Women’s professional sports leagues utilize social media to continue pre-pandemic growth

By Leah Vann
Medill Reports

Chicago Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler stands against the blue backdrop of a team-themed blanket, staring into a camera to address nearly 1,000 fans sitting in front of their screens on the other end of a Zoom call on Thursday, April 30, 2020.

It’s the annual unveiling of the new team’s jerseys, called a, “Kit Launch,” and it was supposed to be the largest ever jersey unveiling event, where 250 fans would gather at Pinstripes on Chicago’s riverfront raising their signature cocktails to toast what should’ve been the start of the most exciting season of the National Women’s Soccer League yet. While the in-person event would’ve been more fun, the online version of it attracted more fans from across the country.

The room for growth in women’s sports exceeds men’s. Before the pandemic’s impact, Deloitte projected that the rise of women’s sports in 2020 would dominate the sports industry and that “sponsors should consider getting involved now to capitalize on the new opportunities and avenues for engagement that this growth area may create.”

On March 12, that dream of a record-breaking season came to a halt when Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, making the NBA the first domino to fall in what was a chain of professional sports postponements and cancellations. The pandemic’s impact was especially disheartening for women’s professional sports, where teams were anxious to continue their pre-pandemic growth.

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Plastic panic in the pandemic: How single-use items meant to protect us will harm the planet

By Zack Fishman
Medill Reports

When a COVID-19 patient is hospitalized at the George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C., they receive a lot of attention from healthcare workers. Whether it’s a nurse doing an hourly check-in or a team of doctors responding to a worsening condition, a medical professional enters a patient’s space about 50 to 80 times per day — and nearly every time, they have to wear a new set of personal protective equipment, or PPE. To prevent spread of the novel coronavirus, healthcare workers don disposable masks, gloves, gowns and other equipment from head to toe. When the visit is over, the equipment is thrown away.

GWU Hospital has had more than 1,000 COVID-19 patients come through its doors, according to Nicole Dollison, the COO of GWU Hospital, though fewer have been hospitalized after initial treatment. Yet the number of patients multiplied by the number of their visits equals a lot of required PPE. The hospital has cut down on the number of surgeries and emergency room services since the nation’s capital went into lockdown on April 1, yet it is consuming twice as many N95 masks as usual and three times as many plastic gowns and boot covers.

“Pretty much everything at least doubled, if not tripled, our normal usage,” Dollison says. The hospital has been producing more medical waste as a result, and Dollison expects it to grow even more as Washington begins its first phase of reopening and GWU Hospital restarts its other medical services.

Like many hospitals worldwide, GWU Hospital has been using more PPE to keep employees and patients safe from the highly infectious coronavirus. But nearly all of the safety equipment employed for this purpose — the N95 masks, the gowns, the gloves — are made of non-recyclable plastic, and they will eventually be thrown out. Where they go next is a crucial question for the environment’s well-being. Continue reading

Kayla Caudle impacts lives one basketball bounce at a time

By Caroline Kurdej
Medill Reports

There’s a reason the hallway leading to Doug Bruno’s office is decorated with hard hats, lunch pails and pictures of steelworkers. “I want my players to walk out the door here, knowing there’s a real-life world out there,” Bruno said.

Kayla Caudle, a rising sophomore on DePaul University’s women’s basketball team, brings a contagious blue-collar work ethic to every day of practice, regardless of her station on the Blue Demon hierarchy.

“Just like work ethic is contagious inside of practice, the willingness to be a servant is also contagious,” Bruno said. “That she cares about serving her fellow humans is contagious as well.”

Caudle’s personal philosophy reflects in her double major of Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies and Political Science. Her social justice roots intertwine with DePaul’s Vincentian mission.

Bruno reflects DePaul’s Vincentian values in his belief that true leadership is founded on service. “She is a true service leader,” Bruno said. Caudle’s service extends into not only the local Chicago community, but hundreds of miles overseas.

DePaul’s basketball players aren’t just talented athletes, “they’re players that are even better people,” Bruno said, “and value what St. Vincent de Paul is all about — service to others.”

Kayla Caudle playing basketball on a mission trip in Uganda at the St. Jerome COVE Primary School. (Courtesy of the Caudle family)

“I’m an able-bodied, healthy basketball player,” Caudle said, “who has the opportunity in the world. What am I doing with that?”

Caudle’s family has had orphanages and churches in Haiti for generations — Kayla’s “great grandfather, times five,” from her mother’s side was the emperor of Haiti. Caudle directly descends from Toussaint L’Ouverture, the leader of the Haitian independence movement during the French Revolution. “So my family believes,” she said with a laugh.

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COVID-19: Stories from across America

By Bre’onna Richardson
Medill Reports

In this June 15-22 special report, COVID-19: Stories from across America, Medill Reports examines the rising unemployment rate, celebrates nurses and educators and talks to business owners who are worried about the increasing number of coronavirus cases across the country.

From Illinois to California, Michigan to Florida and everywhere in between, we find out how the coronavirus is changing the way we live.

Photo at top: A group of nurses, who work with sick coronavirus patients, in Los Angeles, California. (Michael Thomas Gonzales/MEDILL)

Senior student-athletes react to NCAA cancellations

By Sally Ehrmann
Medill Reports

Jason Kerst sat alone in the University of Iowa men’s tennis locker room winding down from an intense workout. Amidst the black and yellow equipment and Hawkeye tennis displays, Kerst received a screenshot of the NCAA’s announcement on March 12 that winter and spring sports were canceled the rest of the academic year because of COVID-19 concerns.

Kerst had an overwhelming reaction, bombarded with emotions. He couldn’t make sense of any of it. Calls and texts flooded into his inbox.

“Honestly, I wasn’t in a place where I wanted to deal with it at the time,” Kerst said. “I left my phone behind and sat on our courts. There was no one there at the time. So, I sat there, stared into space and thought and prayed about all of it.”

Kerst is one student-athlete among more than 460,000 who saw their futures changed that March day. The decision affected 32 teams at more than 350 Division I schools. And for senior student-athletes like Kerst, the following weeks led to emotional turmoil as they said goodbye to their college careers while making plans for the next few years amidst a pandemic.

Student-athletes share widespread feelings of shock, confusion and disbelief over the decision to completely cancel competition. Wisconsin women’s golfer Eloise Healey said she expected some sort of cancellation but not the measures taken.

Healey scrambled to understand what it all meant. As an international student from Liverpool, England, she had to consider if she should stay in Madison with teammates, go home and what it would all mean for her golf career. Soon after, she heard the U.S. planned a European travel ban. She spent the next four days packing up four years of her life to go home to England. Her sheets and comforter remain on the bed in her apartment in Madison.

“I was very emotional,” Healey said. “I didn’t know if school was going to restart. Is graduation even happening at this point? Am I ever going to come back? In the space of four days, I had to say goodbye to everyone and everything.”

Soon after the cancellation, student-athletes at schools across the country joined forces to petition the NCAA to grant another year of eligibility. The Division I Council did allow a special waiver for spring student-athletes. However, students competing in winter sports faced the realization their college careers were suddenly over.

Evan Cheek, a redshirt senior wrestler at Cleveland State University, had visions of an NCAA championship in his head. But he said he feels grateful to have been a part of his team for the last five years even if it wasn’t the ending he expected.

“If it wasn’t for wrestling, I honestly wouldn’t have thought about coming to college,” Cheek said. “I wasn’t super big into school in high school. Now I get to see everything I’ve done since then. College sports to some people might not even be about the sport. It might really be the reason they go to school.”

While winter sports ended, spring student-athletes considered what to do with the option of another year of eligibility.

Elizabeth Elder, a redshirt senior on Northwestern’s women’s lacrosse team, had long conversations with her parents about the possibility of her returning for another year. However, past injuries led her to decline the extra eligibility.

“It’s just been such a dream,” Elder said. “Since I was nine, I started telling my family and friends that I was going to play lacrosse at Northwestern. From that point on, I did everything in my power to make that happen. It was me living out a childhood dream.”

Not all student-athletes had the chance to utilize the NCAA’s waiver. The Ivy League announced in early April it would not allow senior student-athletes back. The University of Wisconsin’s athletic director, Barry Alvarez, made a similar decision to refuse the waiver for fourth-year student-athletes.

For Amy Davis, a Wisconsin women’s cross country and track and field runner, Alvarez’s decision is filled with pain.

“Camp Randall can be a very secure place for some people,” Davis said. “When you take a secure place away, where it’s really like one of the only for sure things in our lives, that’s really difficult.”

Uncertainty is an uncomfortable reality for many student-athletes right now. Sports psychologist Michelle Cleere sees the fear of the unknown being a significant cause of mental stress for student-athletes during this pandemic.

“Athletes are losing a piece of their identity,” Cleere said. “So, it’s ‘Ok, what do I do now? What do I do in the meantime?’ while moving through this. … Many times people don’t understand what it feels like to be in this place of ‘Well, I was just training and competing and now I’m not.’ Which is a very difficult, sudden transition.”

Finding new goals and ways to stay motivated is the key to getting over the hump of the fear of the unknown, Cleere said. For the 22 and 23-year old student-athletes, they can look to their future careers to stay inspired beyond the pandemic.

Davis said she would like to begin a professional running career with guidance from former coaches but is also considering graduate school to be a part of collegiate recruiting in the future. Healey said she plans on transferring to another American university to finish two years of collegiate eligibility before earning her LPGA card.

Elder is finishing a master’s degree in Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern through December. Kerst declined an internship to return to Iowa and finish his final year of tennis. Cheek will coach high school wrestling in Cleveland once sports are back.

Amidst the confusion, pain, frustration, anger and loss, many student-athletes remain hopeful. They realize that life, eventually, will return to a semblance of normal.

“It would be easier to be super upset and depressed about it,” Elder said. “And, at first I was. But, I have my house. My family is healthy. There’s a lot bigger stuff going on.”

Photo at top: Tennis courts on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus sit empty with no nets, a symbol of the NCAA canceling winter and spring sports for the remainder of the school year. (Sally Ehrmann/MEDILL)

Fight for Justice: Stories from across America

By Bre’onna Richardson
Medill Reports

In this June 8-15 special report, Fight for Justice: Stories from across America, Medill Reports looks at how the Black Lives Matter movement has already led to policy changes across the country and how tough battles lie ahead for healthcare workers as coronavirus cases spike in several states.

From Chicago to Texas, Michigan to Florida and everywhere in between, we find out how the coronavirus and social activism are changing the way we live.

Photo at top: Protestors holding Black Lives Matter signs in Chicago. (Yousef Nasser/MEDILL)

The other lender of last resort

By Alyk Russell Kenlan
Medill Reports

COVID-19 has caused a role reversal in pawnshop borrowers.

During the first four weeks of Illinois’ stay-at-home order, some pawnshops in lower-income areas of Chicago saw fewer new loans taken out and old loans being paid back early. Pawnshops in wealthier parts of the city, however, faced a rush of new loans as people scrambled for cash.

Federal government relief has not come equally to all. For some middle-income earners, the overnight disappearance of jobs a month ago cast many into financial turmoil, despite stimulus payments and unemployment benefits. For those who were already struggling financially, however, government aid provided more income than before the pandemic employment.

“I’m completely baffled at what happened,” said Daniel Lebovitz, owner of Chicago Pawners & Jewelers located on Chicago’s west side. “People trying to get money is down 50%.”

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What I’ve Learned: Jorge Martinez on lessons from the Vietnam War

By Gurjit Kaur
Medill Reports

Vietnam War veteran Jorge Martinez, 72, recounts his experiences during and after the war.

When I was 20 years old, I got drafted — wound up in Vietnam. Uncle Sam sent me a letter of greeting: “You are hereby ordered for induction.”

There was a battle called Hamburger Hill. I had my squad. We had been on this mission for about a week. I was taking what they call point, the first man in the squad at the front of the company, being the guy negotiating the jungle. So everybody follows you. The deal was that we were supposed to alternate every day, one squad one day, another squad another day. Then we’re on the trail and Sergeant Clark, our platoon leader, tells us to stop for a mini break. I’m sitting down and this blond blue-eyed kid from New York sits next to me. A kid named Di Meola. He’s a leader for the other squad.

He says, “Well, how much time you got left.” I go, “30 days.”

I ask him, “How much time you got left?” He says, “I got 60.”

No sooner, Sergeant Clark says, “Martinez, moving out.” I turn around, I tell the sergeant, “Hey Sarge, we’ve been at point three days. We’re supposed to alternate every day.”

He tells my friend, “Di Meola, move it out.” So he gets his squad up. They walk past us. He took point. After five minutes of traveling down a bit of a canyon, he ran into an ambush and got blown away.

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Arts and culture non-profits hit by stay-at-home order find flexibility from foundations

By Kari McMahon
Medill Reports

During the spring season, the Garfield Park Conservatory expected around 70,000 visitors to pass through its doors. But on March 17, two days before the first day of spring, the conservatory closed based on public health advice. Visitors stayed home, and revenue was lost.

The free-to-visit conservatory, a botanical oasis located within the concrete of the city on the West Side of Chicago, earns revenue through a combination of memberships, in-person donations at the conservatory entrance, fundraising events and grants. Most of these revenue streams have taken a hit following the implementation of Illinois’ stay-at-home order on March 20 to minimize the spread of the coronavirus.

“The effect has been the shut off of our revenue streams for visitors attending [the conservatory],” said Jennifer Van Valkenburg, CEO and president of Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance, a nonprofit organization that works with the Chicago Parks District to provide events and resources to conservatory visitors.

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Optimistic outlook from analysts on Abbott Laboratories for 2021

By Kari McMahon
Medill Reports

Abbott Laboratories, a medical devices and health care company established in 1888, is one of the few companies equipped to face uncertainty. Now, Abbott may be facing its biggest challenge yet: an economic and health crisis combined.

Over the last 132 years, Abbott, located in Lake Bluff, Illinois, has overcome many obstacles. When the stock market crashed in 1929 and the U.S. entered the Great Depression, Abbott listed its stock on the New York Stock Exchange and continued to expand. During the AIDS epidemic, which began in 1981, Abbott rose to the challenge and received approval for the first licensed test to identify HIV in the blood. A year after the Great Recession, in 2010, Abbott became the largest pharmaceutical company in India.

Now Abbott’s biggest challenge is tackling the global impact of the coronavirus. On Jan. 19, the U.S. had its first outbreak of the coronavirus, and in the following months, cases have continued to rise. The total number of Americans who have died from COVID-19 is 112,967 as of June 11, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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