In January 2020, Adi Topolosky, who was 11 years old at the time and a keen basketball player, experienced gender-based discrimination while trying to buy sneakers at Foot Locker. However, Adi did not let this encounter bring her down. Instead, she chose to speak out about her experience to bring awareness to the fact that women’s sports continue to be devalued in society. The article Adi wrote about her encounter at Foot Locker went viral and many girls spoke up and shared their own experiences of discrimination. Since writing the article, Adi has continued to advocate for women’s sports and work with organizations that empower girls.
We spoke to Adi about the incident at Foot Locker, her response, and her hopes for the future.
How long have you been interested in sports?
I’ve loved moving, doing gymnastics, hip hop dancing, and playing basketball since I was little. I started playing basketball on a team when I was 6.
Is your family supportive?
My family has been my biggest support. My brother Itai (almost 15) is a great athlete and plays basketball, and my other siblings, Elyon and Liat, are super supportive and come to my games. They have all been so proud of me for standing up. My dad played basketball in high school and stood up for me when the incident happened at Foot Locker. My mom comes to all my games and has been my mom-a-ger all along, especially since my article has come out and others have reached out to me.
Can you tell us about the Foot Locker experience?
In January 2020, pre-covid, I went with my father and one of my older brothers to the mall to buy basketball sneakers. I was really hoping that a store would have the new sneakers, Nike Air Zoom UNVRS shoes 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. I’ve read all of Delle Donne’s books and she talks about her struggles in life and how to be positive and never give up.
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, which was surprising since they had just won the WNBA championship and we were in a DC area store. The store actually carried lots of Nationals gear, who also had just won the championship too. They said they were working on getting attire from women’s’ 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 shocked. 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.”
How did that experience make you feel?
I was really upset. I couldn’t believe that a grown man could say something so offensive about women and be so insensitive to a girl and a customer. 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 hurt and angry.
How were you inspired to speak out about your experience at Foot Locker?
My experience at Foot Locker hurt! My dad tried to contact Foot Locker so many times and I was hoping that they would just apologize. After driving by the Mall with my mom where it happened 6 months later, and realizing how much it still hurt, my parents encouraged me to journal my feelings, which then turned into an article. We sent it to JOFA (Jewish orthodox feminist alliance organization) and they agreed to publish it! I never thought it would go viral and that so many people would read the article and respond. At the time I was preparing for my Bat Mitzvah (which I just celebrated on March 7th), and I was thinking about what it means to take responsibility as a Jewish adult and speaking up was my way of taking responsibility.
I wanted to share my story to help bring awareness that women’s’ sports continue to be devalued in our society and that athletic stores 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.
After you shared your story, were you surprised that so many other girls had similar experiences to you?
I wasn’t surprised that others had these experiences since gender inequality in sports is still a big problem. But I was blown away that so many cared about what happened to me and that they shared my article, responded to my article, and wrote to me about their own similar experiences. Within 24 hours, The Washington Post contacted me to do an article, and Foot Locker reached out with an apology and an invitation to come to their store later that week to apologize in person and gift me with the Delle Donne sneakers, a Delle Donne Jersey, and a basketball. Most importantly, they told me they would use my experience to do better and enhance women’s sports.
What was your reaction when you received a response from Elena Delle Donne?
I couldn’t believe it! I was really excited! It was an amazing feeling to know that my role model heard me and cared so much about what had happened to me. Then I was even more surprised when Elena Delle Donne surprised me with a video chat and sent me the sneakers! She asked Gatorade to send me a signed Delle Donne jersey and water bottle too. She told me how proud she was of me for speaking up and that many organizations have been contacting her to see how they could help support women since the article. She said that after covid, I could hopefully meet her in person and come to a Mystics game!
How do you hope your choice to speak out about your experience at Foot Locker will help other girls?
I realized that even though I was only 11 when I wrote the article, I can make a difference. I hope my choice to speak up helps other girls know how important it is to stand up and never give up. We may be young but we could make a difference by using our voices to stand up for what we believe in. But when I saw how people responded to my article, social media comments, posts, emails with so much support, it gave me so much hope that we could all bring change to the inequalities in women sports.
What do you think athletic apparel stores can do to be more inclusive and supportive of women’s sport?
So much needs to be done to ensure that women’s attire is equally represented in stores, especially when women win the championship in any sport, there should be clothes/gear/swag for women just as there is for men. Stores and companies could also do a better try on having more diversity in girl’s activewear so that there’s a variety of sizes and styles to better fit women’s bodies. When a girl wants basketball sneakers, there should be more than one style to choose from. And so much more needs to be done to train employees to be better sensitive to issues of gender, culture, and race.
After my article, I was honored to be invited to a meeting with CEO of Dicks Sporting Goods Lauren Hobart and other Dicks executives, as well as WNBA players including Elena Delle Donne and had a conversation about how they could support girls/women athletes. I’m excited about their Expansion Of Female-Focused Initiatives. They are also forming the Company’s first-ever Girls’ Power Panel to give a younger generation of females a voice on sports issues, products, and initiatives.
It’s exciting to see that there are lots of companies who recognise the problems and are taking steps toward change.
What are your hopes for the future?
My hope is that men and women should be treated equally in sports. The rules in sports are the same for everyone but female athletes are more likely to have lower salaries, less media attention, and have less fans. For all these reasons, it’s so important to stand up and do what we can to create equality.
Even though I’m young, I want to continue to get involved in organizations that empower girls. Since my article and The Washington Post article, I have been asked to speak and share my story to spread awareness. I spoke for a women’s organization, The Global Community of Women in High School Sports and was interviewed on a couple of podcasts. I met with Donna Orender, former president of WNBA and head of Generation W who runs an organization that empowers girls and women. I also started an Instagram account called Adisports, to continue to advocate for girls in sports: https://www.instagram.com/aditopsports/
So when I see news such as inequalities or women becoming general managers, I post about them to help bring awareness.
As part of my bat mitzvah journey, I also did a shoot-o-thon to raise money for 2 organizations. Half the money I raised was given to Hoops for Kids International to be used to start a basketball program for at risk girls in foster care Israel. The hope is that basketball provides skills, confidence, and empowers these girls who are in foster care.
After writing my article, I felt like it was just the beginning and just want to do what I can to continue to advocate for women’s sports!
Thank you so much, Adi, for taking the time to speak to us.
Adi is doing incredibly important work to advocate for women’s sport, and we wish her all the best in the future. Hopefully, Adi’s experience will continue to inspire other girls to stand up for what they believe in!
Girl Museum Inc.