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Mo'ne, sweet revenge for yesterday's sidelined girls

By Roxanne Jones
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Mo'ne Davis of Pennsylvania pitches to a Nevada batter during the first inning of the United States division game at the Little League World Series at Lamade Stadium on Tuesday, August 20, in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Mo'ne Davis of Pennsylvania pitches to a Nevada batter during the first inning of the United States division game at the Little League World Series at Lamade Stadium on Tuesday, August 20, in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
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Little League pitcher Mo'ne Davis
Little League pitcher Mo'ne Davis
Little League pitcher Mo'ne Davis
Little League pitcher Mo'ne Davis
Little League pitcher Mo'ne Davis
Little League pitcher Mo'ne Davis
Little League pitcher Mo'ne Davis
Little League pitcher Mo'ne Davis
Little League pitcher Mo'ne Davis
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 13-year-old phenom pitcher Mo'ne Davis' shutout a first for a girl playing Little League
  • Roxanne Jones: Mo'ne a joy for all Bleacher Creatures who weren't allowed to play
  • Jones: Mo'ne is game changer in breaking down gender stereotypes in baseball
  • Jones: Marketers want to make her into a commodity, but she's a role model on her own

Editor's note: Roxanne Jones is a founding editor of ESPN The Magazine and a former vice president at ESPN. She is a national lecturer on sports, entertainment and women's topics and a recipient of the 2010 Woman of the Year award from Women in Sports and Events. She is the co-author of "Say It Loud: An Illustrated History of the Black Athlete," (Random House) and CEO of the Push Marketing Group. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- "Hey batter, hey batter, batter -- swing!"

That's the chant my grade-school girlfriends and I would scream from the wooden bleachers at all the neighborhood Little League games. For maximum impact it was crucial to scream "Swing!" at the precise moment the ball crossed the plate. The goal was to intimidate batters to blindly swing and miss.

Roxanne Jones
Roxanne Jones

Our chants were loudest when my little brother, Rod, was on the pitching mound. He was a scrawny kid but he was a lefty so his coach sometimes let him pitch. Rod wasn't easy to hit off of and if he could strike out a few batters, we knew our neighborhood reps were safe for another day. So my girls and I cheered like our lives depended on it.

But honestly, many of us wanted to be more than "bleacher creatures." We wanted a piece of the action. Not possible. Little League back then had a strict no-girls-allowed policy.

My brother could dream of being Hall of Famer first baseman Carl "Yaz" Yastrzemski and playing for his beloved Red Sox. We had to be happy as the rowdy pep squad. And the unfairness of this rule didn't slip by us. Especially because many of us girls held our own, and better, against the neighborhood boys during our co-ed games of sandlot stick ball, baseball, football and just about every other sport. Still, none of us or our families challenged this discriminatory rule. That's just the way things were back then.

So I couldn't help but feel not only joyful but a sense of redemption as I watched Little League phenom Mo'ne Davis light up the field and shut down batters with her beautiful shutout on August 15th, in the opening game for her Philadelphia Little League team. Her feat was a first for a girl playing Little League. At 13 years old, Davis is sweet revenge for all of us not-so-young-now sisters who ever wished we could grace the Little League field or imagined making it to the Big Leagues.

Meet this 13-year-old pitching phenom
Mo'ne Davis: Female baseball sensation

And while all eyes were on Mo'ne -- primarily because her games were broadcast on ESPN -- thousands of other girls across the nation play Little League today. It was 1974, in the thick of the Women's Rights Movement, that Little League softball for girls was created, and the baseball rules and regulations all of Little League were made non-gender-specific.

Two years earlier, Title IX of the Education Amendments had been signed into law by Richard Nixon. The education law gave women greater opportunities to receive scholarships and funding for college athletics. But Title IX has been challenged for decades and gender discrimination in sports remains a continuous battle.

It's thanks to courageous young athletes like Mo'ne and the coaches who recognize their potential who are breaking down gender stereotypes. And in Little League, girls are finally making their mark.

"I started recruiting girls my first year as a coach in 1992," said John Satti, who has been involved with Little League in New London, Connecticut, for the past 23 years. "My first year, I was short about five players. So I knocked on doors and asked parents if their kids wanted to play. If girls want to play, they should be allowed to play. I've had girls on most of my teams, and women on my coaching staffs and we've won," said Satti.

It hasn't been easy to persuade girls to try out for baseball, he said. Most girls choose softball and many parents still steer their kids into traditional gender activities. Satti said: "When I ask parents about letting their girls play I usually get, "Oh no, she's a dancer," or a cheerleader." His daughters not only all played baseball, but were wrestlers as well.

Are your children redefining gender roles? Share your story with CNN iReport

Satti thinks Mo'ne Davis success is a game changer. "Her appearance absolutely changes things for girls. It shows the world that girls can play baseball at the Little League level. It will bring more girls into the game. It's phenomenal."

Last night, South Korea won the Little League World Series. Mo'ne's Philadelphia team fell out of contention when it lost to a team from Chicago last week. But Mo'one's star shines on.

Madison Avenue marketers are eager to turn her into a commodity immediately, even if it puts her hopes of playing sports in college in jeopardy. The experts are hedging bets on how much money the eighth-grader can earn in endorsement deals. "What's she worth today, $500,000, $100,000?" the experts ask. A baseball she signed in the afterglow of her perfect game fetched a shocking $510 on eBay.

Can she be packaged into "America's Top Role Model"? Can she help sell the next cool gadget to kids across the country? Hungry for a happy story, the television networks are all clamoring to interview Davis.

I'm hoping she and her family won't get sucked into the hype. The limelight is a cruel stage, especially for children. And something is wrong when the world is pressuring a 13-year-old to cash in quick just because she's earned a little respect and TV time for playing a sport she loves.

My bet is Mo'ne Davis is just getting started. A girl with her determination and talent is destined to do far greater things with her life than throw a pitch over the plate at 70 mph. Let's step back, give her room to soar and see what she can really accomplish.

Luckily, her parents seem to be thinking clearly.

"At the end of the day, she has a dream to play [basketball] for UConn, so we're not taking anything until we're clear on that, because her dream is her dream," Mark Williams, Davis' stepfather, told The New York Times recently. "That's her decision. ... None of us would like to ruin that dream."

Mo'ne doesn't need a slick marketing campaign to tell the world she's a role model. She's already changed lives and planted seeds of hope for millions of young girls around the world. And that is priceless. Simply by having the courage to step onto that mound, dominate her competitors, and, yes, even handle defeat with class, Davis has inspired more young girls than we'll ever know -- and even a few big girls like me.

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