Celebrating chances to ‘Dream Crazier’

Commentary

It was one of the most talked-about commercials to air during the Academy Awards broadcast: Serena Williams narrating Nike’s “Dream Crazier” message featuring women in sports.

The commercial opened with the tennis legend describing common labels about women: emotional, dramatic, delusional, unhinged, and even crazy.

But then came images depicting pioneers in women’s athletics, like a woman running away from people trying to physically pull her out of a marathon (similar to Katherine Switzer’s experience in the 1967 Boston Marathon.)

Cut to women boxing, dunking a basketball, coaching in the NBA; breaking barrier after barrier in fencing, swimming, snowboarding and more.

The message was emotional and dramatic, though certainly not delusional: recognizing women in sports who dared to believe that they could achieve what was once considered impossible, including Serena’s own story: “winning 23 grand slam tennis titles, having a baby, and coming back for more.”

The bottom line: “It’s only crazy until you do it… just do it.”

The commercial prompted millions of online comments and video views, with kudos to the phenomenal Nike advertising team that finds ways to make social statements and sell shoes at the same time.

The 90-second commercial spun the inspiring story of women’s athletics, culminating in close-up faces of young athletes, encouraging their generation to “Dream Crazier.”

Once again sports imitate life, illustrating a driving force that should be within us all: to reach beyond what we can currently see and do, to envision something more (Six-Million-Dollar-Man-More: bigger … stronger … faster.)

It is that kind of thinking that has led entrepreneurs to start businesses, inventors to develop new technology, and scientists to cure diseases.

The vision and hope that leads to great accomplishments can start in humble places like gyms, ball fields and tracks. Each new skill learned or personal best achieved pushes the bar a little higher. What was impossible yesterday becomes commonplace today, and a new impossible becomes tomorrow’s goal.

This past week, former US Senator Birch Bayh passed away at the age of 91. Among his many accomplishments, he was the author of two constitutional amendments. But for women in sports, his most important writing was Title IX, which helped to guarantee greater opportunities for women in higher education, and particularly in athletics.

Though the Nike commercial focused on trailblazing women, Senator Bayh could have easily been among the images of those dreamers: a champion for civil rights, including gender equality. He truly “dreamed crazier,” and because of the efforts of Bayh and others, including a generation of athletic administers, millions of girls and women around the country have had the opportunity to see their dreams come true.

Today’s student-athletes, now generations removed from the passing of Title IX, cannot remember a world where women and sports didn’t go hand-in-hand. What their grandmothers thought of as impossible — a crazy dream — is now reality, and their future we can only imagine.

Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at kellie@bedfordcountychamber.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.

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