“Girls drop their sports because the deck is stacked against them. From the beginning, their experience in sport is full of societal inequalities, in contrast to what male athletes experience, and it simply has to change. ” Meet Stefanie Strack, the sports industry executive gearing up to bring that change.
Striding onto the field after 15 years building innovative businesses at Nike Inc. and as the CEO of Rag & Bone, Strack is launching Voice In Sport – a two-pronged advocacy platform designed to dramatically accelerate progress in women’s sports. “Voice In Sport (or VIS),” Strack says proudly, “will address the lack of visibility, advocacy and support available to female athletes, first by elevating their voices and then making sure strong mentorship exists for the next generation of girls in sports.”
We’re drumming our feet on the bleachers.
“It’s not enough,” explained Strack when she sat down to answer questions submitted by middle and high school Être girls, “to simply hope for equality in sports over time. We need to put the female voice in the center of today’s conversations, and then create a lasting community with those voices.”
Strack has been a change-maker from her earliest days. Growing up in Alaska, she was in middle school when she spoke up at a school board meeting, urging the administration to keep sports in school. “It didn’t occur to me not to use my voice,” she recalls. “In fact, it was through sports that I first learned to lead.”
And lead, she did. Becoming a Junior Olympic gold medalist in downhill skiing and a Division I soccer player, and then ascending through the ranks at Nike, Strack is well-versed in what it takes to work with team and competitively champion a cause. “Building a community dedicated to advancing female athletes was always in my DNA,” Strack admits, “and in launching VIS I’m doing what I was truly meant to do.”
We seriously can’t stop cheering.
Strack explained that the VIS™ platform is made up of a few parts. There is VIS Holdings, a company blending sports and advocacy that will support female athletes ages 13 and up. With a members-only website, a cool new podcast and a digital mentorship platform, professional and collegiate athletes will be able to share stories and advice on the podcast while mentoring younger athletes one on one. “That kind of mentorship is crucial for young athletes,” notes Strack, “who often feel alone when others have faced the same pressures before them.”
The podcast (available on Apple, Google and Spotify) plays a particularly significant role, addressing issues less often discussed like mental health, body image, female-centered sports science and nutrition. Even in these early days, we can imagine these conversations replayed in locker rooms everywhere.
Then there is the Voice In Sport Foundation™ (VISF), a non-profit dedicated to sponsoring research and funding grants for middle school, high school and college sports programs to close the gap for females in sports. Citing statistics that by age 14 girls drop out of sports at twice the rate of boys and by age 17 fifty percent of girls have quit their sport, VISF plans to bolster VIS’ mentorship with educational content, smart partnerships and new research.
For younger athletes, though, one can envision the mentorship aspect having the most immediate impact. Strack says she spoke with over 500 female athletes at various levels before creating the different VIS roles to be filled, and we were lucky enough to connect with the following VIS League™ members (professional and collegiate players), VIS Creators™ (journalism and sports media majors) and VIS Advocates™ (female athletes voicing change for underrepresented athletes).
Here’s what they want today’s girls to know:
What does being part of the VIS League™ as a professional athlete mean to you, and why do you think there is a need for this particular type of mentorship right now?
I’m grateful that I have the opportunity to use my platform to encourage, inspire, and motivate girls in a time when it’s hard to stay confident and focused. Society can be hard for young women and I just want to do as much as I can to help in any way possible! Kiah Stokes, 3X NCAA Champion UCONN, Current WNBA Player – NY Liberty
I’m excited to be a part of the VIS League because there’s nothing out there right now that gives a platform and a voice to so many females athletes. Some of the strongest & most inspiring people I know are my teammates and right now, we need more athletes like that being heard and looked up to. I think there’s a huge desire in younger female athletes to have guidance and outlets from women who have already accomplished so much. VIS is creating that opportunity and I can’t wait to be along for the journey! Kelsey Robinson, Pro Volleyball Player, 2016 Olympic Medalist, 2014 World Champion, Current Team USA Member
What does being part of the VIS League™ as a collegiate athlete mean to you, and what do you want younger female athletes to know?
Being a VIS League mentor allows me to give back to those girls struggling in their journey through sport by sharing my knowledge with them and providing them with a support system. I want rising female athletes right now to know that they should try to focus on controlling the controllables, as this is all we can do when we face adversity. Bianca Caetano-Ferrara, Division I Soccer Player – Stanford
I am so proud to be a part of the VIS League because we are giving female athletes the information, guidance and tools that they need to have the best possible experience in and out of sport. VIS is everything that I wished I had in my sport journey; it is the first place for us to come together as female athletes, have a collective voice and be heard. Meghan Marhan, Division III Soccer Player – NYU
Being a VIS League Member has been extremely inspiring because I am a part of a network of female athletes that are committed to bringing light to the struggles and accomplishments regarding women in sport. I hope that I can empower younger athletes to chase their dreams no matter how big they are, and I aspire to learn from the female athletes that have already paved the way. Brianna Pinto, Division I Soccer Player – UNC
How is the VIS Creators™ team changing the narrative in sports media, and how do you hope to bring more visibility to rising female athletes in the current climate?
The VIS Creators team is changing the narrative in sports media by creating inspiring, insightful, and motivating content that is not only bold and unique, but specifically tailored to the female athlete. We are creating content specifically for her, something that’s unfortunately not highlighted enough within the traditional sports media realm. We’re changing that! I hope to bring more VISibility to rising female athletes in this current climate by not only creating inspiring graphics and written pieces, but also by being a reminder that there is power in collective voice and action. I am so proud and excited to be a part of VIS. Paige Carter, Sociology major / Film, TV, Digital Media minor; Division I Cross-Country Runner – UCLA
As one of the original VIS Advocates™, how did you know that the brand would be impactful and what do you want athletes to know about the importance of female mentorship?
Voice in Sport emphasizes the idea of a clear message in all of their forms of advocacy, as they recognize that basing a movement off of a strong, fundamental value is crucial to impacting the people that need it the most. Because of this, I knew that VIS would be incredibly important for many young female athletes, and I am extremely passionate about letting rising athletes know that they are supported, loved, and lifted up throughout all of their athletic endeavors, despite sports being a heavily male-dominated field. Isabella Kendrot, Varsity Basketball Player – Marymount School of New York
Read that last part once more, girls.
Letting rising athletes know that they are supported, loved, and lifted up throughout all their athletic endeavors.
In a moment when a global pandemic has left stadiums empty, and on the heels of a movement refusing to sideline speakers a moment longer, Voice In Sport is bringing fresh faces to level the field. Elevating young voices and ensuring mentors will be at the ready for years to come, female athletes everywhere should welcome this change.
Put us in, Coach. We’re ready to be heard.
Être is a mentorship platform for motivated girls. We are grateful to Stefanie Strack and the role models at Voice In Sport for inviting us into their huddle and inspiring tomorrow’s athletes. Learn more about VIS here, subscribe to their podcast at Apple, Google or Spotify and follow VIS on Instagram to keep up with every new athlete’s story.