There have been many, many wonderful and heartfelt stories shared about Kobe and Gianna Bryant throughout the week, since the news broke about their untimely death on Sunday. One that had a particularly profound impact on me was from ESPN’s Elle Duncan.
From the SportsCenter desk, Duncan sat as poised as she could be under the circumstances and revealed that she had once met Bryant at an ESPN event and interacted with him. She was pregnant at the time and Bryant immediately lit up when she told him she was having a girl.
“Girls are the best,” Bryant told Duncan, and gave her an enthusiastic high-five.
Duncan said she and Bryant talked about raising girls, how she asked him for advice, and why girls are the best. Bryant replied happily, “I would have five girls if I could. I’m a girl dad.”
One of Bryant’s favorite things about being a “girl dad” was watching, cultivating and supporting his daughters’ athletic endeavors. His special bond with 13-year-old Gigi was not only based on a father and daughter relationship, it was also built on basketball. They saw the game similarly. And Bryant believed she could be one of the best to ever play the game — even better than him.
Duncan’s video clip has since gone viral and the #girldad hashtag is still trending on Twitter. As a result, many women — young and old — are sharing pictures and stories about their own girl dads. Proud dads have also shared photos of their daughters as well.
It’s an impactful statement, because being a girl dad isn’t just about having a daughter. That’s easy. Anyone can do that. What makes a girl dad special is the way a father loves and supports his daughters, not just at home but out in the world as well. Posting a picture of your daughters on Facebook and putting a “father of two daughters” in your Twitter bio is the bare minimum, and doesn’t mean anything if you harass women online, dog women’s sports, make disparaging comments about the WNBA and other women’s pro leagues, and of course — use the phrase, “Go back to the kitchen.”
You can’t be a girl dad and tell your daughter she can be anything she wants in life, except a head coach of a men’s professional sports team.
It doesn’t work that way.
What ultimately sets a girl dad apart from others is that girl dads know and firmly believe that whatever sports dreams their daughters have, they are achievable — regardless of gender. And they work hard and tirelessly to nurture those dreams and help cultivate them in any way they can. I should know. My dad is a girl dad. And I’m proud to say I’m his only daughter.
When I was little, my dad would sometimes put me to bed at night. He’d fall asleep while I stayed up and played with GI Joe’s on his back, pretending it was a mountain they had to climb. When I got older, he told me he’d fake being asleep sometimes because he loved listening to me play and use my imagination.
He never told me, “Girls can’t play with GI Joe’s.”
When I’d come home from a backyard football game with my two brothers and their friends, covered in dirt and grass stains from head to toe, he’d ask me who won. I’d brag about a tackle I made or how I juked a kid right out of his socks.
He never told me, “Girls can’t play football.”
Whenever the UConn women’s basketball team was on ESPN in the early nineties, I’d watch their games with pure awe and envy. I wanted to be Jennifer Rizzotti, UConn’s point guard at the time, and hang out with Rebecca Lobo. My dad would sit and watch the games with me, marveling at their talent. He’d point to the screen and ask, “Do you think you’re good enough to play there?”
“Of course I am,” I’d say.
I was 12, I thought I could do anything I wanted. He told me I’d have to work really hard, because those girls are really good and UConn is the best there is.
He never told me, “Women’s basketball isn’t as good as men’s basketball.”
On Sunday nights, my dad and I would hurry to the living room to catch NFL Primetime with Chris Berman, Tom Jackson and Robin Roberts. There was no DVR, no way to pause the TV. We had to make time for it, and we always did. It was our favorite show of the week, because we got to catch up on all of the NFL action from the day and see the Bills highlights. And when Roberts would take her turn, talking about certain players and analyzing teams, my dad would point to the screen and say, “You could do that someday.”
I believed him.
He never told me, “Women have no place covering the NFL.”
There are many more tidbits like this throughout my life, where my dad encouraged and reveled in my love for sports. But, it was more than that. My dad is a girl dad because he loved and supported everything about me, whether it fit the mold of what society deemed a girl to be or not.
We bonded over all the things that girls weren’t supposed to do or be. And not once did I ever feel I wasn’t good enough because I was a girl. Instead of telling me things I couldn’t do, he gave me advice and feedback on how I could accomplish my goals. He asked me what I thought of the Buffalo Bills new draft picks. He’d ask me about college basketball and who I thought was going to win the NCAA Tournament — men’s and women’s. He’d ask me anything about sports and valued my opinion. We talked about politics and world issues, too. We talked about everything. He listened and treated my opinions with respect and value, even when we disagreed.
To this day, our conversations are some of the most cherished moments we have together.
Growing up, my mother always believed that I’d be a sportswriter someday (and she got to see it happen before she passed away last year). My dad never pegged me one way or the other — he believed I could be anything I wanted, but he had a hunch writing would be involved.
Whenever I write an article now, I send the link to my dad. He always reads it and replies. He’ll call me to see how the writing is going for my book, and says he can’t wait to read it. And whenever he’s visiting me and we go to a pub, he’ll tell everyone around him to sign up for The Athletic. But what I love most is when I post an article, an update on my book or a podcast I’ve just been interviewed for, on Facebook.
My dad shares the post, but also leaves what has now become his signature phrase in the comment section:
Oh, by the way, that’s MY daughter.