Today is National Girls and Women in Sports Day (NGWSD). According to the Women’s Sports Federation, “This celebration inspires girls and women to play and be active, to realize their full power. The confidence, strength and character gained through sports participation are the very tools girls and women need to become strong leaders in sports and life.”
Women’s sports has come a long way. To share an example from my own amateur boxing career: back in 1997, I think, I fought at a USA Boxing event that was to be filmed and aired on ESPN2. One of the commentators was Al Bernstein. Are you kidding me? I was going to get to hear what this legendary commentator thought about me and my fight? I was beyond excited. My jab was on fire that night, and I won by TKO. I was heartbroken to learn afterwards that the camera crew had packed up after filming the first hour of the event only. My match was immediately following this. I don’t think Al even realized it, as he had still been there watching and commenting. My match was the only knockout of the night, and I would argue, the most exciting. But it didn’t air. I believe it was due to being in the early days of women’s boxing that we were not extended the same respect as our male counterparts, where the entire event would be filmed and the most exciting and noteworthy bouts highlighted on air. You may be asking yourself, “what does any of this have to do with gambling?” I’ll get there, but I just needed to get that out, as it’s still one big regret I have from so long ago. I missed out on the validation that would have come from such a great presence in the sport weighing in on my performance. (Another quick example: a local journalist had mentioned one of my upcoming fights as a “girls’ tiff.” My stepfather went right into the newsroom and gave him heck. I ended that match by knockout as well. Some ‘tiff!”)
Sigh. Okay, move on. With champions like Christy Martin and Layla Ali, women’s boxing has since gained the respect it deserves, and those who devote themselves to the sweet science are no longer seen as a sideshow, something to be leered at or ignored. I am forever grateful to my Coach, Matt DeForce, my old gym, the Lower Eastside Sports Center in Erie, PA, and everyone who supported and encouraged me while I pursued something that honestly came with equal parts pain and frustration along with the successes and satisfaction. It’s through the experiences I had and the confidence I gained that I can stand up in front of crowds and discuss tough topics, like problem gambling. The shame and confusion that can come with experiencing disordered gambling add insult to injury. They can make getting help and getting well seem almost impossible.
There was a time when a woman could walk into a support group for problem gambling, look around, and see no other women. It would not have been uncommon, after getting up the guts to talk about how slot machines are ruining her life, to be told “come back when you have a real addiction.” You see, there can be, to some extent, gender differences when it comes to games of choice. Women tend to play slot machines, men tend to sports bet, play cards, dice, or bet on the horses. This isn’t always the case, and I do believe that many female athletes gravitate more towards the typically “male” games. I have also known many males that got caught up playing video slots or video poker, so these gender differences definitely have exceptions. All of this to say, some ways back, women didn’t often get a welcoming and validating response when and if they reached out for help. And asking for help is no easy thing. When it doesn’t go well, that person often descends deeper into the addictive behavior.
As the years have passed, gender barriers have been breaking down in this area, just as in sports. More women can be seen “in the rooms.” I am so proud of one woman I know who started a support group, in order to help other females impacted by problem gambling to have one meeting, at least, led by another female. And online treatment and support makes it easier for individuals to find groups that feel most meaningful and comfortable for them. Every step forward is a step in the right direction. Let’s keep it going.
I am piggybacking on NGWSD this year through the end of March, National Problem Gambling Awareness Month (PGAM), to raise awareness of problem gambling and the help that’s available. I’ve just begun their 50 mile challenge, that goes through June 23rd, which is the 50 year anniversary of Title IX, which in part seeks to provide equal academic and athletic access to women. My goal will be to complete my 50 miles by the end of PGAM. I will make periodic posts on social media about my progress, so keep your eye on our Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok pages. So, my shin splints will be well worth it, if while I’m running the trails, roads, or tying up the gym’s treadmill, my gambling awareness shirts or posts are seen by even just one person who needs to know they’re not alone; if just one person is given the confidence they need to call 1-800-GAMBLER (in Illinois) or the national helpline 1-800-542-4700.