A couple weeks ago, the United States celebrated the 50th anniversary of Title IX – as well as the many historic women that played a role and continue to play a role in achieving equal opportunity in sports. Their relentless efforts over the past 200+ years should be celebrated.
The truth is women have long been overlooked and underappreciated in the sports community and while they’ve seen a lot of progress in recent years, there’s still a lot more that needs to be accomplished. Title IX was a turning point for historic women in sports, but it can’t be the last.
Especially when you consider how exciting women’s sports has become and how talented women can be at sports when given a chance to display their passion for it. The progress and continued improvement we see today is something we should’ve experienced centuries ago.
Who Are the Most Historic Women in Sports?
When you think about all the trailblazers in women’s sports, there are a lot of historic women that come to mind and while we would love to highlight all of them, we simply don’t have the time – seriously, we could go on for days, if not weeks. There are too many that deserve recognition.
With that said, we’re going to narrow it down to 25 of the most historic women in sports – names that everyone should know if they want to truly understand the history of women’s sports. Some of the names will sound familiar and even recent, while others might come as a mystery.
Either way, you’re going to be delighted to learn of all the different sports and athletes we have in store for you below – everything from basketball to gymnastics, hockey, track and field, rock climbing, horse racing, soccer, baseball, softball, tennis, golf, and much more. Let’s get started!
25. Lynn Hill
Lynn Hill is an American rock climber who is best known for being the first climber – male or female – to climb The Nose on El Capitan in Yosemite Valley. In fact, she completed it again one year later and did it in less than 24 hours. She was the first successful female in the sport and helped pave the way for women in the sport today. She won the Rock Master five times.
24. Simone Biles
Simone Biles is an American gymnast who is widely regarded as one of the greatest of all-time. She has won seven Olympic medals – tied for most among American gymnasts – and four of them were gold medals. She also won 19 gold medals at the World Championships between 2013 and 2019, and recently became the youngest person to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
23. Sarah Attar
Sarah Attar is a Saudi-American track and field athlete who specialized in the marathon. She became the first athlete to represent Saudi Arabia at the Olympics in 2012, competing in the women’s 800 meter run. Four years later, she ran the marathon at the 2016 Olympics. To comply with Islamic law and belief, she wore a unique head and neck covering while running.
22. Sabrina Ionescu
Sabrina Ionescu is bringing new life to the WNBA, currently playing in her third season since being drafted first overall in 2020. She recently recorded the third triple double of her career – tying the all-time record, which is held by Candace Parker. She also put up the WNBA’s first ever 30-point triple double. I can see her being the first woman to average a triple double someday.
21. Serena Williams
Serena Williams is an American tennis player and walking icon who has an 855-152 singles record and 73 single titles (23 Grand Slam titles). She also has a 192-34 doubles record with 23 doubles titles (14 Grand Slam titles). Her $94.5 million in career prize earnings is the most of any female tennis player of all-time. She also does a lot of charity work around the world.
20. Julie Krone
Julie Krone is a former American jockey who achieved things no other female has in the sport. In 1993, she won the Belmont Stakes with Colonial Affair – becoming the first female to win a Triple Crown race. She was also the first woman to win a Breeders’ Cup race, and to be inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. She revolutionized the sport.
19. Gertrude Ederle
Gertrude Ederle, also known as ‘Queen of the Waves,’ is a former American swimmer who became the first woman to swim across the English Channel in 1962 – something that had only been done by men. Not only that, but she completed the 21-mile swim two hours faster than the previous record. She also won a gold medal and two bronze medals at the 1924 Olympics.
18. Mia Hamm
Mia Hamm is a former American football (soccer) player who is widely credited with putting US women’s soccer on the map. Not only did she lead the North Carolina Tar Heels to four straight national championships, but she won two gold medals at the Olympics and two more at the World Cup with Team USA. She was the first female player inducted into the World Football Hall of Fame.
17. Wilma Rudolph
Wilma Rudolph is a former American track and field athlete who specialized as a sprinter. After winning a bronze medal in the 4×100 meter relay at the 1956 Olympics, she won three gold medals at the 1960 Olympics – the first African American female to win three golds in one Olympics. Aside from becoming a role model as an athlete, she was revered for her civil rights activism.
16. Annika Sörenstam
Annika Sörenstam is a Swedish professional golfer who is widely regarded as one of the best of all time. She turned pro in 1992 and joined the LPGA Tour in 1994, earning 72 wins on the tour since (10 major championships). In 2003, she did something that hadn’t been done by a female in 58 years – she competed in a men’s PGA Tour event (the Bank of America Colonial).
15. Tara Cunningham
Tara Cunningham is an American weightlifter who represented the United States at the 2000 and 2004 Olympic games. The 2000 Olympics were special as she became the first American to win a gold medal in weightlifting since 1960 and the first American female to ever win a gold in the sport. Not only that, but she’s the only athlete to train for three sports at the Olympics Training Center.
14. Kathrine Switzer
Kathrine Switzer is an American marathon runner who became the first female to run the Boston Marathon in 1967. During the run, she was actually assaulted by a man trying to stop her from running by ripping her bib off. The man didn’t succeed and was eventually tackled by Switzer’s boyfriend – allowing Switzer to finish the race. Five years later, the Boston Marathon finally had a women’s race.
13. Joan Joyce
Joan Joyce is an American sports legend who competed in various sports at the professional level – including golf, softball, volleyball, and basketball. In fact, she holds a laundry list of softball records, a golf record, and a basketball record. She was also the coach of Florida Atlantic’s softball team for 28 years and once struck out Ted Williams. She passed away earlier this year.
12. Florence Griffith-Joyner
Florence Griffith-Joyner, who many of us know as Flo-Jo, is a former American track and field athlete who specialized in shorter distances. She represented the United States at the 1984 Olympics (winning a silver medal) and the 1988 Olympics (three gold medals and one silver medal). Her eclectic style helped catapult her into icon status with her record-breaking ways.
11. Manon Rheaume
Manon Rheaume is a former Canadian goaltender who broke barriers when she became the first female to play in a major North American pro sports leagues. She suited up in a preseason game for the Tampa Bay Lightning of the NHL. She later won an Olympic silver medal in women’s hockey and is now the hockey operations and prospect advisor for the Los Angeles Kings of the NHL.
10. Victoria Roche
Victoria Roche is a former Korean baseball player of British adopted parents who became the first female to play on a championship roster in the Little League World Series – though girls have been playing in the league since 1974. She was an outfielder (reserve) for the Brussels team – who won the European title a week earlier. Her parent’s son also played on the team.
9. Nancy Lieberman
Nancy Lieberman is a former American basketball player who played college ball at Old Dominion University before playing nine seasons professionally. She also coached a men’s G League team, a WNBA team, and was an assistant for the Sacramento Kings of the NBA. She’s a member of four Hall of Fames and is one of the most respected women in all of basketball.
8. Nadia Comăneci
Nadia Comăneci is a former Romanian gymnast who represented Romania in the 1976 and 1980 Olympics – where she won nine medals, five of which were gold medals. In fact, she shocked the world when she scored the first ever perfect 10.0 at the Olympics in 1976 – she was just 14 years old. She finished those games with six more perfect 10.0 scores.
7. Ronda Rousey
Ronda Rousey is a former American mixed martial artist and current professional wrestler. She was the first ever female UFC champion and was part of the first ever UFC fight between two females. Not only that, but Rousey was the first American female to earn an Olympic medal and the only woman to become a champion in both the UFC and WWE – though not without criticism.
6. Steffi Graf
Steffi Graf is a former German tennis player who turned pro in 1982. During her 17-year career, she had a 900-115 singles record (107 titles, 22 Grand Slams) and became the first player (male or female) to achieve a Golden Slam – winning all four Grand Slams in the same calendar year. She also won three of the four majors in the same calendar year on five occasions.
5. Althea Gibson
Althea Gibson is a former American tennis player and golfer who is best known for helping to break the color barrier in tennis. In fact, she became the first African American to win a Grand Slam tournament in 1956 when she won the French Championships. She then won the Wimbledon and US Nationals in 1957 and 1958 – going back-to-back in both tournaments.
4. Toni Stone
Toni Stone is a former American baseball player who is best known as one of the few females to play in a men’s pro baseball league full-time. She played for the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro League in 1953 – one of three females to do so. After, she played for the San Francisco Sea Lions, the New Orleans Creoles, and the Kansas City Monarchs before her retirement.
3. Danica Patrick
Danica Patrick is a former NASCAR driver who retired as the most successful female in car racing history. She’s the first and only woman to win an IndyCar Series race and clinch a pole position in a NASCAR Cup Series race. During her seven-year career, she had seven top-tens in the NASCAR Cup Series and seven podiums in the IndyCar Series.
2. Billie Jean King
Billie Jean King is a former American tennis player and one of the most influential of all-time. She’s the founder of the WTA and Women’s Sports Foundation, always fighting for gender equality. As a player, she won 39 Grand Slam titles – including 12 singles, 16 doubles, and 11 mixed doubles. She had a 695-155 career singles record and won 129 career singles titles. She also beat Bobby Riggs in what became known as the “Battle of the Sexes.”
1. Babe Didrikson Zaharias
Babe Didrikson Zaharias is a former American sports legend who found success in multiple sports, including track and field, golf, basketball and baseball – a Swiss army knife of sorts. After winning two gold medals (hurdles and javelin) at the 1932 Olympics, she joined the LPGA Tour and won 10 major championships – 41 total LPGA wins. She did a little bit of everything!
Historic Women Continue to Break Barriers
Women aren’t done yet, which means historic women continue to play the role and even more are being born as we speak. There’s no telling what the future has in store, but it’s only getting brighter for women in sports and we have all these wonderful historic women to thank.
Some of the most inspirational female athletes in 2022 include Naomi Osaka, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Sue Bird, Mikaela Shiffrin, Eileen Gu, Emma Raducanu, Chloe Kim, Lyndsey Vonn, Maria Sharapova, Becky Hammon, Alyssa Nakken, and so much more.
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As historic women continue to break barriers in just about every sport you can think of, it’s time we start respecting women in sports for everything they do in helping to change the narrative. We hope we continue to see the progress we’ve been seeing recently – sports need it!
10 Females Breaking Their Way Into Male-Dominated Sports
Females have long been fighting for more respect, opportunity, and representation in what many refer to as male dominated sports. For example, some of the most popular male dominated sports include the likes of football, basketball, baseball, wrestling, boxing, rugby, and hockey.
As the talent in these sports continues to rise, so does the gender gap. It’s not that women aren’t talented enough – because they are. Instead, they aren’t given the same amount of attention as their male counterparts. And even when they do, they aren’t paid half as decently as men.
Just take soccer for example. The United States women’s national team has long been the more successful team when compared to the men’s national team. Yet, the women weren’t getting paid what the men were – so much that they recently settled on an equal pay agreement.
Prominent Females in Male Dominated Sports
The sports community as a whole is beginning to open up to the idea of female representation in male dominated sports. While it’s nowhere near what it should be, it’s a lot better than it was just a few years ago. Today, we’re seeing a number of females break their way into these sports.
During the 2021-22 NFL season, there were a record 12 women coaching in professional football. There are also six women actively coaching in the NBA and 11 women working as on-the-field coaches in major and minor league baseball. We’ve also seen growth in the NHL.
While those numbers are extremely small, it’s important to note that they used to be zero just a few years ago. It’s going to take some time before the numbers are in the dozens, but they’ll continue to grow in the coming years and they’ll continue to receive more senior-level positions.
To commemorate the rising number of females in male dominated sports, let’s take a look at some of the most prominent ones today – some of them coaches, and some of them players.
10. Catherine Raîche
Catherine Raîche is currently the Vice President of Football Operations for the Philadelphia Eagles of the NFL. In a day and age where females aren’t heavily represented in the front office, Raîche continues to climb the ladder. She’s the second-highest ranking female in NFL history.
Raîche earned a law degree at Université de Sherbrooke in Quebec, as well as a master’s degree in tax. She was originally working at a law firm, but decided to switch her career into sports management. Between 2015-2019, she held front office positions in the CFL and XFL.
In July 2019, Raîche made the move to the NFL. She was originally hired as football operations and player personnel coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles, which she held until her promotion to VP of Football Operations in May 2021. She’s heavily involved in the day-to-day operations.
9. Lindsey Harding
Lindsey Harding always had a knack for basketball. She had a legendary career as a guard for Duke University before being drafted No. 1 overall in the 2007 WNBA Draft. She then played nine seasons in the league and averaged 9.8 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game.
After retiring from the WNBA, she began a coaching career. During the 2018 season, she was hired as a pro personnel scout for the Philadelphia 76ers of the NBA, becoming the first African American to hold such a position. She was then promoted to a player development coach.
Today, Harding is an assistant coach and player development coach for the Sacramento Kings. She’s in her third season with the team and plays an integral role in developing the Kings’ young roster. She was also head coach of the South Sudan Women’s Senior National Team in 2021.
8. Alyssa Nakken
Alyssa Nakken is a name most baseball fans are aware of by now. In January 2020, she became the first full-time female coach in the MLB when the San Francisco Giants promoted her to an assistant coach. She previously served as an intern, originally joining the team in 2014.
Later that year, she became the first on-the-field female coach in MLB history, though it was during exhibition play. She continued to do so throughout 2021, but made history again on April 12, 2022 when she achieved that same milestone at first base during a regular season game.
Nakken was a three-sport athlete in high school and eventually played college softball for the Sacramento State Hornets. She was a first baseman and finished her college career (four years) with a .304 batting average. She loves baseball and has a bright future as an MLB coach.
7. Jenny Boucek
Jenny Boucek played college basketball at the University of Virginia and led her team to four ACC titles and three Elite Eight appearances. She graduated with a degree in sports medicine and sports management at Virginia’s Curry School of Education and Human Development.
After school, she enjoyed a brief professional basketball career that was cut short due to a career-ending back injury. She immediately began a coaching career in the WNBA and was eventually named head coach of the Sacramento Monarchs and later the Seattle Storm.
She failed to meet expectations as a head coach, but became the third female assistant coach in NBA history. She joined the Sacramento Kings, the Dallas Mavericks, and now serves as an assistant coach with the Indiana Pacers. She’s one of six active female coaches in the NBA.
6. Jennifer King
Jennifer King played college basketball and softball for Guilford College before graduating with a degree in sports management. She then spent over a decade in the WFA as a quarterback, wide receiver, and safety. She also received a Masters of Science in sports management.
During her time in the WFA, she was also coaching basketball at Greensboro College and was eventually named the head coach of Johnson & Wales University basketball team, where she led the team to a national championship after just two years. The team went 22-4 that season.
That’s when she made the jump to the NFL with the help of Ron Rivera, who hired her as an intern with the Carolina Panthers and later the Washington Commanders. She became the first full-time African American female coach in the NFL in 2021 and currently serves as the assistant running backs coach in Washington.
5. Lori Locust
Lori Locust has always had a deep love for football. She played four seasons as a defensive lineman for the Central PA Vipers in the Independent Women’s Football League, where she was eventually named team captain and MVP. Unfortunately, she had to retire due to a knee injury.
Since retiring, she has enjoyed a long and illustrious coaching career – mostly on the defensive line. She coached in the USWFL, Susquehanna Township High School, American Indoor Football, National Arena League, and several other semi-professional football leagues.
In 2018, she was hired as a defensive line coaching intern by the Baltimore Ravens of the NFL. In 2019, she joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an assistant defensive line coach, becoming the first female position coach in NFL history and the first female to win a Super Bowl in 2021.
4. Marie-Philip Poulin
We’ve talked a lot about female coaches breaking their way into male dominated sports, but let’s take a second to commemorate a female athlete that has risen to the top of women’s hockey – a sport largely dominated by men. Her name is Marie-Philip Poulin and she’s good.
She’s the best female hockey player in the world and has been for nearly 15 years. She has played 98 games in the CWHL, recording 93 goals and 103 assists in that time. She also played 79 games at Boston University, scoring 81 goals and dishing 100 assists in her four years.
That’s just the beginning because she has also had a lot of success on the national stage. She’s the long-time captain of Canada’s national team and has helped them win three Olympic golds and one silver. In 66 games with the team, she has scored 41 goals and dished 49 assists.
3. Hilary Knight
Marie-Philip Poulin might be the greatest female hockey player of all-time, but let’s not forget about Hilary Knight. The two have built quite the rivalry as Canada and Team USA go head to head often. Knight has helped Team USA to three Olympic silver medals and one gold medal.
Between 2007 and 2012, Knight played 138 regular season games for the University of Wisconsin. During that time, she scored 128 goals and dished 97 assists. She also played in 23 playoff games, scoring 15 playoff goals and dishing 22 playoff assists. She was dynamite.
Over the next seven seasons, she played 115 CWHL and NWHL games, scoring 85 goals and dishing 82 assists. She also played in 67 games for Team USA between 2007 and 2019, in which she scored 51 goals and dished 44 assists. She’s now an NHL analyst for ESPN.
2. Becky Hammon
Becky Hammon is one of the greatest WNBA players of all-time. She spent 16 seasons in the league, eight with the New York Liberty and eight with the San Antonio Silver Stars. She was a six-time All-Star and averaged 13.0 points, 2.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 1.1 steals per game.
After retiring from the WNBA after the 2014 season, she expressed her desire to coach and eventually landed with the San Antonio Spurs of the NBA. She was hired as an assistant coach, becoming just the second female to earn a coaching role in the NBA. She impressed many.
Her relationship with head coach Gregg Popovich continued to grow and she even led the Spurs to a Summer League championship in 2015. In 2020, she became the first female head coach in NBA history when Popovich was ejected during a game. She is well respected in the NBA.
While she has since taken a head coaching position in the WNBA with the Las Vegas Aces, many believe she will one day become a head coach in the NBA. She definitely deserves it!
1. Rachel Balkovec
Rachel Balkovec is currently doing what no other female has ever done in the sport of baseball – managing a professional baseball team. In 2022, she became the full-time manager of the Tampa Tarpons – a Class A minor league affiliate in the New York Yankees organization.
Balkovec was a catcher for the Creighton Bluejays and New Mexico Lobos in college. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in exercise science, master’s degree in kinesiology, and a master’s degree in human movement sciences. She then began her baseball coaching career.
She was a strength and conditioning coach in the St. Louis Cardinals and Houston Astros organizations before signing as a hitting coach for the New York Yankees. After a couple seasons with the Yankees, they named her the official manager of their Class A affiliate.
Females Are Just Getting Started in Male Dominated Sports
It’s clear that women don’t have the same opportunity as men in certain male dominated sports. Even those that have proven their talent on multiple levels aren’t given the same opportunity to showcase that talent since most male-dominate pro leagues don’t have a female equivalent.
With that said, it often only takes one woman to stand up and fight for change. We’ve seen that happen multiple times in the past few years and it’s what’s leading to the continued growth we’re seeing in pro sports today. Most of them are given small coaching roles, but it’s a good start.
But let’s also not forget about all the female athletes making way in male dominated sports. Some of them include Amanda Nunez (MMA), Chloe Kim (snowboarding), Rayssa Leal (skateboarding), Eileen Gu (skiing), Katie Taylor (boxing), and Tina Charles (basketball).
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As we start to see more women in male dominated professional sports leagues, let’s not forget that women are just as capable as men – in fact, some are more capable than men. The WNBA is a perfect example of how talented women can be when you give them an equal spotlight.
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