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From Caitlin Clark to Taylor Swift, women in sports are breaking through in a new way

Women have always played sports — and they’ve always broken barriers in the process. But Lily Shimbashi says this year, things are different. 

College basketball superstar Caitlin Clark broke the NCAA’s all-time scoring record recently in a game against Michigan. It was a moment — and she’s a player — who’s gotten unprecedented attention and brought as much to her sport. 

Shimbashi says it’s not just Clark. Women’s sports are breaking through in a new way right now — whether it’s Clark or Taylor Swift. 

Shimbashi is the founder and creator of Sportsish, a social brand for women that reports on sports through pop culture and human interest stories instead of just scores and stats. They call themselves "not your boyfriend’s sports news."

Interview highlights

SHIMBASHI: I think women are just finally feeling more comfortable being able to watch and celebrate sports in whatever capacity that means to them. Whether that's watching Caitlin Clark break records or watching the Super Bowl because Taylor Swift is there, women are feeling represented and seen and like they don't have to know every rule to every sport to celebrate.

So you mentioned Caitlin Clark, you mentioned Taylor Swift — two big sort of women stories in sports right now in very different ways. Give us some examples of the broader spectrum. Like there's a new women's professional hockey league happening right now. What are some of the other big examples happening?

SHIMBASHI: Yeah, so this year is huge for women's sports with representation in professional leagues. So you have the PWHL — the Professional Women's Hockey League — started this past January, which is incredible. It's the first pro women's hockey league in the country that, you know, is paying them and they're, they're really being taken seriously, and they're selling out, and they're breaking records for attendance. That's huge. And then you have a professional women's volleyball league that just started this past February. And that's bringing representation to professional volleyball within the U.S. that hasn't been there for women before.

So all of the sudden, girls, little girls are seeing these sports that were never offered to them on a professional level. They were never able to dream of, of growing up to be a professional hockey player or a professional volleyball player. And now they see both and they see, you know, the women in the World Cup. They see women going to the Olympics. They see a stacked roster going to the Olympics with the gymnasts who are potentially going, Simone [Biles] and Gabby Douglas and Suni Lee. And so I think women are are really dominating a lot of mainstream sports storylines for the first time.

So what is behind this? Why do you think this is happening now? Is this cyclical? Have we seen moments like this in the past where it's really seemed like women's sports is on the cusp?

SHIMBASHI: Yes, I'd say it's been rising throughout the past several years. I think just female empowerment in general has been on the rise — and rightly so. But also last year, you know, we had things like the Barbie movie, bringing a dialogue about the pressures that we feel and how we just feel like we owe the world so much. And, and so I, I just think like we had this year of camaraderie last year and women were really celebrating each other. And one of the ways that we can celebrate each other is to celebrate women in sport. And when you're a woman in sport — whether you're a fan or a player or a coach or a referee — you're in the minority. Sports have been dominated by males in the past. And so this is a really exciting time to start to empower each other with it in this space that has been dominated by men for so long.

Do you think that coverage of women's sports is changing, too? The way that the media talks about women's sports?

SHIMBASHI: Yes. Before this year, only 9% of mainstream sports media was about women's sports. And you know, we don't have the stats for this year. But I, I know for a fact that that is higher. That is because we have really fantastic women in sport, but mostly because people are now calling for a demand for it. They are wanting to see it. And so mainstream sports media, they go where the people want them to go. And so they're going towards the women for the first time, and it's, it's really exciting. And it's not to say that, you know, there weren't fantastic, incredible other females in sports before. But now I think the public is kind of asking for it and that's what's so exciting here.

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.