This week, Philadelphia is hosting the 2019 FS Investments U.S. Open Squash Championship at Drexel University. The event attracts the best squash athletes from around the world and helps cement Philadelphia as the epicenter of the sport in the United States.
While this tournament will not attract the number of fans our Eagles draw on any given Sunday—nor the spectacle that takes place at tailgates and within the stadium—it is nonetheless a special and important event that we hope captures the imagination of our city.
Squash is unfamiliar to many in the United States, but it is growing in popularity, has strong Philadelphia roots and, importantly, is grounded in tightly held values of access, community, sportsmanship, excellence and equality.
We urge the city’s leaders—business, political, academic and athletic—to follow the example set by U.S. Squash and join us in our efforts to create a more inclusive and equitable city.
Philadelphia has been a city of so many firsts it has almost become cliché, but this one should not be overlooked: In 2013, at Drexel’s urging, U.S. Squash announced at its first major event of the season—the U.S. Open Squash in Philadelphia—that it would be offering equal prize money to both men and women.
Six years ago—long before Megan Rapinoe, Philadelphia’s own Julie Ertz and other women’s soccer stars admirably elevated the conversation about equal pay to the global arena—U.S. Squash was promoting the opportunity for girls and women to play squash at the same level as men.
U.S. Squash was deemed a pioneer in 2013 and is continually lifted up as one of the models of gender pay equity in sports. It achieved this by tackling the problem head-on and finding a solution, rather than dismissing it as an insurmountable obstacle, or one that required further analysis with just a tacit acknowledgment of the disparity.
There is much that other major sports—and corporate America—can learn from U.S. Squash’s example. Since beginning to offer equal pay to men and women, the sport has flourished and is more popular than ever. Talented players who might not have been financially able to pursue their goals are able to enter the sport and compete at the highest level.
And U.S. Squash does more than lead the way on pay equity. It actively works to create connectivity in local communities to diversify the sport and increase access to those who otherwise might not have been introduced to it.
Here in Philadelphia, U.S. Squash works with programs like SquashSmarts, a non-profit academic and athletic mentoring program with a proven track record of keeping kids in school, in shape, and on track for graduation. Students—the majority of whom are underserved minorities—are selected from four middle schools and stay with the program for seven years.
Since beginning to offer equal pay to men and women, the sport has flourished and is more popular than ever. Talented players who might not have been financially able to pursue their goals are able to enter the sport and compete at the highest level.
Philadelphia is one of America’s poorest big cities. One in three children live in poverty and, according to the Philadelphia Education Fund, 30 percent of students do not graduate high school. Contrast that with SquashSmarts’ 100 percent graduation rate for its students.
FS Investments and Drexel University are proud to partner together to sponsor and host the U.S. Open Squash Championships, and we support the organization’s commitment to pay equity and community access. We need more partnerships with leading organizations like U.S. Squash to move our city forward and promote inclusivity, equity and opportunity for all.
We hope Philadelphians will join us this week to experience this great sport and draw inspiration from these world-class athletes and the values they represent. And we urge the city’s leaders—business, political, academic and athletic—to follow the example set by U.S. Squash and join us in our efforts to create a more inclusive and equitable city.
Michael Forman is chairman/CEO of FS Investments, an asset management firm, which is a sponsor of The Citizen’s Ideas We Should Steal Festival; John Fry is president of Drexel University.Photo courtesy PSA World Tour