Pivot Points

Mikki Morrissette (photo by Sarah Whiting)

Pivot points are what I call those meaningful moments that end up leading to an unexpected trajectory in a person’s life. One of my personal pivot points happened when I was 16. My plea to the Prior Lake community newspaper was answered by editor Bev Simonsen, who gave me an after-school job as an unneeded receptionist. After the adult male sports reporter left, she gave me that job, even though I had no proven reporting experience or knowledge of sports.

That opportunity led to my jobs as sports editor of the Minnesota Daily college newspaper, for the North Stars hockey team, and on the sports copy desk of the Star Tribune newspaper.

After moving to New York, my boss at Sports Illustrated for Kids brought me into upper management at Time Inc. Custom Publishing. Between that, and project management work at The New York Times, I learned many of the skills I bring to Minnesota Women’s Press today.

Lately, my sports and adventure involvement is minimal. I am booster mom at my kids’ Ultimate Frisbee games and play family pick-up games. I watch televised sporting events with my parents and kids as bonding time, especially now that my dad’s capabilities are limited.

The Stalled Potential in Sports

As with many industries, men tend to be better paid than women athletes. Women like Minnesota hockey player Hannah Brandt and soccer star Abby Wambach are working to change that, as advocates for pay equity.

Wambach has scored more career goals than any player in history, male or female. Yet when she left the sport in 2015, she knew she had to keep earning money, in contrast to other top male athletes.

The U.S. women’s national soccer team recently filed a lawsuit to get compensation equal to men. “We win World Cups. We win Olympics,” Wambach says. “Our men have never placed in the top three.”

When Title IX made it a law in 1972 to enact gender equity policies in student athletics, within two years more than 90 percent of women’s teams in college sports were coached by females. Yet in 2018, according to the University of Minnesota’s Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport, the percentage of women coaching college women at top- level NCAA Division 1 schools was 59.3.

As coach Muffet McGraw puts it (see sidebar), women learn by seeing women lead. Yet men get hired more. “People hire people who look like them.”

I wouldn’t be who I am if a woman hadn’t given me the opportunity I needed. What I love about my early years in sportswriting was that it prepared me to stand out. There were not many women involved in sports reporting when I started. In hindsight, the confidence it gave me led to comfort with travel adventures in my 30s, from Moscow to Krakow to Crete.

For me, being the lone woman in locker rooms with professional athletes was not about breaking barriers. It was about getting to the human stories. It is a pleasure in this issue to showcase the power of women engaged in sports and adventure.