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‘Women really matter in sports’: ESPNW Summit in La Jolla brings a female focus to sports and more

Malika Andrews (left) and Halle Berry discuss Berry's new film "Bruised" during the ESPNW Summit on Oct. 18 in La Jolla.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Halle Berry, Julie Foudy and dozens of other prominent women discuss challenges to women and how they’ve handled them.

From film stars to athletes to sports journalists, the ESPNW Summit, held for the first time in person since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, brought people to The Lodge at Torrey Pines in La Jolla to discuss leadership at the intersections of sports, business and entertainment.

The three-day summit Oct. 18-20, which also was livestreamed, focused on creating more opportunities for women in sports. There were panels, keynote speakers and interactive sessions integrating wellness and fitness activities, along with social events.

It was The Lodge’s second time hosting the event; the inaugural ESPNW Summit was held there in 2010. This year’s edition featured about 40 notable women highlighting the challenges to women and ways they’ve played to win. Read about six of them below.

Halle Berry

The summit’s keynote conversation Oct. 18 featured Academy Award-winning actress Halle Berry speaking with ESPN host and NBA reporter Malika Andrews about Berry’s directorial debut and role in “Bruised,” which premieres on Netflix on Wednesday, Nov. 24.

“Bruised” is about an older female mixed martial arts fighter who agrees to fight the top female MMA fighter on a route to redemption while on “a journey through motherhood,” Andrews said.

The character is an “underdog who’s trying to overcome some obstacle to get redemption to realize their full potential — a story that I connect to,” Berry said. “I think I’ve struggled my whole career with that feeling weighing down on me.”

“We’ve all had to fight our way through some battle, work harder than we can possibly imagine ... to achieve our dreams, especially women,” she said. “As a woman of color, I’ve been [and] I’m still in constant battle. … I thought if I could take the age-old genre of a fight movie and set it in a Black community through the gaze of a Black woman, we’ve not seen that before.”

Berry, 55, said that in taking on the project, she was “trying to defy this age that gets put on us as women. … [Age] doesn’t define who we are in any way.”

She said the film also allowed her to highlight “certain elements to growing up in the Black community … that I think are very unique to this story, to this world.”

In researching and interviewing fighters to prepare for her role, Berry said she found that “men fight usually because they want to be the breadwinners of their family” or to escape poverty or make a name for themselves.

Women, she said, “are fighting to get their power back, to get their voice back,” often as a response to abuse. “They fight in order to just feel whole and complete again.”

“I’ve been fighting for my voice and my power my whole life,” Berry added.

Julie Foudy and Laura Gentile

Former U.S. women’s soccer team captain Julie Foudy says the ESPNW Summit is "fun with a purpose."
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Julie Foudy, former captain of the U.S. women’s soccer team and current ESPNW columnist and ESPN soccer commentator, moderated several discussions over the three days. She said the goal of the summit is “fun with a purpose.”

“We want you to take one thing and bring it back to your community that you can act on, because our goal in all of this is to be agents of change that … build upon this great women’s sporting world, not just locally but globally as well,” she said.

Foudy spoke with Laura Gentile, ESPNW founder and Disney Networks and ESPN executive vice president of commercial marketing. Gentile said she founded ESPNW because “we needed a catalyst in the sports world at ESPN to really drive this notion of women really matter in sports” — not only athletes and executives but fans as well. “Female viewers are driving a lot of this growth … women are driving ratings for the NFL and Major League Baseball.”

Foudy said that “beyond the coverage of women’s sports … what I don’t think we talk enough about is all the other platforms that [ESPNW] opened up for so many women. I look at my career … I’ve been able to write a book under the Disney and ESPNW handle; I’ve been able to start a podcast under ESPNW.”

Allison Glock, Dawn Porter and Hannah Storm

Hannah Storm, Allison Glock and Dawn Porter (from left) discuss the upcoming 50th anniversary of Title IX.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

To mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX — a federal law passed to prohibit gender-based discrimination in schools that receive federal funds — ESPN in June will release a four-part documentary series called “Fifty/50,” which will review the law’s history and significance.

A trailer for the documentary was unveiled Oct. 19 during the ESPNW Summit, and filmmaker and executive producer Dawn Porter said working on the project was “like a dream job.” She was able to explore the ways that Title IX has been “misunderstood,” she said.

Title IX “is not a sports law,” Porter said in conversation with journalist and fellow executive producer Allison Glock and moderator and ESPN anchor Hannah Storm. “Title IX is a civil-rights law. ... It’s at the center of some of the most important civil-rights battles that we’re experiencing today.”

Glock said young women now “are super engaged [and] understand that literally everything is on the line.”

Storm said she was surprised to learn that the law integrates the topic of sexual harassment.

“Title IX is meant to protect your opportunity to have an education, and if you are being harassed on campus, you can’t do that,” Porter said.

Given its half-century history, Title IX “is so generational and is so much about passing the baton from one generation of women to another,” Glock said.

“I hope we have reached a moment in culture that can’t be ignored anymore,” she said. “It’s not advantageous to ignore women and underrepresented communities anymore.”

Storm noted that ESPN and Disney will roll out several events in June along with “Fifty/50.” “I think we have to embrace this as something very, very central to who we are, not something that we’re just doing because of the anniversary for Title IX, but something that’s really essential to the core of who we are as a company,” she said. ◆


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