The news hitting the internet and beyond recently, that Olympic swimmer, and 4x medalist, Simone Manuel, had decided to give up her NCAA status and finally turn pro stopped those in the swimming world in their tracks. But the news was so much bigger than just that. Simone had signed an unprecedented contract, for a professional athlete, with swimming giant; TYR Sport that includes an “inclusion rider”.
The time is now for women in action sports to get more familiar as to why they should be following in Simone’s history making footsteps.
First of all, what is an inclusion rider?
An inclusion rider is a provision added to a contract to ensure that companies meet certain levels of diversity, for example regarding the inclusion of women, people of color, LGBT people and people with disabilities. Inclusion riders are becoming more common in industries such as film and television, when an actress with some clout wants to make sure the film she is starring in has the diversity she wishes to see in the world – not just on screen but perhaps behind the scenes as well.
The quote from Simone’s press release states, “Through this stipulation with TYR Simone ensures that her partners extend meaningful opportunities to traditionally underrepresented groups and that diversity be reflected in the creative efforts she pursues with the brand.” How rad is that?
Why would I want or need this?
It’s great to get a major sponsorship deal with a huge company so you can skate, ride, board or surf full time as a pro. That’s the goal right? And right now we are seeing that that happens for only a small group of select female pros in these sports. But what, if in addition to your amazing and financially lucrative contract, you could do something, with very little effort, that helps bring up more women in your sport?
An inclusion rider can do just that. It can show the company you are representing that if they believe in you, you also want them to enact initiatives to support other women out there as well. That is a win win. In swimming it’s no longer just about Simone and her lucrative endorsement deal, it is now about Simone making a living at the sport she excels in and bringing future generations up with her so they too can have this type of opportunity in the future, if they choose to.
“I don’t have that type of power, I’m not Tony Hawk!”
If you are being offered a lucrative endorsement deal, yes you do have the power to initiate change.
Before you read the first paragraph in this article did you know who Simone Manuel was? If you don’t follow competitive swimming, then perhaps not. And that’s my point. Simone is well known in her sport, enough so that her agents felt comfortable adding this rider to her very first, professional contract.
And Simone believed in herself enough to stand behind what she felt was important to her and to fight for it. Basically she went out of her way to make sure that TYR was on the same page as she was when it comes to supporting women and people of color.
And no, Simone is not a household name (yet) like Tony Hawk, but this past month everyone in sports, and beyond, is talking about the changes she is creating for women and people of color. She is now, not only known as an Olympic Medalist, she is known as a game changer.
Some of you are already thinking, ” There isn’t enough of the proverbial pie to go around to be rocking the boat!”
At this moment it may look that way for sure, but I’ll bet that you have more power than you believe you do. And right now it may seem cool to be the only woman on that all guys skate, surf or BMX team or under contract, but the way we grow the sport and get higher levels of pay is by raising other female athletes up with us.
The women of action sports are stronger together than they are if each one is acting solely on her own behalf. Isn’t the final goal to have teams and companies with equal amounts of male and female riders? That means we have created effective change. Trust me it’s true. You only need to look back at women’s sports history to see how it works.
Did you watch the 2017 movie, “Battle of the Sexes”, about Billie Jean King and how she took on the tennis association for equal pay back in 1973? She put herself on the line to better the sport for all the women she was playing with. Her legacy today is more than a woman who won tournaments and championships; it is that of a feminist and strong woman who fought for equality so women coming up today could make tennis an actual career.
Are you aware that pro skater Mimi Knoop and Cara-Beth Burnside formed The Alliance back in 2009 and fought for equal prize money at the X-Games for women and men? They achieved this goal and that is the reason the women competing today in summer and winter X-Games get the same money as their male counterparts. Both Mimi and Cara-Beth have very impressive skating careers, but I am most inspired by the change they made for women in skateboarding that benefits every girl and woman financially at this competition, so they can keep on skating hard, just like the guys do.
What about the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing (CEWS) which was co-founded by Professional Surfers Paige Alms, Keala Kennelly, Andrea Moller, Bianca Valenti and SMC Harbor Commissioner Sabrina Brennan and attorney Karen Tynan. They have fought tirelessly for women to be able to surf during the Mavericks Big Wave Challenge. And they are still fighting on behalf of female big wave riders everywhere.
Many, many women have come before you to fight for various forms of change and many more are still fighting for equality in various ways. You are not alone in this endeavor.
It sounds hard, and competing right now and keeping my sponsors happy is hard enough…
I get that it’s not easy or comfortable to use your status to fight for the next generation. But it’s necessary. Skateboarding, surfing, snowboarding and BMX all had female pioneers that made it possible, and perhaps just a little easier, for you to do what you love today. It’s time to step up for the girls and women that ride with you and the girls who come after you. What is worthwhile is never easy. If it were, these issues would have been solved long before you got here.
What will your legacy be?
In ten or twenty years from now, what will your legacy in action sports be? The world championship titles and big name competition results change from year to year, the records get shattered, too fast it seems, but fighting and supporting your fellow female athlete is absolutely timeless.
If you are one of the top female surfers, skateboarders or BMX riders in the world and signing lucrative endorsement deals with companies that can effectively create change, think about having your agent ask for that inclusion rider.
A young girl may ask you for an autograph today because you won an important event, but future generations of girls may be thanking you down the line for what you have done for all women in your sport.
In partnership with Girl is NOT a 4 Letter Word.
Cover image via Ian Logan / at Vans US Open in Huntington Beach
Also published on Medium.