These Olympic superstars are making sports media more female – NBC News

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Growing up, Alex Morgan didn’t know that being a female soccer player was a full-time job. Since media attention was so sparse year-round, Morgan believed the U.S. women’s team only played during the annual Summer Olympics.

“The only posters I had on my wall were of singers and other celebrities—never of athletes,” the international soccer star told NBC Know Your Value. “I wanted to play in the Olympics, but that’s it, because that’s the only thing I saw on TV.”

Years later, Morgan would co-captain the U.S. Women’s National Team, ushering in their epic 2019 World Cup win. During a three-year period that included their tournament title, the women attracted more broadcast viewers and earned more money in gate revenues for U.S. Soccer than the men’s team. USWNT’s public battle for equal pay would also garner unprecedented headlines.

Alex Morgan of the USA celebrates after scoring her team’s second goal during the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup France Semi Final match between England and USA at Stade de Lyon in France on July 2, 2019.Naomi Baker / FIFA via Getty Images file

Still, only 4 percent of all sports media coverage is dedicated to women’s sports, according to The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

“It was a shocking number for me to hear,” Morgan, 31, said. “That needs to change. And I can’t wait around for anyone else to change that for us.”

By women, for women

On Tuesday, Morgan unveiled a new digital platform called TOGETHXR, co-founded by three fellow Olympic gold medalists: swimmer Simone Manuel, snowboarder Chloe Kim and WNBA point guard Sue Bird. Featuring original content and merchandise, TOGETHXR celebrates diverse female athletes and aims to change the conversation.

TOGETHXR’s first original documentary series features Chantel “Chicanita” Navarro, a California teenager and boxing prodigy with Olympic aspirations. In the future, Morgan hopes to produce longform documentaries for streaming services. An overarching goal is for TOGETHXR to challenge sports networks to invest further in women, she said.

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But for Morgan, who became a new mother to a girl named Charlie in May 2020, the message of TOGETHXR is also personal.

“I hope that this continues to blossom after the launch into a community where women and girls are confident and feel like they are welcome,” said Morgan. “[Charlie] is always in the back of my head when I’m thinking about this. I always think about what kind of future I want for her in terms of feeling like she belongs, whether that’s in the sports community or not.”

Incidentally, Morgan recently proved that moms belong in sports, too. Last week, she scored her first goal since giving birth, helping the U.S. team win the 2021 SheBelieves Cup with a 6-0 victory against Argentina.

From left to right: TOGETHXR co-founders and athletes Alex Morgan, Simone Manuel, Sue Bird and Chloe Kim.Raven B Varona

Representation is everything.

For TOGETHXR co-founder Simone Manuel, the feeling of belonging is compounded by the fact that she is one of very few Black professional swimmers. Out of about 400,000 swimmers registered under U.S.A. Swimming, only 1 percent identified as African-American in 2018.

During school meets, Manuel said she often felt unwelcome by white teammates and their parents. She was told that she seemed more like a basketball player or track runner than a swimmer.

Simone Manuel prepares to warm up during the Swimming Winter National Championships at the Greensboro Aquatic Center on Dec. 1, 2018 in Greensboro, North Carolina.Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images

“When I was growing up in the sport as a Black woman, I didn’t know if I could possibly be good at it because of the color of my skin and the implication that came with it,” Manuel told Know Your Value.

After becoming the first Black woman to win the gold medal in an individual Olympic swimming event in 2016, however, Manuel didn’t want other kids to experience the same things she did.

“At first, I was just on a high from winning,” she said. “I wasn’t really thinking of the impact until after I saw the reaction. I had people and kids coming up to me saying it made them want to join the swim team…My only hope is that I am inspiring those Black children to swim.”

The media is a powerful tool that can frame whether or not people feel included, Manuel said. When Morgan invited her to join TOGETHXER as a founder, saying yes was a no-brainer.

“Overall, this is a celebration of women and what we bring to the table,” Manuel said. “These are the wonderful stories that aren’t necessarily told about us.”

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