I am an 11-year-old girl who loves playing basketball. Back in January, I went with my father and older brother to the mall to buy new basketball sneakers. I was really hoping that a store would have the new sneakers released by the WNBA Mystics star, Elena Delle Donne! They had just come out and I wanted to see them (and try to convince my dad to buy them).
Delle Donne is one of my role models. She inspires me as an incredible basketball player, but also as an amazing human being. She helped design these sneakers, having in mind her older sister, Lizzy, who has special needs.
The sneakers have magnets and can fold open so that someone who may have difficulty putting shoes on, can easily slide their feet into the shoes.
We looked to see if Dicks Sporting Goods carried the shoe. We asked if they had Washington Mystics gear and Delle Donne sneakers. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any Mystics attire at all, which was surprising since they had just won the WNBA championship and we were in a DC area store. My dad pointed out that the store carried lots of Nationals gear, and they had just won the championship too. They said they were working on getting attire from womens’ professional sports teams in their store.
We then decided to look in Foot Locker. When we entered, I asked a male employee, “Do you have Elena Delle Donne sneakers?” He replied, “I do not know what that even means. What is Delle Donne? Is that a brand or something?” My dad and brother explained that she is a WNBA player on the Mystics and that she had just released new sneakers.
The employee laughed at us and mockingly said, “I would rather watch paint dry on a wall than watch any women play sports.
My dad, brother, and I were stunned. I was really shocked and upset.
How could a grown man say something so offensive about women? How could he be so insensitive to a girl?
How could an employee say that to a customer? We left the store right away, but then my dad told my brother and I to wait outside the store, and he walked back into the store, and said calmly to the man, “Customer Service 101: The next time someone walks into your store with his daughter, don’t tell them that you’d rather watch paint dry on a wall that watch women’s sports.” Then my dad walked out.
After we left the mall, I could not stop thinking about what that man had said to us. What if Elena Delle Donne was there and he had said those patronizing words straight to her face. I felt really angry and upset. I told my mom, other siblings, and a couple of close friends what had happened and they were shocked. My dad sent a follow up email to the customer care department at Foot Locker and even called the company later that day to report the incident. My dad simply asked if they would please send me an apology letter. They said that they would look into it and we were told there would be a response. My dad called several times over the next few weeks, and was told each time that they were dealing with the situation and that there would be a response. Then a few months had passed, and we never heard back, and I never received any apology or any letter at all. It felt like they did not care about my experience and thought it was unimportant. I was still in shock and kept asking my dad everyday if they responded.
Every time I pass the mall in the car, I remember what that man said, and it hurts.
It is now six months later, and I never heard back from Foot Locker. My dad recently called again, and was told this time that our complaint had been recorded and there was nothing more we could do, and no one else to speak to. They seemed irritated that we were calling again and told us that they would not ever be able to provide any response, and that they could not give us a number or address for anyone else at Foot Locker to help. It seems we have hit a dead end.
I want to share my story, not to put down Foot Locker (although we are frustrated and disappointed with them), but to help bring awareness that women’s sports continue to be devalued in our society. In my opinion, athletic stores that have attire from professional teams, should ensure that they have attire representing both men’s and women’s teams. This isn’t just about equality and showing they care about women.
It is also about sending the message to all girls and women that they are strong and that they matter.
Most importantly, so much more needs to be done to give employees diversity training so they can be better sensitive to issues of gender, culture, and race.
By the way, I did find the Delle Donne sneakers at the Finish Line store, although they only had a women’s size 11.
I’m not big enough yet to fit a size 11, but I do have big dreams, and I hope to make a difference on behalf of other girls like me.
Adi Topolosky is a rising 6th grader at Berman Hebrew Academy who loves basketball and hip hop dance. As she prepares for her bat mitzvah in March, she is working on using her voice to stand up for causes that she believes in.
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