Andrea Jaeger and other women athletes are winning at a higher purpose.
It’s often quiet at center court. A mix of both tradition and anticipation, the crowd watches as players smash serves and trade volleys. Only, this time, it’s not their racquets making the racket. These stars are using their voice to make some noise.
More than ever before, athletes are using their platform for more than just sports. And it’s the women leading the charge. When Andrea Jaeger left the game during the 1980s to pursue a higher calling, she unknowingly was at the forefront of this growing movement. Now, it’s dominating headlines. Real issues are no longer off-limits. Off-court issues are finally demanding the same attention as what’s happening on the court.
When Naomi Osaka suddenly withdrew from the French Open, she sparked a conversation about mental health. The tennis superstar expressed crippling pressure from mandatory, post-match press conferences. She had hoped to continue playing but described “huge waves of anxiety” and “long bouts of depression” that stemmed from these interviews. After being fined for skipping an interview, the No. 2-ranked player chose to remove herself entirely. This bold stance reinforced the importance of personal health. Women would no longer put winning medals or trophies on a pedestal. Their personal needs and well-being would now come first.
Other female stars are joining in. Coco Guaff recently offered support, detailing her own anxiety associated with being a young, 17-year-old sensation. In a previous interview, Sloane Stephens talked deeply about the regret she faced for quarantining for a match instead of going to her grandmother’s funeral.
Yet this isn’t unique to tennis. Simone Biles is just the latest example. Last month, she removed herself from the Olympic competition. Citing that her mind and body were “simply not in sync,” the gymnast stood up for herself. In a sport where conformity is considered second nature, she stepped out the shadows. The star acknowledged her humanity and individuality in the process rather than performing just because it’s “what the world wants.”
Looking back at these events over the past several months, it’s apparent these sentiments have been bubbling up for generations. Also once owning the No. 2 ranking, Andrea Jaeger left the court for the final time decades ago. Despite turning pro at 14 years old and reaching the Wimbledon finals, she felt something was missing. Upon retiring, she dedicated more than just her voice. Among other things, she created the Little Star Foundation. Now in it’s 36th year, the organization is the epitome of the philanthropy and service she’s dedicated her life to. Like the young stars of today, she has given her time, money, and efforts to social issues around the globe.
And the movement is continuing to grow. Star athletes are no longer staying silent. Because of these efforts, fans are cheering louder than before.