A.J. Andrews Is Fighting For Softball's Place In Pro Sports
It's been more than three years since A.J. Andrews broke the glass ceiling for softball players by becoming the first woman to win a Rawlings Gold Glove Award. During that historic 2016 National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) season for Andrews, she set the professional softball world ablaze with her diving catches and acrobatic plays in the outfield for the now-defunct Akron Racers.
Since then, three other women in the NPF—Chelsea Goodacre, Jade Rhodes and Jessie Warren—have won Rawlings' annual award for the best defensive player in professional softball. But according to Andrews, there's still work to be done with regard to the recognition that women like these receive at the highest level of the sport.
"I won the first Gold Glove, but there are also women who won it after me. They deserve attention. They should be talked about," Andrews told Softball America. "Winning the Gold Glove is such a huge accomplishment, but the women who have won it haven't received the recognition that the men in Major League Baseball who win the award receive."
Since winning softball's inaugural Gold Glove, Andrews has been on a mission to bring her sport to the foreground of the professional sports landscape. In addition to competing at the professional level—both in America and abroad in Italy—Andrews spends much of her time traveling the country for speaking engagements and working with media outlets like Uninterrupted and The Players' Tribune.
"I've been put in a position to truly use my voice a lot more after winning the Gold Glove," said Andrews, who is currently deciding where she will play professional softball in 2020. "I have more momentum now to position myself, and softball, to be talked about outside of the college game. I think it's important that people know there is professional softball."
And Andrews, a 2015 graduate of LSU, knows the importance of continuing the conversation about elite softball players after they graduate from college. As a young girl, Andrews remembers watching and idolizing Olympian and former professional softball player Natasha Watley as she thrived on the field beyond her college years. Andrews says that seeing Watley succeed in softball as an adult woman of color made a significant impact on her.
"For me, Natasha Watley was my idol because she was a person who looked like me," Andrews said. "I saw myself in her. I truly believed I could achieve anything I wanted to because of Natasha Watley. Now that I can be the Natasha Watley for someone else, I take extreme pride in that and feel a responsibility to continue to use my voice to show girls that they can achieve whatever they want to achieve."
Andrews says, however, that in order for young women and girls to have similar opportunities to look up to professional softball players, the narrative surrounding the sport, as well as the coverage of it, needs to change.
"I tell people I'm a professional softball player and more people than not don't even know there is professional softball," stated Andrews, who was drafted in the now-16-year-old NPF's second round in 2015. "My main goal is to completely change that narrative. Everything I do is to let people know there is professional softball."
In the meantime, Andrews knows that she and other women professional softball players like her will continue to use the opportunities they've earned to bring attention to the game at its highest level.
"Regardless of how disrespected we are or how little recognition we receive, we are still going to be breaking boundaries and pushing doors open," Andrews said. "At the end of the day, without women in sports using their voices, being loud about their successes and taking up space, young girls won’t have the encouragement they will need to feel like they can do the same."