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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Celebrating and recognizing trailblazers in women’s sports

Acknowledging the women who pushed for gender equality within the industry

 

By CAROLYN (CARI) FENN — sports@theaggie.org

 

Within the U.S., Women’s History Month has been annually observed in March since 1987. The purpose of the month is to celebrate women’s contributions to history, culture and society. This includes women’s vital role in transforming the sports industry and inspiring future generations of young women to know that their dreams are achievable. 

While there were some professional competitions in the late 1800s that allowed women to compete, the big advancement came in 1900 when the Olympics approved the participation of women. Sadly, there have been plenty of setbacks in advancing women’s sports in the 124 years following the 1900 Summer Olympics. 

Despite the setbacks in women’s sports due to the gender inequality that still plagues our society today, there are plenty of women who have made incredible strides in creating change. From Althea Gibson to Megan Rapinoe, female athletes across different sports are working hard to not only grow women’s sports but make sure that female athletes are given the same treatment as their male counterparts in the sporting world. As time goes on and more women continue to further gender equality in sports, it is important to remember the incredible accomplishments of the women who came before and make sure they are not forgotten. 

Althea Gibson

Before the Williams sisters entered the tennis scene, there was Althea Gibson. With tennis having been a segregated sport in the 1940s and 50s, Gibson broke barriers when she became the first African American player to participate in the US National Championships in 1950 and the first Black player to compete at Wimbledon in 1951.

While being the first African American player to participate in these prestigious competitions is incredible within itself, she did not stop there. Gibson continued to improve and in the 1956 French Open became the first Black player to win a grand slam tournament. Then in 1957, she became the first Black champion in Wimbledon’s 80-year history and the first African American player to win the U.S. Open tennis title. 

When Gibson eventually retired from tennis, she was the No. 1 ranked player in the world and had won 11 grand slam titles. Despite playing tennis at a time when women were still not fully recognized and treated equally to males for their talent, she managed to pave the way for women in tennis, especially for African American women in the sport such as Venus and Serena Williams.

Billie Jean King

While Billie Jean King is one of the greatest tennis players of all time with 39 grand slam titles, she is also extremely well known for her work to promote women’s tennis and gender equality. 

Most notably, King is recognized from the infamous 1973 tennis match known as the “Battle of the Sexes” where she played against Bobby Riggs, a previous No. 1 tennis player determined to prove that women’s tennis was inferior to men’s tennis. At the time of the match, King was establishing the women’s tournament and threatening to boycott the U.S. Open if male and female champions did not earn the same prize money. This, along with the ensuing media circus surrounding the match, increased the pressure on King to beat Riggs and prove him wrong.

In the end, King beat Riggs in straight sets with over 90 million people watching worldwide. King’s win came as a huge step in pushing for gender equality within sports as she proved Riggs and others within society who shared his misogynistic view wrong. 

Throughout her life and career, King’s incredible skill and performance in tennis as well as advocacy for gender equality makes her one of the most influential women in sports of all time. 

Babe Didrikson Zaharias

As one of the greatest female athletes of all time, Mildred Ella “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias was an Olympic gold medal winner and world record breaker in multiple sports. From very early on, Didrikson became accomplished in every sport she tried — basketball, track, golf, baseball, tennis, swimming, diving, boxing, volleyball, handball, bowling, billiards, skating and cycling. She earned her nickname “Babe” after the great baseball legend Babe Ruth as a result of her baseball ability. 

A major moment of her athletic career came in the 1932 Los Angeles Summer Olympics when she won three Olympic medals — two gold and one silver — in the track and field events. Still to this day, she is the only track and field athlete ever to win individual Olympic medals in running, throwing and jumping events. 

After the Olympics, Didrikson pursued a career as a professional golfer, which is what she is best known for. Despite initially facing discrimination and resistance as a woman in golf, Didrikson excelled at the sport winning 82 tournaments and 10 majors throughout her career, and even helped co-found the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA).

Despite March coming to an end, it does not mean that society should stop recognizing and remembering these important women and what they have done for society. Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Billie Jean King and Althea Gibson are three exceptional women whose memory should not be lost with time. As women in sports continue to fight for gender equality, it is important to remember and look back on the exceptional women that came before.

 

Written by: Carolyn (Cari) Fenn — sports@theaggie.org

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