Ari Ivory at 2022 US Open


A professional cheerleader noticed women’s sports highlights were leftovers. She decided to change things

HighlightHER and the power of representation.


Alex Tzelnic

Internet Culture

Posted on Sep 15, 2022   Updated on Sep 14, 2022, 8:55 am CDT

Growing up in North Carolina, Ari Chambers—founder of the Instagram page HighlightHER and a budding media mogul who was featured on Forbes’ 2021 30 Under 30 Sports list— did not have to look far for inspiration. She was surrounded by brilliant and dynamic women, from Dawn Staley of the WNBA’s Charlotte Sting, to Mia Hamm kickin’ it down the road at UNC, to legendary cheer coach Cathy Buckey at Chambers’ future alma mater, NC State. 

“My first exposure to elite athleticism was on the women’s side,” Chambers recalled to me in a conversation for Presser. “I was able to see all these powerful women in sports growing up. That’s who I looked up to.”

That’s why it was so strange to her, when she became a cheerleader at Madison Square Garden for the NBA’s Knicks, NHL’s Rangers, and WNBA’s Liberty, that the media section at Liberty games featured only three or four reporters. In a stadium known as the world’s most famous arena, why was there only one unfilled media row to give the Liberty players shine?

Chambers decided to fill that void—and then some. She began using her phone to record interviews with players, offering fans a window into the joys and challenges of being a professional female athlete. The videos gained traction, eventually catching the attention of Doug Bernstein, general manager of Bleacher Report’s uber popular Instagram page, House of Highlights. A partnership developed and HighlightHER was born. 

“It was created to give us a sisterhood,” says Chambers. “To showcase our talents and our stories, and give an all-encompassing feel of what it’s like to be a woman in sports and culture.”

Still, Chambers didn’t expect the account, which has amassed around 200,000 followers, to have this much of an impact. Sports highlights, after all, were historically the sphere of professional male athletes. 

As a kid of the ‘90s, I spent countless mornings with a bowl of Lucky Charms in my lap and Sportscenter on TV, on the edge of my seat as the anchors—also typically men—took the viewer through games from the four major professional sports, the outcomes in the pre-internet age mystery until the end of the reel. Occasionally, a highlight from women’s sports would make the cut, the gist of it being, “Look, women can dunk!”

Once the Sportscenter highlight reel no longer reflected real time, however, social media became the ultimate highlight amalgamation tool. A funny thing happened: People wanted to see professionals, sure, but they were no longer reliant on broadcast footage to capture magical moments. The world of highlights expanded to amateurs, becoming a meritocracy in which an account like House of Highlights might feature a LeBron James poster followed by a clip of LeBarn James, a redheaded farmer sinking shots in his overalls.

It was in this cultural climate that HighlightHER emerged, with the specific intention to highlight anyone and everyone that might identify as “HER,” athlete or not.

A recent post featured a teacher with one hand showing a student who also has one hand how to tie a ponytail. The caption reads, “This is so special…representation is everything ❤️.” When I asked Ari why representation matters so much, she noted the steep drop-off in female athletic participation after age 14.

“Inclusion matters,” said Chambers. “It shouldn’t feel like anything is unattainable. Not everyone is going to be a professional or collegiate athlete but you have to see yourself in somebody, and that can mean the person down the street that can achieve great things.” To this end, the account often shares videos that very well may have been taken down the street, alongside WNBA game winners, or a fan catching a baseball with her prosthetic leg.

In the same year as the 50th anniversary of Title IX, Chambers cautioned that we still have a lot of unlearning to do, but was uplifted by the fact that young athletes today won’t remember a time before the WNBA. 

“There is no limit to the potential of women in the sports space, and that will trickle down, that momentum will carry, and go from being a trend to being the norm,” said Chambers. “Representation is going to be the key to guiding the next generation.”

One of Chambers’ favorite posts was a viral clip of a Muslim soccer player whose hijab was knocked loose midgame, resulting in a few members of the opposing team forming a tight circle around her so that she could readjust it in private. As a girl dad myself, such moments are so refreshing, hopeful, and inspiring, and I’m grateful there is a platform that showcases such highs—as well as the hilarious lows, like high school baller Reagan Salter celebrating an airball with undeniable swag

HighlightHER celebrates a vast spectrum of athletic identity, and though I’m hoping it is still a long while before my daughter accesses social media (she’s only 3 after all), I know there will be at least one account I’d like her to follow, and one mogul I’d like her to look up to.

See more stories from Presser – examining the intersection of race and sports online.

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*First Published: Sep 15, 2022, 6:00 am CDT