ConqHER is about female athletes who are pushing boundaries every single day. These women and their stories inspire athletes and demonstrate that sports cannot be defined by gender – only heart.

 

A.J. Andrews doesn’t mince words. She speaks the way she plays – fierce but elegant. The softball star, who became the first woman to win a Gold Glove in the award’s history, acknowledges the advancement of recognition for gender equality in sports. But she also stresses that there’s still a ton of work to be done to break through that glass ceiling. Here’s Andrews in her own words on the obstacles she’s faced, advice for younger female athletes, and what still needs to be done to obtain gender equality in athletics.

Q: As a professional female athlete, what are some of the obstacles you face and how do you overcome them?

A: As a professional female athlete, some of the obstacles that I’ve faced just come down to lack of recognition and respect for the hard work that I put into being successful in my sport simply because I am a woman. As a professional softball player, that lack of respect and attention is a direct blow because our professional games are not on TV, so many people are not afforded the opportunity to love and see how competitive professional softball is. As a professional female athlete, the opportunities outside of college are scarce and the money is even scarcer. Many professional softball players have to have second jobs in order to sustain themselves and to eat because the average salary for a pro softball player is around $6,000. Many players have to retire early because the job that pays their bills will no longer allow them to take a few months off for the season. With adequate media coverage, respect, and attention, those unfortunate factors would change as professional women in sports could focus on being the best athlete on the field rather than how they will pay their rent this month. Another issue is trying to conform to societal standards of beauty in order to get the attention of different brands and media outlets. To conquer these obstacles, I continue to challenge them and to push the needle. Not everything that is addressed will be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is addressed. And I make a point to address these issues when I speak to make sure that I am drawing attention to them. My voice is powerful and I am conquering these challenges by challenging and forcing people to pay attention with the words that I say. I am only getting louder and will continue to raise my voice until this issue that plagues so many women in sports in conquered.

Q: When it comes to softball, a huge misconception is that it’s “baseball for girls” and that it’s “easier than baseball.” What is your response to that and what would you say to young softball players who face the same criticism?

A: I would say that us softball players put in the same hours of work to be successful. We train just as hard, prepare just as hard, lace our cleats the exact same. The only difference is we look better while doing it. Those that have this misconception that softball is baseball for girls or is in some way easier than baseball are simply people that have never played or watched the sport. Softball is a faster game with different technicalities. A rise ball is physically the hardest pitch to hit and softball players have to face elite pitchers with that pitch every day. Baseball and softball, while similar in concept, are two completely different games and I challenge anyone that has doubts about that to just meet me on the field. I would also tell young softball players to work hard in silence and let their success be their noise. People will always doubt your capabilities or have something to say about what you can or cannot do because you’re a girl. Always remember that being a a strong, hardworking and powerful girl in sports is your superpower, use it to change the world. Don’t set out to prove them wrong, set out to prove yourself right!

Q: On your website, it says, “I’ll level the playing field and the paying field.” What’s your personal experience with the wage gap and how do you hope to level both the playing and paying fields?

A: In order to obtain equality for women in sports and in corporate settings, we must band together and demand it. Women must never be afraid to use their voices while simultaneously amplifying other women’s voices. Women empowerment isn’t about making women stronger, its about changing the way the world perceives that strength. I’m strong, I’m hardworking and I’m fabulous. And in order to level the playing field I’ve decided that I will not pretend that I am less than I am to protect someone else’s ego. I am unabashedly aware of my fly and refuse to water down my capabilities or to wait for someone else’s permission to be great. In my experience, I was not given the same coverage that MLB players received for winning the Gold Glove even though I was the first woman and the only one chosen out of the nine positions. Instead of accepting the lack of coverage, I went and created my own. I invented my own hype around the award and demanded the world pay attention so that young girls knew it was possible and so the women after me who won the award had an opportunity to be recognized as well. Women should not have to water down their success to make mainstream America feel comfortable. We should be loud about our successes always! We are just as talented and successful as men and should be talked about that way. If the media won’t then I am dedicated to creating my own narrative and forcing the media to take notice. Making the world recognize that we can be confident, we can be strong, we can be unstoppable all with our mascara on. Time is up for not giving women what we deserve, and we will no longer succumb to the “it is what it is” mentality.

Q: With this platform, what do you hope to leave behind as a legacy to the next generation of athletes? What do you hope they learn from you?

A: I hope to leave a legacy of an example of limitless opportunities. I strive to show young women all over the world that the world impossible is nothing more than a dare. Every great feat in this world was once considered impossible until it was done! I want young women to know that before 2016, a woman winning a Gold Glove was “impossible” and now I have opened one door leading to many other glass ceilings waiting to be broken by strong, powerful women. If there is something that you want in this world, go after it with everything you have as the only limitations there are in this world are the ones that we place on ourselves. I hope they learn their power and that no one can make them feel inferior without their consent. And to always remain too determined to be defeated and too focused to be doubtful. Leave the doubt to those that have no idea what you’re capable of as you go out and make history the same way that I did. 

Q: You’ve mentioned that your idol growing up was Natasha Watley, and you said that seeing her – a black woman playing professional softball – really gave your dreams wings, so to speak, and allowed you to realize that you could do that too.

How does it feel to have that dream fully realized and now be in that position yourself of having young kids look up to you and know that their dreams are possible?

A: Natasha Watley was my idol because she was someone that looked like me excelling in the sport I played. And I remember the joy that I felt believing that I could really go far in my sport because Natasha did. It has truly come full circle for me. People don’t always remember what you did or what you said but they always remember the way you made them feel. Playing at LSU to now playing pro, I’m the favorite player of so many young girls for reasons unrelated to my performance on the field. I was their favorite simply because I wore the same number as them, had on the same bow, I spent 5 minutes after a game talking to them, or because I look like them. What mattered to them is that I showed up and I proved it can be done and they found something in me that they connected to that made them believe they too could be successful. I now have an opportunity to instill that same joy I had watching Natasha play into the young athletes that watch me. I feel empowered to have the opportunity to empower others and inspire confidence that they can truly become whatever it is they want to become in this world.  To all young girls striving to reach their goals I want you to dare to dream big – big dreams break barriers and big dreams can one day make history!

Get tips from A.J. on how she trains during the offseason here.