In 1970 nine tennis players signed a $1 contract with World Tennis Magazine publisher Gladys Heldman, which was the birth of women's professional tennis as we know it today. It also was a move that allowed players like Venus Williams, Caroline Wozniacki and Maria Sharapova to make a living today doing what they love... playing professional tennis.
I was fortunate to be part of that group of nine players and we will all tell you, going out on our own like that was no easy task. There was intense pressure from the US Lawn Tennis Association (now the USTA) and they did not want us to start our own tour.
Really, we just wanted to play tennis and make a living doing it. But we were told to choose.
Fast forward to earlier this month when I was talking to my good friend Jessica Mendoza about the current state of women's professional softball. It seems she and her colleagues are facing many of the same obstacles we faced 40 years ago.
Different time. Different sport. Similar story.
Women's softball has been removed from the Olympics beginning in 2012 and it has definitely changed the future of the sport. Now, a new professional league has surfaced. National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) is the name of the league and it needs the stars of American softball to make it work. Seems like a perfect opportunity, doesn't it? Play on the national team and play professionally. It's been done in many sports for years.
But just as we faced opposition 40 years ago, so are our softball stars. Jessica Mendoza, along with other members of the Olympic team, including Natasha Watley, Cat Osterman, Monica Abbott, Caitlin Lowe, Lauren Lappin, Andrea Duran and Vicky Galindo, are asking the same question we asked in 1970 -- "why can't we do both?"
Jessica and her teammates have to choose between the national team and a professional league and they have opted to play exclusively with the NPF. They are sticking together, standing side-by-side. Jessica Mendoza is a leader and she, like her teammates, is very passionate about the future of their sport, and the opportunity of their chosen profession. They are making tough decisions.
If everyone works together it will work out. We may have disagreed with the USTA 40 years ago, but now we enjoy a very productive relationship with the organization. The softball players have a difficult road ahead and this generation will not reap the real benefits, but they will lay a strong foundation for those generations who come after them. These women are being brave and considerate of those who will come after them.
Yes it is a different time and it is a different sport. But the question remains the same, "why can't they do both?"