On the heels of the U.S. Women’s national soccer team winning the World Cup for the fourth time, three female sports stars—Alexa Bliss from the WWE, Hailie Deegan, a professional stock car driver for Nascar and Mo’ne Davis, who was the first girl to pitch a shutout in the Little League World Series in 2014—took the stage at Adweek’s Women Trailblazers Summit to discuss their careers in sports.
The three women, in conversation with Adweek digital media reporter Sara Jerde, spoke about some of the challenges they’ve faced in their careers including, for some, being the first woman ever on the field.
How they’ve risen to the challenge
Bliss said part of the challenge in changing professional wrestling norms for women gaining respect not just from the company, but also from fans and male wrestlers.
“We were given these opportunities, but we had to prove ourselves,” Bliss said. “Our women have proven over and over again that we deserve their respect as much as the men, and we had our first ever women’s pay-per-view [event] and our men were there and they were there supporting us and they saw the work that we put in to get there.”
Now, Bliss said, WWE has put women at “the forefront” of the franchise and further proved their value on WWE NXT, a TV series chronicling the journey of up-and-coming wrestlers.
“We had NXT, and we were able to show what our women can actually do,” Bliss said. “We showed our women were fully capable of doing anything.”
Haters gonna hate, and these women are ready
Davis shocked the baseball world in 2014 when she not only pitched a shutout, but also threw a 70-mph fastball. Davis said she’s learned no matter what she or any other woman does, they’re always going to be “disrespected” and still “have to prove yourself.” But she’s ready for the challenge.
For Deegan, who’s faced a similar trajectory as Davis, it was difficult to “gain respect from other drivers,” and she had to work to change the minds of crew teams who just saw her as a “daughter.” But then she started winning races and is now winning over Nascar fans, too.
“There’s not any girls, it’s just a blank canvas waiting for someone to take over,” Deegan said. “That’s something that a lot people get uncomfortable with. They just haven’t accepted the new era of girls coming in and dominating things.”
How they manage to keep their spirits up
All three athletes count their families among their support system, but fans and teammates also help keep them going.
Davis said she’s “fortunate” to have teammates who’ve supported her “no matter what the situation was,” and that they’ve respected her from day one. Deegan said her support originally came from her family and once she started winning races, it came from Nascar as well.
Speaking on behalf of the women of WWE, Bliss said seeing how quickly the perceptions about them have changed globally has been surprising.
“At first we were seen as an item, and now our women are doing incredible things,” Bliss said.
One of the moments that surprised Bliss the most included the first women’s wrestling match held in Abu Dhabi, where fans welcomed them. Part of that, Bliss attributes to the WWE treating women and men equally—and the diversity of the female athletes.
“It just shows that our evolution is working globally and the conversation wasn’t that five years ago,” Bliss said. “[WWE does] an amazing job of having a diverse group of women. We all perform differently—it’s whatever we feel comfortable and performing at our best.”
Deegan said part of what’s worked with her is being “aggressive” and that she focuses on doing her “own thing”—which for her means listening to music and having her hair blowing in the wind before a race.
“Just do you,” Deegan said. “You could be perfect and people are going to tear you down because you’re too good.”