Athletes on rise as role models for young girls

(U-Wire) BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Girl Power. The Spice Girls have made this term popular recently, but the women of the WNBA and the ABL are making it a reality.
Young girls now have female sports role models to look up to. It appears women professional athletes are prepared to take and accept their role as someone to look up to — unlike many of their male counterparts. For so long, young girls have only had male sports figures to emulate.
Every once in a while an individual athlete such as Mary Lou Retton or Janet Evans makes an impact on a sport, but women’s team sports on the Olympic and professional levels are often overshadowed by those individual accomplishments.
Having begun its second season a few weeks ago, the WNBA is back to try to keep the enthusiasm for women’s basketball high. The 1996 Olympics in Atlanta can be credited for the creation of not only the WNBA, but the rival ABL as well.
Just two years ago, after college season ended, a woman who wanted to continue her basketball career would have had to look for an opportunity overseas. Often conditions overseas are deplorable and the best American women basketball players have been the target for mental and physical abuse from foreign coaches.
Women are coming back to be a part of professional basketball in America. Now in her first WNBA season with the Charlotte Sting, Suzie McConnell last played competitive basketball on the 1992 bronze medal Olympic team in Barcelona. A star at Penn State, the mother of four is back on the court. The 32-year-old rookie played all but two minutes in her debut and scored 10 points. She has stepped in and contributed right from the start and her points and assists are growing in number with each game.
After a tentative first season, the second season should bring the level of women’s sports up another level. With more exposure, young girls can see there is a possibility for a future in professional sports.
Nike has used this idea to fuel several of its advertising campaigns. The WNBA and the ABL have forced companies to realize that women in competitive sports are a market that can’t be denied.
Even the “Fun Police,” a group of male basketball players, ventures into a gym in a commercial to teach a group of girls it’s OK to be tough and they don’t have to apologize for physical play. The “If You Let Me Play” campaign made the point it is important for young girls to participate in athletics.
Being active provides young girls with more self confidence. For instance, girls and young women who participate in sports are less likely to become pregnant at young ages.
The 1996 Atlanta Olympics are responsible for bringing women’s athletics to the forefront. Kerri Strug may have busted her ankle on the final vault and received the nation’s attention, but the women’s softball, soccer and basketball teams also won gold.
These are women who are celebrated for their strong athleticism, not for the fact they can keep a small physique like gymnasts. Not every young girl can stay 4 feet tall and weigh 80 pounds, but girls who want to keep active can look to athletes such as Dot Richardson — shortstop and orthopedic surgeon — soccer standout Mia Hamm and Cammi Granato, the forward who helped U.S. teams win the first ever women’s hockey gold medal.
Golf, tennis and sand volleyball have created professional opportunities for many years, but without exposure they have taken a back seat to their male counterparts. The television and commercial endeavors of the WNBA have brought exposure to other women’s sports.

This opinion’s article originally ran Thursday in the Indiana Daily Student.