Foundation’s annual Salute to Women in New York City last week. This year’s event focused on commemorating fifty years of Title IX and the necessary continued progress in women’s sports. Accompanying Michele were team captain and NWSLPA president Tori Huster, forward Tara McKeown, midfielders Gaby Vincent and Anna Heilferty and defenders Sam Staab and Emily Sonnett.
“It was an honor to be included in this group of successful, inspiring women,” said Gaby Vincent. “It made me think, ‘Wow, women’s professional soccer is getting taken seriously.’ It also made me realize how privileged we are as a sport. Because of the success of the women’s national team, we’ve been able to gain visibility and even have our own domestic league. I witnessed incredibly successful athletes from sports like water polo, softball, lacrosse and various paralympic sports speak on their lack of visibility and opportunity in sports.”
Michele Kang sponsored one of the week’s signature awards as well: the Billie Jean King Leadership Award. Created to “recognize an individual or group who demonstrates outstanding leadership and makes significant contributions to the advancement of women through achievements in sport and the workplace,” this year’s recipient was South Carolina women’s basketball head coach Dawn Staley. Staley called the award one of the biggest achievements of her career.
The annual event served not only to celebrate those who are pushing women’s sports forward, but also to give our industry’s leaders a chance to learn from one another as we prepare for another year of growth for women’s sports. As part of the week’s Salute to Women in Sports and prior to Wednesday night’s awards presentation, the Women’s Sports Foundation designed a day for collaboration between the event’s attendees.
“WSF is doing incredible work not only toward making sport more equitable, but seeking investment and visibility so that more girls and young women can take part and learn the life skills that sport affords,” said Tori Huster. “Personally, I was proud to be in a room full of like-minded people that have different backgrounds and all of them are more than just the sport they play. The reality is that they are making the world a better place.”
Tori had the opportunity to lead a panel discussion at the Athlete Leadership Connection on Tuesday. The ALC allows top industry executives to meet with professional and collegiate female athletes with the mission to impact, cultivate and inspire the next generation of female athletes as leaders both on and off the pitch, court, field, etc. Tori Huster was not only included in the exclusive, hands-on leadership training experience that only sees 80 invitees each year, she was trusted with guiding the conversation.
“The conversation centered around pursuing your goals and the journey that each of us took to get where we are today,” said Huster. “We talked about making the path easier for the next generation too. I think it is important to celebrate all that has been accomplished, especially since Title IX. We have to be proud of where we’ve come and grateful for those who showed us how to roll up our sleeves. The most important thing that was discussed is that the work is never done but the willingness and dedication that we have inherited from the women that came before us will be necessary to elevate women across industries.”
Both Tori Huster and Gaby Vincent made the most of their invitation to the Annual Salute to Women and found the multi-day event to be an invaluable and much-needed checkpoint in the fight for women’s sports.
“Overall, I’m incredibly grateful for the Women’s Sports Foundation including myself and my teammates in the salute,” said Vincent. “I truly learned so much and feel so inspired to not just say we want to see change but to make it happen.”
“I am grateful for opportunities such as these because you never know what can come of events like the ALC or the Annual Salute,” said Huster. “Meeting so many amazing people over the course of the week was a really special thing to do with my teammates. I consider myself lucky to have been able to participate alongside women that I compete with on the field and watch as they show up in these kinds of spaces as more than just players, but leaders with vision and purpose that so clearly reflects WSF.”