Editor’s note: Kelly Wallace is CNN’s digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life. She is a mom of two girls. Read her other columns and follow her reports at CNN Parents and on Twitter.
My girls, ages 6 and 8, love sports, but we are not a family that watches much baseball or even follows the Little League World Series.
Of course, that was before we heard the name Mo’ne Davis, the 13-year-old pitching phenom.
Now we check to see when she and her team, Philadelphia’s Taney Dragons, will play again (Wednesday night against Las Vegas) and celebrate her girl power achievements. She’s the first girl to throw a shutout in the Little League World Series, the sixth to get a hit in World Series history and the first Little Leaguer to get front-page attention on one of the nation’s top sports magazines.
“A girl on the cover of Sports Illustrated for her prowess in a man’s sport,” cheered “Inside Edition” host Deborah Norville in an e-mail. “Mo’ne is wowing not just the sports world but all of us!”
We’re not just taken with how this 5-foot-4 inch eighth-grader throws 70-mph fastballs and strikes out batter after batter. We’re also blown away by her grace under pressure and how she’s just being Mo’ne.
“I never thought that I would be a role model at this age … so I just have to be myself,” she said in a recent ESPN interview.
She’s an inspiration to any little girl who wants to play baseball some day — and to all the women who know firsthand the doubters and naysayers that Davis has no doubt encountered on her path to World Series history.
Stephanie Tuck, a New York media strategist and fitness blogger at TuckTakesOff.com, spent two years as the only girl on her Little League team and the only girl in her league when she was growing up in Newton, Massachusetts.
“I was heckled by the dads: ‘Get that girl off the field,’ ” she said they would scream. “I used to literally pray the ball would not come to me in right field as the pressure was so intense.”
On her Facebook page, along with a clip of a recent interview that Davis did, Tuck gushed, “Love her!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
“Her impact is that she will not only inspire other girls to play but she is helping to remove the ‘specialness’ of girls playing on that level,” she said. “Over time people won’t be amazed that a girl is so good. They will simply be amazed that a particular pitcher or catcher or fielder is so good. Gender won’t matter.”
That will no doubt take some time, but already Davis is sending a message to girls and boys, says Donna Orender, a former president of the WNBA.
The message to girls is pursue your dreams no matter what, said Orender, who has created a nonprofit called Generation W focusing on inspiring women and girls. “Go do what you think you want to do and do your best because you know there’s some mound waiting for you to make your best pitch on.”
Davis’ success teaches boys and men about understanding and realizing that, “Oh my goodness, there really are girls that can do that.”
She also helps do away with those “gender-based biases we’re taught as kids about the boys’ role and the girls’ role,” she added.
Case in point: When I was recently at a party and my 10-year-old nephew started to make a crack that someone “throws like a girl,” he stopped himself. Sure, he knew his aunt frowned on such a negative comment, but then he thought about Davis and actually said her name.
“Throws like a girl” has a whole different meaning now, he realized.
“It’s when a girl pitches a no-hitter (or two) or has a 70-mph fastball (and) is no big deal that we know we have made progress because throwing like a girl is equivalent or better than throwing like a boy,” said Dorothy Liu, a mom of a soon-to-be middle schooler in Bellevue, Washington.
Liu said she tries to instill in her daughter that being a girl is never an excuse for not trying something new.
So will Davis open the floodgate of girls playing sports that boys traditionally play, wondered Norville, the television host and best-selling author? “Unlikely, but it will make it that much easier for the exceptional girl who wants to play with the boys,” she added.
And the more athletes such as Davis who can command the attention of men, women, boys and girls alike, the more success for women’s sports, which still don’t get the respect, attention and TV contracts that male-dominated sports receive.
Elite women athletes “elevate their support economically, which is what has to happen for women’s professional sports to continue to grow,” said Orender, who is also a former women’s professional basketball player.
Davis has already increased interest exponentially in the Little League World Series, bringing much needed attention to the national pastime that has suffered, on the major league level, from performance-enhancing drug scandals, declining attendance and few superstar players.
“Mo’ne Davis could actually be (the) antidote to the loss of young people interested in baseball. Isn’t there a beautiful irony here that there’s a young woman that’s attracting all this attention to baseball?” Orender said.
Davis, for her part, has her focus squarely on her next game at the World Series, and not on her future, but when asked her dreams, she has something specific in mind.
And if you were hoping she’d say becoming the first woman to take major league baseball by storm, you might be a tad disappointed.
Her goal is to be point guard for the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team and then play in the WNBA.
If she can do on a basketball court what she’s proven she can do on the mound, we’ll no doubt be hearing Mo’ne Davis’ name for many years to come.