Title IX has helped grant countless female athletes more athletic opportunities since it was first implemented in 1972. Though it has taken time for some college programs to establish themselves, the university level is where many of those athletes’ performances are most celebrated.
That attention on athletic exploits, in turn, draws a media spotlight that becomes a platform from which athletes can decide how they want to present themselves to the world at large, especially to influence causes they care about. Considering that women’s sports are estimated in recent studies to draw only 5% of media resources, the attention standout individuals are able to bring to help move the needle matters.
For Maddy Siegrist, the Big East Player of the Year for Villanova this past season, media attention is something she has taken in stride for years.
“I try to just stay true to who I am,” the forward said. “You know, I play for Villanova, I play for God, my community, and coaches.”
Siegrist, 22, generally doesn’t let media questions rattle or upset her. Some players might decry media intrusion when dealing with a difficult defeat, but Siegrist has learned to put discomfort aside and welcome the chance for a new learning experience.
“I try to view it as a blessing, you know, all these opportunities that are in front of you, even though it’s tough after games,” Siegrist said. “You have so many emotions. Your adrenaline is high. I just try and remember that you represent your school; you’re representing yourself and your team.”
She also tries to follow the example of a player who inspired her, Kelsey Plum, pointing out how impactful it was as a high school student to see the former Washington player in an interview after her final NCAA Tournament loss in 2017.
“She was just so well-spoken,” Siegrest said, remembering how Plum thanked her school, God, teammates, coaches, and even the janitors who used to turn the gym lights on for her to practice. “I hope I can be that humble, that kind.”
Though Siegrist hopes to emulate Plum and one day play in the WNBA and perhaps abroad, she, despite being from a generation that never knew life without Title IX and professional sports for women, didn’t have a basketball career planned out from childhood. She played a variety of sports growing up, without focusing on basketball until eighth grade. In her initial high school years, though she’d set a general goal of playing in college, she didn’t grasp that there were different divisions at that level.
Her parents, who prioritized school and family events, helped keep her basketball development in balance.
“I was really fortunate,” Siegrist said. “My parents were never pushing me with basketball.”
Even now, Siegrist is aware that injury or a lack of openings on league rosters could limit her playing career. She’s branched out into NIL options and stayed on track to earn her master’s degree in education.
Two years younger than Siegrist, no women’s college basketball player has a larger share of media attention than Paige Bueckers. Joining the most storied NCAA program, Connecticut, only increased the attention. It was major news when Siegrist and Villanova toppled the dynasty by winning a regular-season game in early February while Bueckers was sidelined with an injury.
For all her previous success, it was still surprising to Siegrist to realize the Wildcats had risen to another level of media visibility with the win over the Huskies when she arrived at the postgame press conference with coach Denise Dillon.
“The press room was filled with reporters,” Siegrist said. “It was really cool.”
Ten miles from where Siegrist plays with her Villanova teammates lies the campus of Drexel University and the practice grounds for another athlete who has brought new media attention to the school, even though she isn’t a student. The highest ranked American in the sport, Amanda Sobhy, is a professional squash player who trains at the world-class facilities of the Arlen Specter US Squash Center.
Currently ranked No. 4 (she ranked as high as No. 3 previously), Sobhy has benefitted from her move to Philadelphia and easy access to the training center.
“It has everything I need as a professional under one roof, which I’ve been wanting for my entire career,” Sohby said. “It’s a great hub for squash, and I’ve been loving the city.”
Since her move, she has become something of a pied piper to other squash pros about Philadelphia and some have followed her lead and relocated, giving her access to top level training partners and a community of peers.
For Sobhy, 28, the power of her media platform as a top-level athlete opened up to her this past year when she chose, after struggling with an eating disorder for a decade, to be vulnerable and share her difficulties.
“I find the media an amazing way to be able to share my story with the world because I think it’s really relatable to a lot of people,” Sobhy said. “Hopefully, everything I’ve gone through and overcome in my life inspires people reading it who are also struggling as well.”
It was empowering for Sobhy to speak her truth and find not only support, but others reaching out to her to agree about the pressures of a professional sporting career.
“Sharing that publicly was probably one of the best things I’ve ever done. Not only for myself, but to help others and just the amount of media that I’ve got in response to it,” Sobhy said. “It’s something different than just saying, ‘Oh, she’s professional athlete,’ there’s another element, ‘She’s a national athlete that’s achieved such success, and meanwhile, she’s been hiding this eating disorder.’”
Besides covering the gamut of social media options, Sobhy also maintains a website in her name.
“If I’m gonna do something that’s big, I want to be the one to share, like, my platforms and everything,” she said. “So it’s coming directly from me instead of fans hearing from a third party or something else.”
Though squash is a niche sport in the United States, Sobhy’s platform has a worldwide reach on the international circuit of her sport. Through the years, though she enjoys giving interviews and sharing her story, she’s become more cautious.
“I’ve had to be a bit more diplomatic and sometimes watch what I say because it could get me in trouble,” Sobhy said. “Things can get taken out of context and can get twisted, and I don’t really want ever to be associated with something negative.”