Sport: Softball needs the Olympics. And it needs baseball to care

When do the Tokyo Olympics start? Opening Ceremony date, time, TV schedule, TV channel

  When do the Tokyo Olympics start? Opening Ceremony date, time, TV schedule, TV channel The Tokyo Olympics are right around the corner and NBC Sports has you covered with all you need to know including the start time, date, Opening Ceremony schedule, how to watch and more. RELATED: Learn more about how to get Peacock here. When do the Tokyo Olympics start? The Games of the XXXII Olympiad will begin on Friday, July 23 and go through Sunday, August 8, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. When is the Tokyo Olympics Opening Ceremony? The Tokyo Olympics Opening Ceremony will take place on Friday, July 23. According to NBC Olympics, the Opening Ceremony will be broadcast live on NBC beginning at 6:55 a.m.

TOKYO — Asked to imagine her future in fourth grade, Aubree Munro drew herself in a Team USA softball jersey. It was 2004, and that summer, she begged her mom to wake her in the middle of the night when the Olympic softball games were played in Greece. Ten years old, she struggled to stay up for the whole game, but she got to see the first few innings of Team USA’s gold medal run.

Growing up, Janie Reed would practice signing her autograph with “USA” right after it. She aspired to join the ranks of Olympic softball players like Stacey Nuveman, Jennie Finch, and the rest of the 2008 team that took home silver from Beijing. Recently, she found a poster of that team in her parents’ garage — a relic of the last time softball was played on an Olympic stage. That is, until Wednesday morning in Fukushima, Japan, when a slate of softball games marked the long-delayed start to the “2020” Olympics.

NBA Finals MVP winners through the years

  NBA Finals MVP winners through the years Recent winners of the Bill Russell Trophy as NBA Finals MVP.

Munro and Reed are living out their childhood dreams as members of the American team that defeated Italy 2-0 in just the second event of the Games that will dominate the global sports narrative for the next three weeks. But in the 13 years that have elapsed since the ‘08 Games, plenty of equally talented athletes have been forced out of softball.

“We’ve all seen a spike in [sponsorship] opportunities since we've been put back in the Olympics,” Munro said when she spoke to Yahoo Sports in February. “But in the window between 2008 and and 2016 [when it was announced that softball would be part of the 2020 Games], a lot of the money, a lot of the sponsorships for the team in general kind of fizzled out, and then it's tough also to get the individual sponsorships.

Men's Olympic soccer standings 2021: Updated tables, scores, results from football tournament

  Men's Olympic soccer standings 2021: Updated tables, scores, results from football tournament With the Opening Ceremonies for the Tokyo Games around the corner, here are some fun facts about the medals.

“You saw a lot of really talented women hang it up, potentially prematurely, because there just weren't enough opportunities, and you got to pay the bills somehow.”

The best baseball players in the world don’t have that problem. They also don’t play in the Olympics.

a baseball player holding a bat: Aubree Munro, Team USA and softball players as a whole need the Olympics to thrive. But they're all intertwined with baseball in the eyes of the Games, which is problematic. (REUTERS/Jorge Silva) © Provided by Yahoo! Sports Aubree Munro, Team USA and softball players as a whole need the Olympics to thrive. But they're all intertwined with baseball in the eyes of the Games, which is problematic. (REUTERS/Jorge Silva)

Simply put: Softball needs the Olympics more than baseball does. It’s not about charity, it’s about equity and opportunity — or more accurately, the lack thereof for three years and 11 months out of every four.

The not-incidental corollary is that Olympic softball is a better showcase of talent than Olympic baseball.

“Not that it's not a great opportunity on the baseball side, but with the softball side, you have a contingent of women that are the best athletes possible,” said Jessica Mendoza, who played on both the ‘04 and ‘08 USA Olympic softball teams and is now an MLB analyst for ESPN. She’ll be covering both bat-and-ball sports in Japan, the latest achievement in a broadcast career built, at least in part, on the valuable experience and name recognition that comes with being an Olympic medalist. “It's different in a lot of ways, but with softball it's flat out the pinnacle.”

Olympics schedule 2021: Day-by-day TV coverage to watch Tokyo Games on NBC channels, stream online

  Olympics schedule 2021: Day-by-day TV coverage to watch Tokyo Games on NBC channels, stream online Here's what's happening at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics today as well as a TV schedule to watch every event in the United States and Canada.During the 2016 Rio Olympics, the United States broadcast 6,755 hours of Olympic action. Canada itself produced over 2,000 hours. Each country could set new Summer Games-highs in 2021.

That men who throw a small round ball, or try to hit it with a bat, make more money when they do so successfully than women is, unfortunately, neither exceptional in sports at large nor newsworthy. But the uneasy pairing of baseball and softball is a particular case in which the women’s precious place within the Olympics is rendered more precarious by the men’s lavish options elsewhere.

Without the Olympics, softball peaks with the College World Series, a popular event that recently drew better ratings than its baseball counterpart. But those players are 18-22 years old and even the best of them will struggle to support themselves on softball alone after they graduate.

“The few opportunities that are after college are just not on television in the same capacity as the Olympic Games,” Mendoza said. “It’s not even close.”

The TV thing matters. Increasingly, an athlete’s earning potential — especially for female athletes — is tied to their personal platform. It’s how they garner sponsorship deals. Now it's also the basis of an entire new league format for women's sports that looks to leverage the popularity of individual athletes.

What Will an Opening Ceremony Without Spectators Look Like?

  What Will an Opening Ceremony Without Spectators Look Like? Here's everything we know about Friday's official commencement for the Tokyo Olympics. © Provided by Sports Illustrated Very Olympic Today is SI’s daily Olympics newsletter. You can receive each issue for free in your inbox by subscribing here. To continue reading the newsletter at SI.com every day, along with the rest of our Olympics coverage, readers can subscribe to SI.com here. The opening ceremony is here, and, as you probably have guessed, it’s going to be strange. NBC will broadcast the spectacle live at 7 a.m. ET on Friday.

And for girls who love the game and grow up to be women who want to work in baseball, the lack of a corresponding W league means that the chance to build a resume in post-graduate softball is that much more important.

“We're not playing Major League Baseball as women. The Olympics is our way of showing that I've played my sport at the highest level you can possibly play,” Mendoza said. “For resume purposes, it's like, you can say I played a national championship game. But the Olympics is just this other level that you can add to be able to cross over and compete with all these men that want the same jobs.”

Baseball and softball were not officially linked for their Olympic appearances in the '90s and aughts, but they were voted out together in 2005 and have returned this year two disciplines in a now-joint IOC federation. That means that going forward, as baseball goes, so does softball. Both are out for Paris 2024 with their fate for the Los Angeles 2028 Olympics still hanging in the balance.

A number of inauspicious factors will ultimately go into the IOC’s decision, like global reach and youth popularity, but it certainly doesn’t help that baseball’s biggest stars never participate in the Olympics. The prevailing wisdom has long been that MLB and the team owners would never sanction a break in the jam-packed season to allow players to travel to a rival tournament. And with their major league careers providing more than enough money and glory, the players have never been especially motivated to push for the opportunity either.

Olympic softball, explained: How group play, standings work in 2021 tournament format

  Olympic softball, explained: How group play, standings work in 2021 tournament format With just six teams, the 2021 Olympic softball tournament is easy to understand. Here's everything to know about the format and how it work in Tokyo.Olympic softball has, unfortunately, been an on-again-off-again event since first being introduced in 1996, with the last two Games not hosting any softball, much to the chagrin of Team USA and the rest of the softball-starved world.

The result looks like a paradox or an impasse. For all their grassroots initiatives to get girls into bat-and-ball sports, perhaps the best way MLB could support the careers of their current female counterparts is by throwing their star power — which extends across national teams, as many of the best international players end up in the league — behind softball’s quest to stay an Olympic sport. But the scheduling conflict seemingly makes that impossible.

“I don’t think it’s impossible,” Mendoza said, though, when I lamented this. “I mean, there's all these examples of different sports that take a break for the Olympics because they understand the importance.”

(Japan’s NPB and Korea’s KBO leagues both paused their seasons to accommodate the current Olympics; the NHL has also done so in the past and is reportedly willing to do so for the 2022 Games.)

Mendoza wants MLB to do it for softball’s sake. And because she thinks they can — the current condensed format takes only 12 days and could be squeezed into an extended All-Star break. Once every four years. At least for the L.A. Games. They don’t even have to go anywhere.

And because it wouldn’t be all altruism, either. Mendoza sees it as an opportunity for baseball to grow its perpetually fretted-over fanbase.

“To be perfectly honest,” she said, “most of the audience that is watching the Olympic Games is not watching Major League Baseball. So now you're bringing people in.”

It’s a good point, and maybe it will motivate a change. Because softball’s plight certainly hasn’t.

“Now with softball being in and out of the Olympics,” Reed said, “it makes it really, really sad I guess for the sport in this country.”

More Olympics coverage from Yahoo Sports:

  • Wetzel: Tokyo doesn’t seem to want to host its own Olympic Games

  • Booker flying to Tokyo with Bucks stars who beat him in NBA Finals

  • Negley: Why female athletes like Biles, Stewart are bolting from Nike

  • Australian equestrian out of Games after testing positive for cocaine

Simone Biles Reveals Details on 'Twisties' Problem .
"My mind and body are simply not in sync," the gymnast wrote on Instagram, explaining how she was feeling, the risks of her routine and her current practice routine in Tokyo. Very Olympic Today is SI’s daily Olympics newsletter. You can receive each issue for free in your inbox by subscribing here. To continue reading the newsletter at SI.com every day, along with the rest of our Olympics coverage, readers can subscribe to SI.com here.In the early morning hours on Friday, Simone Biles took to Instagram, posting a series of training videos and answering questions from fans.

See also