Q & A: Molly Schiot, author of Gamechangers: The Unsung Heroines of Sports History
By Colette Harris
Stories of amazing women, of their courage and strength, their creativity, drive, and unwavering commitment to their cause have always been there, but we've only recently began hearing about them. Molly Schiot, author of Gamechangers: The Unsung Heroines of Sports History, is determined to share these women's stories through the 320-page Gamechangers book and posting stories of unsung heroines to her Instagram account, @TheUnsungHeroines, daily.
With a continuously growing fan base (the Instagram account has over 50,000 followers), readers and followers can delight in stories about high profile women like sports writer Lisa Olson and relative unknowns including the African-American women who founded the Wake-Robin Golf Club in 1937, which is one of Schiot’s favorite stories in the collection.
GOLD caught up with the Los Angeles-based director and artist to learn what drives her to keep the account going and why her favorite posts are the ones that teach families about their histories.
GOLD: The book was formed out of your Instagram account, @TheUnsungHeroines. What led you to start posting stories about unsung women in sports and history to Instagram?
MS: I was pitching stories to the 30 for 30 series for ESPN and all of my six ideas were about women. I thought that women’s stories were a secret weapon to get my foot in the door, but all those stories got turned down. I got the opportunity to direct a 30 for 30 about a Boston Bruin from the 1970s, which was a really great experience. I really enjoyed the process. When I finished that I had the ears of the producers and said I wanted to pitch a couple more stories. They were all about women, but none of those got picked up or green lit. I ended up taking those stories and starting the Instagram account. The account was basically a reaction to being told “no.”
GOLD: Several years later you’re still posting daily. How do you find the women you feature?
MS: Most of the time I’ll go to the LA84 Sport History Library, which is the biggest sports library in Los Angeles, and I’ll get a huge arsenal of photos and take notes. Then I use this cool app called Later, so I can program a month’s worth of posts in one sitting. What I love more than anything is when people send me their photos of their grandma or their great aunt or someone that was important to them. I would love to get more of those.
GOLD: What inspires you to continue growing your Instagram account?
MS: In the beginning I think I was so frustrated with the fact that these women’s stories had always been there, but nobody was telling them. I felt that it was the responsibility of a big network to be able to get those stories out there and I felt like the best way to channel that frustration was to put it into a modern day platform. Now it just makes me feel happy. Also, seeing families pass their history along through the art of storytelling is really invaluable.
GOLD: You describe playing soccer, lacrosse, and ice hockey growing up as a “twenty-four/seven sports grind.” What changes would you like to see in the culture of youth sports today?
MS: I think it’s paramount for a kid who likes sports to find one that they really enjoy and run with it. But, if there are other passions or interests that one finds appealing, I think it’s really important to explore those too. When I was growing up I was always interested in music and other things, but often kids fall either into the athletic group or the artistic group. There’s not really a crossover on that Venn diagram and I wish there was more of that. I wish it were something that parents or coaches encouraged their athletes and students to explore.
GOLD: What do you hope your readers take away from stories of history’s unsung heroines?
MS: I think it’s important to not necessarily think of this just as a sports book, but more as a book about women who really thought to break down barriers during a time when it wasn’t as easy, or comparatively easier, than it is now. There are so many stories about women who were facing conflict within their family or within the institutions of racism, class, sexuality or any of these massive obstacles, especially during the '50s, '60s, '70s. At the end of the day, you can just take sports out of the title and think of women’s stories in general. That’s what I’m really proud of the book conveying.
Photo at top courtesy of Molly Schiot