Nicole Baxter on her love for all sports and why the visibility of women's sports is so important!
If you asked most people my age what show they were most excited to watch every day as a kid, I bet they could tell you. Maybe it was Rocket Power, maybe it was SpongeBob or Zoey 101, or maybe it was one of the other twenty Nickelodeon shows that had all of us (or maybe just me) glued to our TVs in the 2000s. But if you asked me, I’d tell you that I have vivid memories of waking up, walking downstairs, wrapping myself in a blanket, and turning on SportsCenter. I’d eagerly wait for the last 10 minutes of the show so that I could watch the Top 10 plays, and then at the top of the hour, the episode would start over, and I’d watch it again. I’d do this on weekends and on week days, which is probably the reason I missed my school bus at least twice a week.
Between my sports fanatic of an older brother and parents that let me dabble in every sport under the sun, I can’t say it was a surprise to anyone that I was the way I was. My oldest brother Tim basically conditioned my brother Chris and I to crave sports at every hour of the day. For as long as I can remember, Timmy had Chris and I watching any and every sport that came on the TV. We’d watch the Giants play and then we’d go outside and I’d pretend I was Eli Manning. Then we’d watch the Rangers and we’d throw on our roller blades and I’d pretend I was Mark Messier. Tim would even encourage WWE-style wrestling matches where he’d never fail to pin me within 10 seconds. Even when my brothers weren’t around you could find me doing all of this by myself. I would regularly use the pitch back we had outside or the concrete wall in our basement to field groundballs, kick a soccer ball, or practice my chest pass (that I would then obviously dunk into a lowered hoop). As much as I loved watching and playing sports, I never thought I could become one of the athletes I was watching on TV. I’m not sure if it was because I recognized the gender difference or if I just thought I could never be as good as them, but I never said that I wanted to grow up to be a professional athlete.
When it came to carving out a path for my own soccer career, I had absolutely no clue what I was doing. I was lucky enough to have parents that were helping me, but I was mostly just following the role models that I had access to. I watched the girls who were older than me at my high school and my youth club and I just did what they did. I wanted to work as hard as them, I wanted to be as talented as them, and I wanted to go to the same colleges as them. They were committed to play soccer at schools like UNC, Duke, and Villanova, and to this day they are still some of the best players that I have stepped on a soccer field with, but I was only ever paying attention to women’s soccer players that I personally knew. Then, in 2008, my club team went to a college showcase in North Carolina where we were given tickets to the nearby UNC vs. Notre Dame National Championship game. For the first time in my life, I walked away idolizing female athletes that I didn’t know. There were players like Melissa Henderson, Casey Noguiera, and Tobin Heath on the field and I went home determined to find out everything about them. I started researching them and their colleges, and even fell in love with U.S. National Team. I eventually got a Twitter and YouTube account just to follow the behind-the-scenes action. Then, when the Women’s Professional Soccer league (WPS) started, I watched the games religiously and even got to attend some games in Jersey and Philly.
I was so incredibly lucky to have those older girls from my high school and club to look up to, but having access to this one high level NCAA game is what enabled me to start dreaming about something beyond what was right in front of me. I went from being a 15-year-old girl who idolized her older friends, to a 15-year-old girl who was infatuated with soccer and knew that working hard and doing well in college could earn you a chance at playing professional soccer in the United States.
When people see me being loud on Twitter and advocating for women’s sports, this is why. When you put women’s sports on television, you give millions of people an opportunity to watch something that they either haven’t seen or don’t get to consistently watch. When you put women’s sports on television, you give an entire generation of young female athletes the opportunity to dream of a life as a professional athlete. As someone who grew up watching only men’s sports, that was something I didn’t have. I truly can’t imagine growing up with access to the NWSL, WNBA, NWHL, Athletes Unlimited, and all of the amazing female athletes that we see on TV and on the internet today. Between the amount of ways you can now stream games and the increased media coverage that women’s sports are getting, girls are going to be able to start dreaming at a much earlier age than I ever did and that is something that makes me happier than I can put into words. There is still work to be done, but I am thankful for people like McKenzie, who are taking women’s sports coverage into their own hands. I hope you will all join me in following her new platform Woso Digital.
Now if we could just get SportsCenter to cover women’s sports at the same rate that they cover men’s sports…