New hori­zons in rose­mont

Ath­letes un­lim­ited’s women’s sports ven­ture kicks off with soft­ball league that fea­tures changing ros­ters

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - BY ANNIE COSTABILE | acosta­bile@sun­times.com | @an­niecosta­bile

The off­sea­son sched­ules of all pro­fes­sional fe­male ath­letes are sim­i­lar regardless of the sport be­cause most don’t have an off­sea­son.

For most WNBA and NWSL play­ers, their in­come is sup­ple­mented by over­seas con­tracts. Na­tional Pro Fast­pitch play­ers have ca­reers en­tirely sep­a­rate from their ath­letic en­deav­ors, and fe­male hockey play­ers still are fight­ing for a sus­tain­able pro­fes­sional league.

So, when Ath­letes Un­lim­ited co-founders Jon Pa­tri­cof and Jonathan Soros first teamed up, their vi­sion was not to start a new women’s pro­fes­sional sports league, or three for that mat­ter. They sim­ply knew an in­vest­ment in pro­fes­sional women’s sports was vital.

“In most of the leagues, whether it be the WNBA, NWSL or NPF, the sea­sons are rel­a­tively short,” Pa­tri­cof said. “We rec­og­nized that play­ers in al­most all cases were look­ing for other op­por­tu­ni­ties out­side of their main sea­son.”

They weighed their op­tions dis­cussing mul­ti­ple op­por­tu­ni­ties to in­vest in es­tab­lished leagues like the WNBA and the NWSL be­fore com­ing up with the idea to cre­ate a new sports ven­ture en­tirely, Ath­letes Un­lim­ited.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion, which was cre­ated about 18 months ago, gives pro­fes­sional ath­letes un­prece­dented con­trol over their ca­reers by elim­i­nat­ing team own­ers, coaches and a stan­dard team for­mat.

Ath­letes Un­lim­ited’s first of three pro­fes­sional sports leagues kicks off Satur­day with a six-week soft­ball sea­son at Park­way Bank Sports Com­plex in Rose­mont.

The in­door vol­ley­ball league is set for 2021 and the third league has yet to be an­nounced, but ac­cord­ing to the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s web­site, women’s hockey and soc­cer are on their radar.

“Some­times ath­letes’ en­dorse­ment deals al­low them to play their sport and only their sport full time,” said World Cup cham­pion and two-time Olympic Gold medal­ist Abby Wam­bach, who is serv­ing as an Ath­letes Un­lim­ited ad­viser. “Some other play­ers have to get an­other job be­cause they just can’t af­ford it. That’s why this league is so valu­able be­cause it’s giv­ing th­ese women the chance to per­form and do their sport and only their sport if they choose.”

Ath­letes Un­lim­ited part­nered with CBS and ESPN to broad­cast seven games live on CBS Sports Net­work and 23 more on ESPN2 and ESPN3. For the ma­jor­ity of play­ers, this is the most ex­po­sure they’ve had since col­lege.

The 56 par­tic­i­pat­ing play­ers, in­clud­ing 20 Olympians, will play us­ing a point sys­tem that high­lights in­di­vid­ual play­ers’ suc­cess. Points will be earned on ev­ery play, and the leader­board will be in a con­stant state of flux. At the end of ev­ery week, the top four ath­letes in the stand­ings will serve as cap­tains, draft­ing their teams for the fol­low­ing week of play. The player with the most points af­ter the six weeks will be named the in­di­vid­ual cham­pion of the sea­son.

Play­ers have a guar­an­teed base salary of $10,000 with the op­por­tu­nity to make up to $35,000 with bonuses.

Play­ers ar­rived here just over a week ahead of the start of the sea­son and are liv­ing near the com­plex in apart­ments. They’ve coined the phrase “the shield” to de­scribe their quar­an­tined liv­ing sit­u­a­tion. Most of the first week has been spent get­ting to know each other.

Chicago Ban­dits short­stop Abby Ramirez was one of the first 10 play­ers to sign on, and the unique concept was one she wanted to be part of im­me­di­ately.

“I take a lot of pride in be­ing able to be a part of this,” Ramirez said. “Our goals are to make soft­ball a sport and a ca­reer op­tion for as­pir­ing play­ers to not only play be­cause they love it but also to play and make a sus­tain­able liv­ing.” ✶

JADE HE­WITT/ATH­LETES UN­LIM­ITED

Ath­letes Un­lim­ited will fea­ture four teams com­prised of 56 ath­letes dur­ing its six-week soft­ball sea­son (top). Team Blue vs. Team Pur­ple scrim­mage ahead of Week 1, which be­gins Satur­day.

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