Over the last year, there has been a huge and long overdue spotlight on women’s basketball at the college and professional levels. Although this is progress, there is still a long way to go. The Cracker Jill Spotlight campaign seeks to change that, and it has partnered with renowned American sprinter Allyson Felix to unveil Cracker Jill’s Spotlight Squad. The squad features five women athletes in different sports on a world stage to raise visibility of women athletes, to highlight the different types of sports women take part in, and to inspire the next generation of women in sports.

Felix spoke with Blavity about bringing focus to women athletes as well as about her time as a young athlete. Her résumé is impressive. The retired track and field athlete competed in the 100, 200, 300 and 400 meters during her prolific career. The Olympic champion has won gold, silver and bronze medals, and she’s the perfect athlete to shine a light on young women athletes.

Congratulations on your partnership. How did this come about?

Allyson Felix: I’m really excited to be a part of this partnership. It just really makes sense. We’re aligned on so many of the things that this program highlights. The Cracker Jill Spotlight Squad is comprised of five incredible female athletes who are going to be competing on the global stage this summer. It’s about representation. We know that women’s sports is having a moment right now, and the idea is really to expand upon that. Cracker Jack did this study, and I found the results to be surprising. Almost half of us teenagers can’t name one single female athlete, and among U.S. teenagers, almost half of them can’t envision themselves being a professional athlete. We really want to change that. I think programs like this are going to do that. There’s also a sweet sweepstakes component to this program. It’s Cracker Jill Share your Spotlight sweepstakes. Basically, you just share a highlight of one of the five female athletes on Instagram, and you’ll be eligible to win a $500 cash prize or a $10,000 donation to organizations that highlights women and girls. I’m excited to be a part of the program and to just show young people that there are other sports, and other personalities, and they deserve the spotlight as well.


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As you mentioned, women in sports is really a big topic right now. So obviously this campaign in these partnerships comes at a crucial and ideal time. How does the mission align with what’s going on, in real-time? 

AF: I think we all know some of the big names in women’s sports that are at the top right now. I think this program really highlights some of the sports that not everybody has access to. They may not really know about sports like water polo, wheelchair basketball, boxing and wrestling. And so, we really want to highlight what women are doing in those sports as well. I think people are really excited right now about women’s sports in general, and [we are] really wanting to introduce them to some other personalities and some other sports as well.


You mentioned there were studies that were conducted that show the little knowledge that high school students have with female athletes who are out or just overall — how did this study add to the disparities that you already know of, being a female athlete?

AF: Over the years, I’ve really seen women drop out of sports. And it’s usually at a very crucial time for them. The participation is really lacking, and so [it’s] really me wanting to show them that they can continue because we know that sports and team sports — they provide so much for you. 

I think about just growing up ,and for me, it was Dominique Dawes. When I saw her compete, it was like, ‘Wow! She’s doing incredible things.’ And for kids now, there’s Ashleigh Johnson. She’s in water polo; that’s a sport that I didn’t even know about growing up. And so, I just really want to widen the perspective of young people and show them something different.

What personal disparities have you experienced throughout your career?

AF: I think being a Black female athlete, it’s hard in general. The visibility and the pay is way less. There are all of these things, even the standard of beauty that I think you feel pressure that you must try to fit into when you don’t. So I think there’s a lot of different areas that have made it hard for me. I think I’ve learned to be unapologetically myself, but it’s difficult when you are young and you’re trying to navigate through a space that isn’t always so welcoming.


There are a lot of eyes right now on the WNBA, which a lot of people feel like is long overdue. Overall, how are you feeling about the state of women in sports on a broader scale?

AF: I think we have some really great momentum now. I think for a lot of us, we’ve known women’s sports to be exciting for a really long time, but it feels really great to have the world take notice. And, in one instance, it’s amazing to see full arenas and people really coming out and showing up to support women’s basketball. But at the same time, I think it shows how far we must go because there are so many other sports that aren’t getting the same love and attention, and we really want to spread that around. I hope that we can continue to do that, but it’s going to take a lot of work.