Jess starts platform for women to express sports views
January 28, 2019
Ainka Jess has always had an interest in sport.
She played volleyball in high school, shows up at York University for Roger Cup Toronto tennis matches, attends Toronto Raptors and Marlies games and welcomes the opportunity to take part in a sports discussion.
Yet, Jess still hears stories of women who are uncomfortable talking about sport in the presence of men.
“I have heard women say that when they go into the boardroom and their boss is talking about hockey, they just didn’t feel like that is something they could add a comment to,” she said. “They feel like if they have to get permission to talk about why Auston Matthews is not on the Toronto Maple Leafs’ first power play unit or about the Jose Bautista bat flip. I don’t feel that way and women shouldn’t.”
Three years ago, Jess started ‘She’s4Sports’ which is a platform for women to freely express their sports views.
“I am a fan and they come in different shapes and sizes,” she pointed out. “Fans don’t have to know all the stats. If you like the sport and you want to engage in a conversation, you should feel justified to do that. I am happy that my platform will empower women to engage and be a fan just like anyone else.”
The stage also showcases female sports personalities and leading women’s sports executives in North America.
At an event recently at the Hockey Hall of Fame to celebrate women in hockey, Kimberly Davis – the National Hockey League executive vice-president of social impact, growth initiatives and legislative affairs – and Angela James, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame eight years ago, were on a panel talking about the challenges of diversity in hockey and what the industry can do to make the sport more inclusive.
The only Black to captain a national women’s hockey team, James is one of only two Black women to have North American hockey arenas bear their names. Flemingdon Park Area, where she learned to skate and hone her hockey skills, was renamed the Angela James Arena in June 2010.
The Laura Sims Skatehouse, opened in 1985, is named after the late founder of a minority youth hockey tournament in Philadelphia.
More than just presenting women sports executives and those that are impacting their sport, Jess is using the ‘She’s4Sports’ stage to tell stories.
“I just wasn’t seeing the stories about women in sport on the traditional platforms like ESPN and TSN,” she said. “When you look at what we are doing, diverse women across the whole gamut of sports – those on the field and those in the front office – are given an opportunity to talk about what they do and address issues pertaining to their fields.”
The love for storytelling was inculcated at a young age while taping NASCAR races for her late uncle while he was at work.
“At first, the thinking was here are drivers just speeding around the lap,” said Jess who was included among a diverse and distinguished group of 150 Black women featured in ‘HERstory in Black’ which is a digital photo series celebrating Canada’s 150th anniversary of confederation. “It would later occur to me that these drivers have stories. They have families and some of them were subjected to serious injuries. I was more interested in who these people are competing in the sport that they love. That was what drove my passion to tell stories about women in sport.”
Before completing her first degree at York University in 2005, Jess did a two-year diploma broadcast television course at Seneca College. Her instructors included Roger McTair – a film director and poet – who was a writing professor for 18 years.
“He was absolutely one of my favourite professors,” she said. “I remember writing a script, which I still have at home, of a little girl who wanted to sing and find stardom but had to put her dream on hold for a while to take care of an elderly parent. She eventually got the opportunity to go to New York and audition. Roger provided me with very useful feedback on the story in terms of where to take it, where the arc was and how to flush it out. I did well on that project. He gave me an understanding of how things should be properly placed in a story. I am forever indebted to him. I think your teacher stands out more when you are in the working world and you remember them.”