A.J. Andrews wants to level the playing field

(submitted photo)

A.J. Andrews remembers the day when she became the first woman to ever win the Rawlings Gold Glove Award for softball, which has been given annually to one player in the National Pro Fastpitch League since 2016.

However, she doubts others remember the milestone victory because, unlike the 53-year-old, traditionally televised annual baseball ceremony where male players are recognized, the inaugural softball ceremony wasn’t broadcast live.

“Three women have come after me, but there’s no spotlight on us,” says Andrews, who graduated from LSU in 2015. “It was definitely a turning point for me because then I felt like I had a responsibility to elevate my platform of lifting up other women in sports.”

Over the past four years, she’s figuratively (and in some cases, literally) hit the ground running with one key mission: to uplift women’s sports—in terms of pay, media attention and overall respect—all in an effort to level the playing field within the sports industry.

Since being drafted from LSU her senior year as the seventh-overall pick in the nation, Andrews has been an outfielder for the Akron Racers and, more recently, has also been among the first players to join Athletes Unlimited, a pro-softball league that debuted in August. The league’s model is more akin to Fantasy Softball, with a point structure dependent upon performance, plays and game outcomes and different teams drafted each week.

“It’s been really groundbreaking,” Andrews says, noting ESPN has aired many of their games, and a similar volleyball league will launch in February. “It’s the future for women in sports.”

The league marks just one of the many hats Andrews has worn since March, when the coronavirus pandemic rocked the sports industry. Following some advice she would’ve given her 18-year-old self, Andrews decided at the onset of the pandemic to “invest in the right things early”—not only from a monetary standpoint but also from a time perspective.

Several of those “investments” include inking sponsorship deals with DraftKings, Baton Rouge’s own Marucci Sports and Chase Bank, among others, as well as landing motivational speaking engagements and television hosting gigs with media outlets like ESPN, Eastbay and Players Tribune. Through these jobs, Andrews says she’s able to work with a variety of brands that value raising the profile of women in sports, which in turn has led to her sport, softball, getting more attention and respect.

Additionally, wanting to avoid a post-athletic career slump, Andrews has been quietly developing a business savvy and now holds equity in various companies. She began a series of female athlete-led panels in January that she ultimately wants to transform into conventions dedicated to uplifting women’s sports, and, sometime in the near future, she plans to launch a skincare line targeting athletes.

By embracing her passion for storytelling, Andrews has learned that there’s an audience for everything, and they’re what keeps her motivated in her quest for equality among athletes.

“Women athletes have yet to reach our full potential in what we can do, as we’ve been doubted and cast aside for so long,” Andrews says. “But the realization that women are powerful is starting to come to fruition, and that’s what drives me—the idea that there will be a day when it’s a societal norm to want to watch a women’s professional softball game on the big screen.”

Follow Andrews on Instagram here.