Inspiring Student Film Highlights Disparity in Women's Sports

Junior Cai Thomas is just a young person trying to flourish. But given all that’s happened in one month, Thomas is soaring. Last month, she won the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship, awarded to a Boston College junior for his or her academic excellence and continuous efforts in the black community. During her acceptance speech, Thomas mentioned a short film of hers highlighting a black female hockey player being released as part of a competition with the New England Sports Channel (NESN).

Thomas heard about the NESN Next Producer competition from NESN visits to various universities promoting its brand. “They are trying to grow their college market,” said Thomas. “I’m the only one from BC in the competition.” She doesn’t just film anything. She has a focus.

“Everything right now is about highlighting black women,” said Thomas. “Our stories aren’t told, and if they are, it’s not a great variety of content.” Before the competition, she documented the cast of the BC production of For Colored Girls. When NESN said these short films had to be sports-related, it wasn’t hard for Thomas to decide on documenting former BC hockey player Blake Bolden ’13.

“When I was a freshmen, I was on the BC Athletics page and saw her (Bolden) and was like wow, that’s so rare.” Bolden was a defenseman who played for the BC women’s hockey team. She is ranked second all-time for BC defensemen for points, goals and assists. In her senior year, Bolden was voted First-Team Hockey East, Second Team All-American and Hockey East Defensemen of the Year. Now, Bolden is a starting defensemen for the Boston Blades, a professional women’s ice hockey team in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.

Photo courtesy of Blake Bolden / Facebook

Photo courtesy of Blake Bolden / Facebook

Kwani Lunis ’15, an associate producer on the project, mentioned Bolden to Thomas. “I knew Blake when she went to BC, so when Cai mentioned it had to be a sports story, I first thought about Blake,” said Lunis. “I had read she had been the first black woman drafted in the first round of the CWHL, so I thought that was really interesting.” Another interesting fact about Bolden that Thomas highlights throughout the film is that Bolden and her teammates are unpaid professional athletes.

“We don’t get paid,” said Bolden in the film titled Blake Bolden. "They (the CWHL) fundraise and give us the money to play. So I don’t get a stipend for playing, but I don’t have to pay [for] travel, hockey expenses, ice time, things like that. You got to take what you get. Hopefully, one day, we’ll get paid.”

Off the ice, Bolden works a 9-5 job like most non-professional athletes. She works at InnerCity Weightlifting, a Boston non-profit that uses fitness training as a way to curtail urban violence and foster academic, personal and professional achievement for urban youth. The organization was featured on E:60, an investigative journalism show produced by ESPN covering stories related to sports. “Imagine having a 9-5 job and competing at that level with no pay,” said Thomas.

On Saturday, March 9th, the Boston Blades won the Clarkson Cup in a 3-2 overtime thriller against the Montreal Stars. The Clarkson Cup is the equivalent of the Stanley Cup for the CWHL. “They won the equivalent of the Stanley Cup and there’s no coverage. There's Olympians on this team. People are writing op-eds and profiles, but they’re not covering extensively.”

Initially, Thomas was struck by the intersection of race and gender with Bolden, but as she spent more time with Bolden and the Blades team, she realized the greater issue was the fact these athletes were being unpaid. “I just think it’s ridiculous. There needs to be people to invest because there is a market for this.” Thomas mentioned how the BC women’s hockey team that Bolden played for until 2013 went undefeated for a long stretch this season. Yet, more people seem to invest their time and money on a basketball team with a losing record. It’s a problem in women’s sports, especially in the United States.

Diana Taurasi, considered the best women’s basketball player in the world, plays for the Phoenix Mercury in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). In 2014, Taurasi made about $107,000. As a member of the Russian Premier League team UMMC Ekaterinburg, Taurasi makes approximately $1.5 million. She decided to sit out the 2015 WNBA season.

But for Bolden, it’s not pay that motivates her. It’s her love of the game. “You’re motivated because you enjoy playing hockey against the best people in the world,” said Thomas about the players. “It’s really the best hockey in the world,” said Bolden about the CWHL. “Olympians play here. Everyone from all over the world plays in this league.”

Thomas mentioned an encounter that a player of the Blades had with a player from the Boston Bruins. The Blades player approached the Bruins player to introduce herself and the Bruins player said he had no idea the Blades existed. “Appreciate the talent and the hard work that these women are putting into the game,” said Bolden. “Women’s hockey in the Olympics was the most watched sport in 2014, and I think it’s a pretty big deal and speaks volume to women’s sports.”

Thomas is an anomaly among BC students. Attempting to break into the media business through BC, she says, is not an easy task. “If you graduate from BC and break into the media, it’s because you are a hard worker.” Everything Thomas has accomplished in film has been through her efforts outside of the BC bubble.

The production resources that Thomas used for the filming of “Blake Bolden” were through Rule Boston Camera, an organization Thomas interned for that provides people with professional equipment and support they need for projects. Without Rule Boston, Thomas wouldn’t have had the necessary equipment to enter the competition. But, she had other help as well. Thomas credits director of photography Adisa Duke ’15, music composer Alex Stanley ’16 and production assistant Akil Sharperson for their help in the making of the film. “It’s been a good ride,” said Thomas.

Five years from now, Bolden mentions in the film that she might not be playing hockey, but she hopes to see women hockey players paid. “My coach comes up to me all the time,” said Bolden. “She’s like ‘Blake, we’re going to do this. You guys are going to get paid. You’re not going to have to work anymore.’” Throughout the next five years and beyond, Thomas will be telling the story of Bolden and many other female athletes who aren’t granted the equal attention they deserve and who are still flourishing, not because of pay, but because of their love for the game.

You can vote for Cai Thomas’ film “Blake Bolden” at http://nesn.com/nesnnext/

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