The spectator expert noted that the important points of women’s sports were left. He decided to change things

The spectator expert noted that the important points of women's sports were left. He decided to change things

Raised in North Carolina, Ari Chambers — founder of Instagram page HighlightHER and aspiring media mogul who was named to the Forbes 2021 30 Under 30 Sports list — didn’t have to look far for inspiration. She was surrounded by brilliant and dynamic women, from WNBA’s Charlotte Sting’s Dawn Staley to Mia Hamm, who took to the streets at UNC, to legendary cheer coach Cathy Buckey at future alma mater of Chambers, NC State .

“My first exposure to elite athletics was on the women’s side,” Chambers recalled speaking to Presser. “I could see all these strong women growing up in sports. I looked up to them.”

That’s why, when she was cheerleading for the NBA’s Knicks, NHL’s Rangers, and WNBA’s Liberty at Madison Square Garden, it struck her as odd that there were only three or four reporters in the media department at the Liberty games. In a stadium known to be the most famous arena in the world, why was there only one free media row to make the Liberty players shine?

Chambers decided to fill that void—and then some. She began using her phone to record interviews with players, offering fans a glimpse of the joys and challenges of being a professional athlete. The videos resonated and eventually caught the attention of Doug Bernstein, general manager of Bleacher Report’s wildly popular Instagram page, House of Highlights. A partnership developed and HighlightHER was born.

“It was created to give us a sisterhood,” says Chambers. “To showcase our talents and our stories and give a full sense of what it’s like to be a woman in sport and culture.”

Still, Chambers didn’t expect the account, which has amassed around 200,000 followers, to have such a huge impact. After all, historically speaking, sporting highlights were the sphere of male professional athletes.

As a child of the ’90s, I spent countless mornings with a bowl of lucky charms on my lap and Sportscenter on TV, perched on the edge of my seat, while the presenters – also typically male – guided the viewer through the games of the four great pros in sport, the results in advance -Internet age until the end of the role. Occasionally, a highlight from women’s sports would also appear, under the motto “Look, women can dunk!”

However, when Sportscenter’s highlights reel no longer reflected real-time, social media became the ultimate highlight merging tool. A funny thing happened: People wanted to see professionals, of course, but they no longer depended on broadcast footage to capture magical moments. The world of highlights expanded to include amateurs and became a meritocracy where an account like House of Highlights could show a poster of LeBron James followed by a clip of LeBarn James, a redheaded farmer taking pictures in his overalls.

It was in this cultural climate that HighlightHER was born, with the express intention of highlighting anyone and everyone who could identify as “them”, athletes or not.

In a recent post, a one-handed teacher showed a student who also has one hand how to tie a ponytail. The caption reads, “This is so special… Representation is everything ❤️.” When I asked Ari why representation is so important, she noted the precipitous drop in female athletic participation after age 14.

“Inclusion matters,” Chambers said. “It shouldn’t feel like something is out of reach. Not everyone becomes a professional or college athlete, but you have to see yourself in someone, and that can mean that person on the street who can achieve great things.” To that end, the account often shares videos that may have been taken on the street , along with WNBA game winners or a fan catching a baseball with his prosthetic leg.

In the same year that Title IX was held for the 50th time, Chambers warned that we still have a lot to unlearn but was heartened by the fact that young athletes today will not remember a time before the WNBA.

“The potential of women in sports is unlimited and that’s going to trickle down, that momentum will carry and go from a trend to the norm,” Chambers said. “Representation will be key to leadership for the next generation.”

One of Chambers’ favorite posts was a viral clip of a Muslim soccer player having his hijab ripped off mid-game, causing some members of the opposing team to form a tight circle around her for her to adjust in private. As a dad of girls, moments like this are so refreshing, hopeful, and inspiring, and I’m grateful there’s a platform that showcases such highs — as well as the hilarious lows, like high school baller Reagan Salter celebrating an airball with undeniable swag.

HighlightHER celebrates a wide range of sporting identities, and while I hope it will be a long time before my daughter accesses social media (she’s only 3, after all), I know there will be at least one account I’ll be promoting she wants to follow, and a mogul to look up to.

Watch more stories from Presser – exploring the intersection of racing and sport online.

*Initial publication: September 15, 2022 at 6:00 am CDT

Alex Tzelnic

Alex Tzelnic

Alex Tzelnic is a writer and teacher based in Cambridge, MA. He believes Sportsccenter commercials were as good as advertising. On the same subject : Judge Blames NFL Past As Reason For Deshaun Watson’s Light Suspension. You can find him on social media @atz840.

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