Haylie Wagner, Gwen Svekis and Victoria Hayward all ran into one another’s arms upon the final out of their softball season, on Sept. 28. Wagner was the starting pitcher, Svekis her catcher and Hayward the center fielder, and theirs was the standard embrace of teammates winning a championship game: exhaustion mixed with joy, streaked with happy tears. Except that this situation was not standard at all. Almost a year earlier, they had been the first three players to sign on with an upstart, experimental league; and while they were, for this moment, on the same squad, they’d separated and rejoined sporadically over the course of the six-week season, acting as teammates one week and opponents the next. Though they had just won the final game of the season together, they had not won a championship. In fact, no team title was awarded. Instead, players were ranked individually, using a unique scoring system, and the lone gold medal went to one of their teammates, the staff ace, who had not even pitched that day.
This is the foundation of Athletes Unlimited: team sports reimagined to focus on individual players, with no head coaches, no club owners and no locked rosters. The novel new outfit is led by its performers, both in the sense that they draft their own teams and develop their own game strategies, and in the sense that they each have an ownership stake in the league. Every decision, from uniforms to sponsorships, runs through a player-run executive committee. With some success, the league’s founders hope this will all serve as a roadmap for the future of sports—and they believe their best chance at getting there is to start with women.
This experimental outfit is tailoring itself to today's tastes: no head coaches or owners or locked rosters, just draft after draft ...