Between the cancelling of the NCAA tournament, the NBA season, and the postponing of the MLB season, it seems as though all of our favorite sports will soon be gone….at least for the time being (OH NO!) Since nobody can watch current games of their favorite sports, let’s take this time to take a look back on the some of the great moments sports have had over the decades. And since it is still Women’s History Month, I’d love to give a shout out to our female GOATs! Let’s break this down sport by sport, shall we?
When people are asked to name female tennis greats, they think of two women (well kind of three). Depending on their knowledge of the game, or the generation they come from, most people will either name Billie Jean King or one of the Williams sisters (most often Serena).
Billie Jean King was the OG GOAT of women’s tennis. In the entirety of her career, King won 39 Grand Slam titles (12 singles, 16 women’s doubles, and 11 mixed doubles). On top of her already impressive accolades, Billie Jean King is most well known for one particular match: The Battle of the Sexes.
This match was between a then 55 year old Bobby Riggs and 29 year old Billie Jean King. Though many saw the match as a publicity stunt, King saw it as more than that. She knew she needed to win in order to push forward the women’s liberation movement, particularly in the world of sports. King stated after the match, “I thought it would set us back 50 years if I didn’t win that match. It would ruin the women’s tour and affect all women’s self-esteem.”
And win she did. In 3 sets King took the match over Riggs, officially solidifying women’s tennis as a real sport. Off the court, this win helped make her an icon in the Women’s Tennis Association as well as the Women’s Sports Foundation (two groups in which she was an initial founder). She also became a role model for every female tennis great that came after her, including this generations icons: The Williams Sisters.
Typically, any woman who wants to hit a ball with a bat plays on a softball team. However, there are some that want to take it a step farther and play baseball. When you think of women in baseball, most non-sports people (or at least non-baseball people) immediately think of the Tom Hanks movie A League of Their Own. Some see it as just a movie, however, it was based on real events. In 1943 when the men left to fight in WWII, many MLB team and field owners were scrambling for a way to keep the doors open and continue making profits. The solution, given by Cub’s owner Philip Wrigley: swap out male players for female. The idea was not well received at first, with two major issues coming up again and again: what type of ball would these women play? (since women typically played softball under different rules and regulations from men’s baseball) and where would they find women willing to play?
Once Wrigley explained that these new teams would use the same rules as the men, he began hiring scouts to pick the best ones of the bunch. What was created was a multi-team association known as the All-American Girls Baseball League (AAGBBL for short). Spring training began May 17, 1943 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, and two weeks later, on May 30th, the first official games were played. South Bend played in Rockford and Kenosha played in Racine (you probably heard those cities mentioned in the movie). When the season was over, the Racine Belle’s took home the title of champion, and the owners took home a much needed boost as well. They saw encouraging numbers regarding the numbers of fans in the stands and decided to run another season, and then another season after that. With each season new teams were added and the league seemed to get bigger and bigger. To honor the women’s accomplishments, the name of the league was later changed to the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). They played throughout the rest of the war, and even for a few seasons after the war ended and the men came home. By 1954 however, many of the teams had relocated or disbanded altogether. With only five teams remaining (South Bend, Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, Fort Wayne, and Racine), the AAGPBL played its last season.
Today, that original girl’s baseball league is honored with a permanent exhibit at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown called “Diamond Dreams: Women in Baseball.” Those players are also seen as role models for many of the young girls today skipping the sign-up line for softball and heading to sign up for the boy’s baseball teams.
While women today have their own basketball teams and an entire league, it wasn’t always that way. Before the late 1990s, women’s basketball teams did not exist. However, that didn’t stop women from trying to join the men’s teams. The first women to successfully get onto a all male basketball team was Lusia Harris in 1977, who was the 137th overall pick and went to the New Orleans Jazz. (Another woman, Denise Long, was attempted to be drafted in 1969, but the league voided the Warriors pick).
Though she never actually played for the team (she had just become pregnant during the draft), it was still an accomplishment to be drafted and she went on to play in the inaugural seasons of the Women’s Professional Basketball League (WBL). Before playing in this inaugural season in 1979, she also played for Team USA in a women’s league at the 1976 Summer Games (the first for any Olympics) and won a gold medal.
After the initial Women’s Professional Basketball League, the next big league in women’s basketball was the creation of the Women’s National Basketball Association (aka the WNBA). With it’s initial season in 1997, the WNBA started with only 8 teams split between an Eastern Conference and a Western Conference. In the East: the Charlotte Sting, Cleveland Rockers, Houston Comets, and the New York Liberty. In the West it was the LA Sparks, Phoenix Mercury, Sacramento Monarchs, and Utah Starzz. Within its 23 years of existence, there have been some shifts in teams (both names and locations) and some new ones have been added. By 2010, there were a total of 12 teams (which are still split between the Eastern and Western Conference).
Known around the world as football, the game of soccer began as early as the mid-1800s in England when it split from rugby. Originally, just like rugby, soccer/football was seen as a man’s sports. In most cases, women were not allowed to play. So when did soccer become so popular with women, to the point where many people hear the word soccer and the first thing they think of is the US Women’s National Team?
Though women had probably been playing in backyard games and smaller standardized games as early as the men’s sport formed, there was not an official league game played until 1917-1920. National games became international, with Preston, England competing against Paris in 1920. These games gained huge crowds, sometimes as large as 53,000 spectators.
Such high numbers began to scare the men’s teams, who believed that their fans would prefer to watch the women. The year after those first international games, in 1921, women’s soccer was stopped by the men’s association when a new rule was created that the women could not compete on the same pitches (aka fields) as their male counterparts. With no fields of their own, women’s soccer was done.
Slowly over the decades, women’s soccer began to rise again across the world (and in England as well). In 1971 the ban was lifted, allowing men and women to play on the same fields. Around this time was also when women’s soccer in the United States began popularizing. This was thanks in part to Title IX, which required equal funding for both men’s and women’s sports in colleges. With this new law, more women could get college scholarships for playing sports. It also happened that around this time girls high school sports (particularly soccer) were flourishing.
Women’s teams had been playing both nationally and internationally for over two decades as a part of Women’s FIFA, however, there was one level of play that every woman wanted to be a part of…the Olympics. Until 1996, Olympic soccer was only a men’s sport. The Atlanta Summer games changed that. It was the first time women’s soccer was played at the games, and every woman on every team (including Team USA’s Forward Mia Hamm) made sure that all Olympians and spectators around them knew they belonged there.
From then on, the Women’s Football Association (as well as Women’s FIFA, the US Women’s National Team, and others) kept their eye on the prize and took every game like it was a ‘do or die’ situation. And in a way it was. Not only were they competing against each other, but they were still competing against the men (not physically, but simply to prove their place in the sport as a whole).
Even today with the rise in popularity of Women’s Soccer (which has more viewership than the men’s tournaments for some games), it’s taken many of its most prominent players including Megan Rapinoe and many others of the US Women’s National Team to fight for in the professional world what Title IX created in the NCAA world: equality between the sexes. A victory should be celebrated as such, no matter your gender!
The 2020 Olympic Summer Games might not have been one of the original sports on the Coronavirus chopping block, but as of today, it is joining the rest of our beloved sports on the list of “see you next year” events. Even though it only comes around once every four years (or two if you follow both the summer and winter games), it is still a fan favorite among sports followers.
Most people hear of Olympic greats and only think of Apolo Ohno, Michael Phelps, or the original Greek god-like men competing in 1896. However, female athletes have always been a winning part of the Olympic Games as well.
The very first woman to compete in the Summer games was Helene de Pourtales of Switzerland, who was a part of the winning sailing team at the 1900 Paris games (only the second of the official modern games).
Women competed in very low numbers through the first few modern games. However, as the years went on their numbers increased. This was due to the fact that many sports were now creating separate competitions for women to compete against other women. For example, swimming & diving began opening the pool up to women as early as 1912. Other sports that initially became open to more female athletes included archery, tennis, and fencing.
Once women’s gymnastics was added to the Summer games in 1936, many female athletes began to find a home there and use it to etch their victories in history. One female gymnast that certainly is etched in history is Larisa Latynina, who competed for the Soviet Union. Throughout her career which spanned three Olympic Games (1956 Melbourne, 1960 Rome, 1964 Tokyo), Latynina accumulated 18 Olympic medals: 9 Gold, 5 Silver, and 4 Bronze. It was those medals that gave her the coveted title of ‘Most Decorated Olympian.’ She kept hold of this title for over half a century until 2016.
Today, most of the world’s favorite Olympic athletes are women…especially gymnasts. There is the Magnificent Seven of 1984, which led to the Fierce Five of 2012 and the Final Five of 2016. There are also swimmers like Katie Ledecky, Dana Torres, and Missy Franklin. And don’t forget that many of the athletes mentioned above have competed in the Olympics as well: tennis stars Billie Jean King and the Williams Sisters, as well as soccer stars Mia Hamm, Hope Solo, and Megan Rapinoe.
So many amazing female athletes, so little space in this blog (and I didn’t want to overwhelm you too much!) Now that we are all stuck in the house for the foreseeable future and have no sports to watch, feel free to binge the greatest moments of everyone mentioned above, or watch any of the other hundreds of G-GOATs (Greatest Girls of All Time!) If I missed your favorite, give her a shout out in the comments below!!