With so many women rising to power, influencing the future of the pro sports and changing the face of an industry that was once dominated by men in the boardroom, a list such as Forbes 25 Most Powerful Women In Sports is full of groundbreaking and tastemaking women who are impacting the business of sports.
Sitting at the top of a list compiled by a panel of eight individuals who have firsthand insight and knowledge of the sports industry’s top female movers and shakers is Michele Roberts, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association.
In 2014, the NBA players union named Roberts as its Executive Director, making the 62-year-old UC Berkeley graduate and Washington, D.C. civil litigator the first woman to lead the player’s union in one of the four major North American sports. Roberts represents the interests of some 350 NBA players and more than $3 billion in league salary distributions.
She’s a celebrated lawyer who embraces the power and potential of her blackness as an advocate for NBA players who have become increasingly vocal and financially conscious about their contributions to the soaring popularity and profits NBA owners enjoy.
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Unlike her ousted predecessor Billy Hunter who was playing both sides of the fence, Roberts has made it clear that she is about player empowerment and went head up with new commissioner Adam Silver in March of 2015 when she publicly and emphatically put fire to the commissioners suggestion that the NBA age limit should be raised to 20.
She told the commish to be happy with (the current) one-and-done system.
The NBA brought in more than $5 billion in revenue last season, a more than 60 percent jump over the past decade. The average player salary is a little more than $4 million a year. All the players now depend on Michele Roberts, a woman who is making history while fighting for their future.
As she currently plays low-pro puppet master, Roberts visibility will increase come 2022 when she negotiates a new collective bargaining agreement between the players and NBA.
Coming in second on the list is racing executive Lesa France Kennedy, CEO of International Speedway Corporation (ISC) and vice chairwoman of NASCAR. Kennedy manages 13 of America’s biggest racetracks while also playing a key role in steering the multibillion-dollar racing conglomerate NASCAR as a member of its board of directors. This is the first year Roberts has been able to take the top spot from France who has been top of the class for some time.
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Serena Williams, the world’s highest-paid female athlete and probably the worlds most impactful, came in third. In addition to the way she’s dominated, changed the face of Tennis and elevated to iconic status over the past two decades, she has more than a dozen endorsement partners, including Intel, Tempur-Pedic, Audemars Piguet, Beats By Dre, Berlei, Gatorade, JP Morgan Chase, Nike, and Wilson. Shes on the board of SurveyMonkey and has stake in UFC.
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According to Forbes, The women on the list represent a true minority in a business dominated by men. While some progress has been made over the last two decades, the glass ceiling for women may be lower in sports than in any other industry. In fact, of the more than 450 combined NCAA Division I athletic departments and “Big Four” professional sports clubs, less than 10% have a woman at the head of their organization.
The numbers across other areas of the industry are equally low all the more reason the executives, athletes and influencers on the list should be celebrated for their ability to overcome any number of obstacles to rise to positions of power, all the while becoming role models for the millions of women aspiring to reach great heights not just in sports but in all aspects of life.
On a list of 25 worthy heavy hitters, the voting insiders felt Roberts wields a presence and purpose that puts her at the forefront of female power brokers in sports.