ESPN’s women’s college basketball team recognizes the moment we’re in – growing popularity of the sport, athletes using their platforms to bring viewers in, the fight for social justice and against inequities, and stretching their voices beyond the time they spend on the court.
As the Women’s Final Four tips off tonight in San Antonio, the stories – and their power – are what complement the culmination of this unique and sometimes challenging season, as four teams play for their chance to be a national champion.
Aimee Stokes, senior managing producer of ESPN’s Creative Content Unit, has worked on women’s tournament for the last 10 years. Stokes credits ongoing conversations for how the team approaches each feature and vignette.
“When our staff members are in meetings and say ‘this story is important to us as Black women, gay women, because I’m from the South, played ball, I was raised this way, or as a millennial, etc.,’ we recognize their point of view or life experience, and we are listening, because they could also be the experiences and stories of our athletes and viewers,” Stokes said.
She added: “We always try to find not just a shot, but the shot to tell the story. Some of our camera angles and access has been limited because of safety restrictions, but with the help of the schools’ video departments, I think the pieces look elevated despite some of those limitations … Everyone has a story, and while we’d love to tell them all ourselves on TV, we also have the opportunity to be multi-platform storytellers through social media, streaming and other digital avenues.”
Over the weekend, fans will witness and celebrate greatness, and learn more about the incredible student-athletes and coaches making history.
Here are some of the stories expected to air during Women’s Final Four coverage:
- Black women making history: This year marks the first time that two Black female head coaches are in the Women’s Final Four – Dawn Staley and Adia Barnes. As a historic and pivotal moment in sports, the team will honor it, document it, and celebrate it. ESPN and SEC Network analyst Carolyn Peck, the first Black head coach to win an NCAA Division I Women’s Final Four championship (Purdue, 1999), shares in this history and will be an important voice in elevating the story.
- Love it or hate it, people love the UConn Huskies. Coverage will include their 13th consecutive Final Four appearance, their quest for a 12th national title, and superstar freshman Paige “Buckets” Bueckers.
- Due to COVID restrictions, Stanford spent 63 days on the road this season when Santa Clara County shut down sports activities. Despite the challenge, the No.1 overall seed is back in the Final Four and eyeing a third national title. “It speaks so highly to their team chemistry and to [head coach] Tara VanDerveer’s leadership and that of her staff. She is now the winningest coach in women’s history, and when you wrap that all up, you can’t help but say, ‘This is a story we need to share,'” Stokes added.
- With Barnes leading the way, Arizona – the “underdog'”– has prevailed with its first trip to the Women’s Final Four. Barnes’ own playing career success – Arizona’s leading scorer and champion with the Seattle Storm – speaks to her team’s success and being a players’ coach. As a head coach and a mother of two kids, she is showing women everywhere what’s possible. And if you haven’t seen Aari McDonald play, you are missing out.
One thing is certain – all of these women have cemented the power their voices hold, and ESPN will set the stage to convey that message.
Stokes added: “Like I said earlier … we listen. We bring their voices into pieces to tell the viewer, ‘Here is who these people are, and this is what is important to them.’ These are their stories.”