Women granted the right to vote
American woman are granted the right to vote through the ratification of the 19th Amendment in the U.S. Constitution. However, the women’s suffrage movement and the 19th Amendment are not fully inclusive as the amendment does not intend to benefit women of color and purposefully pushes their plight to the boundaries. It will not be until the 1960s that all women can truly exercise their right to vote, but even that freedom is still being threatened today with new legislation restricting voter access.
Victoria Manalo Draves becomes first Asian American Olympic Champion
Manalo Draves grew up in San Francisco, the daughter of a Filpino father and an English mother. Interracial marriages were frowned upon in those days, and an early coach made Manalo Draves use her mother’s maiden name in competitions. She also faced a regular indignity when using a public pool — the water would be drained the day after she used it. On August 3, 1948, Manalo Draves became the first Asian American Olympic Champion, placing first in the women’s three-meter springboard at the 1948 London Summer Olympics. After the Olympics, Manolo Draves and her husband opened their own diving school. She was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1969.
Althea Gibson wins Wimbledon
Althea Gibson was the first African-American woman to win both the U.S. Nationals and Wimbledon titles in 1957 and she defended both titles in 1958. Throughout her career, Gibson won a combined 11 Grand Slam titles in singles, doubles and mixed doubles and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1971. In 1963, the same year as the March on Washington, Gibson became the first black golfer in the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) and played 171 events between 1963 and 1977. She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1971.
Wilma Rudolph makes history at the 1960 Olympic Games
After making history as the first American woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympics, Wilma Rudolph refused to attend any segregated celebratory events, making her homecoming parade the first integrated event in her hometown of Clarksville, TN. In 1963, Rudolph joined other Clarksville citizens in an attempt to integrate a local Shoney’s restaurant. Despite being a hometown and national hero, she was denied entry because she was black.
Kathrine Switzer runs the Boston Marathon
In 1967, Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon as a numbered entrant. During her run, race official Jock Semple attempted to physically pull her from the event, but she was protected by her boyfriend and fellow runner, Thomas Miller, allowing her to finish the race. Women were not officially permitted to run the Boston Marathon until 1972. Switzer would later say: “I knew if I quit, nobody would ever believe that women had the capability to run 26-plus miles. If I quit, everybody would say it was a publicity stunt. If I quit, it would set women’s sports back, way back, instead of forward. If I quit, I’d never run Boston. If I quit, Jock Semple and all those like him would win.”
Title IX is enacted into law
On June 23, 1972, Title IX of the education amendments of 1972 is enacted into law. Title IX prohibits federally funded educational institutions from discriminating against students or employees based on sex. As a result of Title IX, any school that receives any federal money from the elementary to university level must provide fair and equal treatment of the sexes in all areas, including athletics. Before Title IX, the NCAA offered no athletic scholarships for women and held no championships for women’s teams, and only 30,000 women participated in NCAA sports in 1972. Now, more than 200,000 participate, but gaps still exist. As Title IX nears its 50th anniversary, gaps still remain between genders and races. Less than 30 percent of women athletes are from communities of color, and according to a 2017 report, Division I athletic programs spend twice as much on men’s sports as women’s sports.
Nancy Lopez overcomes discrimination to become LPGA legend
The Mexican American Lopez is one of the most decorated golfers in LPGA history, and in June 1978 — her first year on the tour — she wins the first of three major golf championships. Over a career spanning four decades, Lopez totals 48 LPGA Tour wins and was twice named the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year before induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1987. In an ESPN biography during the early 2000s, Lopez’s ex-husband shares the pain Lopez felt being unable to play on certain golf courses because of her Mexican heritage. Lopez adds looking back that she “thought we weren’t members of the country club because we couldn’t afford it. Now I think it was discrimination.”
Tiffany Chin becomes the first Asian American U.S. figure skating champion
At the 1985 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Chin is “fast and flawless,” the LA Times writes, en route to becoming the first Asian American and person of color to win national gold. Chin makes history despite years earlier being told by a white competitor, “You’re really good, but you know you’ll never be a champion. Figure skating champions have blond hair and blue eyes, and you don’t have either.” Chin would break barriers for future Asian American skating stars Kristi Yamaguchi and Michelle Kwan, but racism still permeated Olympic and U.S. figure skating when they competed. Corporate sponsors would still shun Yamaguchi, a Japanese American, despite winning Olympic and U.S. gold, and in 1998 a major media outlet produces an infamous headline celebrating Kwan, a Chinese American, losing to Tara Lipinski. The headline reads “American Beats Out Kwan.”
The Big Ten Conference is the first to establish voluntary gender equity goals in athletics
The Council of Presidents/Chancellors of the Big Ten Conference announced its unanimous commitment to achieve a level of athletics participation that is 60 percent men and 40 percent women by 1997. Big Ten universities submitted strategies to achieve the 60-40 commitment and annual review procedures were established.
The Big Ten Conference was the first conference to voluntarily adopt participation goals for female student-athletes. The objective was Phase I of the Conference’s Gender Equity Action Plan (GEAP) for conference members to commit to a 60%/40% male-female participation ratio over a five-year period (1992-1997).
The WNBA launches
On April 24, 1996, women’s basketball announces “We Got Next” as the NBA Board of Governors approved the concept of a Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) to begin play in June 1997. For the next 25 years, the WNBA and its athletes stand at the forefront of using their platforms as a place to promote social justice and racial equity. From Sheryl Swoopes advancing equality for people identifying as LGTBQ+ to Maya Moore leaving to prompt criminal justice reform to wearing shirts with bullet holes following the shooting of Jacob Blake, championing social justice has always been an integral part of the W. “We are a walking protest at all times as a W.N.B.A. athlete,” Mistie Bass told the New York Times in 2020.“If you think about it, we have so many different stigmas. We’re just constantly in the fight. I don’t think we have ever not been in a fight for equality, for justice.”
The most decorated figure skater of all time
Michelle Kwan, the most decorated figure skater of all time, is inducted into U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame. She retired as a two-time Olympic medalist, five-time World champion and nine-time U.S. champion.
Arizona State retires Navajo athlete Ryneldi Becenti’s jersey
Raised in Fort Defiance on the Navajo Nation reservation in Arizona, Becenti’s passion for basketball eventually takes her to Arizona State, where in the 1990s she stars for the women’s basketball team. She immediately lifts the program to the NCAA Tournament, a place it had not been for nearly a decade, and in 1997 she becomes the first Native American to play in the WNBA. Following a career that spans multiple continents, she returns to Arizona State in 2013 for the ceremony retiring her jersey. She was the first Sun Devils women’s basketball player to receive that honor.
Little Leaguer Mo’Ne Davis graces cover of Sports Illustrated, joining history of Black women in baseball
On Aug. 15, 2014, Davis becomes a national sensation when she not only becomes the first girl to win a Little League World Series postseason game but does so in dominating fashion, striking out eight over six innings while allowing only two infield hits and no runs. Davis, the 18th girl to play in the LLWS, captivates America with her blazing fastball, setting records for viewership that still stand. Women playing professional baseball dates back to the 1800s, and the first known Black woman to play professionally is Dolly Vardens. From 1910-11, the Black Bronchos from St. Louis play professionally across the country’s heartland. In 1953, the Negro Leagues’ Indianapolis Clowns become the first professional baseball team to hire a female player, signing Toni Stone in an effort to replace home run king Hank Aaron. Mamie Johnson and Connie Morgan join the Clowns two seasons later.
Serena returns to Indian Wells after Williams sisters’ 13-year boycott
In 2015, Serena Williams returns to the Indian Wells Masters after the Williams sisters began boycotting the event in 2002 after racist abuse during the previous year’s tournament. Racial slurs, including the N-word, were directed at the sisters and their father following Venus’ withdrawal from her semifinal match vs. Serena because of an injury. The Williams sisters declared they would never return to the tournament. That 2001 incident represents only a fraction of the racist and sexist abuse, both unmistakable and coded, targeting the Williams sisters during their illustrious careers as two of the greatest athletes in sports history. (Serena’s 23 Grand Slam titles is most all time in the modern era.) Of that moment in 2001, Serena wrote it “haunted me for a long time. It haunted Venus and our family as well. But most of all, it angered and saddened my father. He dedicated his whole life to prepping us for this incredible journey, and there he had to sit and watch his daughter being taunted, sparking cold memories of his experiences growing up in the South.” But in 2015, Serena returns to the tournament, writing “Indian Wells was a pivotal moment of my story, and I am a part of the tournament’s story as well. Together we have a chance to write a different ending.”
Jessica Mendoza is first woman analyst for MLB postseason game
Mendoza, who is Mexican American and a two-time Olympic medalist in softball, becomes the first woman to serve as an analyst for a MLB postseason game when she calls the Astros vs. Yankees divisional playoff series. Five years later, she becomes the first woman to serve as a game analyst for the World Series on any platform, calling the Dodgers vs. Rays series for radio.
Ibtihaj Muhammad wins Bronze Medal at 2016 Summer Olympic Games
Ibtihaj Muhammad, a sabre fencer, won the bronze medal as part of Team USA in the Team Sabre during the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Brazil. She became the first female Muslim-American athlete to earn a medal at the Olympics and also the first Muslim American woman to wear a hijab while competing for the United States in the Olympics.
USWNT player Megan Rapinoe makes an unprecedented statement on international stage
Showing solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, the U.S. Women’s National Team star kneels during the national anthem before an international match with Thailand in Columbus, Ohio. Research indicates no soccer player has ever knelt during the national anthem before an international competition anywhere, not just within the United States. Said Rapinoe: “It was a little nod to Kaepernick and everything that he’s standing for right now. I think it’s actually pretty disgusting the way he was treated and … [w]e need to have a more thoughtful, two-sided conversation about racial issues in this country. “Being a gay American, I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties. It was something small that I could do and something that I plan to keep doing in the future and hopefully spark some meaningful conversation around it.”
Highly-decorated UC Davis gymnast Alexis Brown continues to use athletic platform to advocate for marginalized communities
Brown kneels during the national anthem at all of her gymnastics meets as a symbol of protest against police brutality and systemic racism. As an extension of her advocacy, Brown also creates the African Diaspora Student Athlete Support Group, recognizing the need for a space on campus that allows this support group to discuss ideas, issues, shared experiences and resources while also creating a larger sense of community on campus. Being so dominant in her sport, Brown says she understands the power of her platform.
University of Michigan’s Brienne Minor becomes first African-American woman to claim the NCAA singles title
Minor (2016-19) became the first African-American woman to claim the NCAA tennis singles title, winning as a sophomore in 2017. She earned four All-America citations, the most by a Wolverine, and ranks seventh in program history with 110 singles victories. She was also the 2016-17 Michigan Female Athlete of the Year.
WNBA crowns Diana Taurasi as league’s all-time leading scorer
Taurasi, who identifies mostly as Argentine and Italian, is one of the most decorated basketball players of the last two decades and in June 2017 eclipses the WNBA’s all-time scoring mark. In 2009, Taurasi becomes the first Latina woman to win the WNBA Finals MVP. She might have trouble finding space for it on her mantel, as the hoops legend is a three-time collegiate national champion and WNBA champion, league rookie of the year, five-time scoring champion and former assists leader. Her excellence goes beyond the U.S. borders as she’s also won championships in Russia, Turkey and in the Euroleague.
First Asian Player ranked #1 in Singles
Naomi Osaka becomes the first Asian player, male or female, to hold the top ranking in Singles after winning the Australian Open.
WNBA players opt out of season to focus on social justice
On June 18, two-time WNBA champion Renee Montgomery tweeted she would opt out of the WNBA season to focus on social justice issues, including voter rights and helping HBCU Morris Brown College’s $5 million fundraising campaign to regain its accreditation. (Its accreditation application was accepted in November.) Natasha Cloud would opt out a few days later.
Women’s soccer players wear Black Lives Matters shirts
During the inaugural game of the NWSL Challenge Cup, players wore shirts that read Black Lives Matter and knelt during the national anthem, as many players would do in the games that followed. Five months later in the U.S. Women’s National Team’s return game after a 261-day hiatus, the team wore warm-up jackets with the words Black Lives Matter on the front, and nearly every member of the team took a knee during the national anthem. “We love our country, and it is a true honor to represent America. It is also our duty to demand that the liberties and freedoms that our country was founded on extend to everyone,” said a statement team members shared before the game.
WNBA players, WNBPA call for removal of U.S. senator Kelly Loeffler as Atlanta Dream owner
Loeffler, a Republican senator from Georgia, wrote a letter to the WNBA commissioner “emphatically opposing” the league’s support of the “Black Lives Matter and “Say Her Name” movement. The Atlanta Dream released their own statement from their players that stated “Black lives matter. We are the women of the Atlanta Dream. We are women who support a movement. We are strong and we are fearless. We offer a voice to the voiceless. Our team is united in the Movement for Black Lives. It’s not extreme to demand change after centuries of inequality. This is not a political statement. This is a statement of humanity.” Dream and WNBA players would go on to endorse a Loeffler challenger for her Senate seat, Raphael Warnock. Research from the Washington Post indicated the WNBA players’ support for Warnock turned the tides in the Senate race, and now Loeffler and Warnock are scheduled for a January runoff for her seat.
Danita Johnson, Kim Ng and Dany Garcia break barriers across leagues
In August, Garcia becomes the first woman to own a professional sports league. Garcia, entertainer Dwayne Johnson and a private equity firm purchase the XFL, and Johnson writes that Garcia was the “architect” behind the deal. In November, the Marlins hire Ng as the team’s general manager, making her the first woman to hold that position. Ng was MLB’s senior vice president of baseball operations for the previous nine years and the highest-ranking Asian American female baseball executive. In December, Johnson becomes the first Black woman or man to be hired as an MLS team president when D.C. United hires her as president of business operations. She previously was president and COO of the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks.
Athletes strike across sports, demanding justice and accountability after police shoot Jacob Blake
On Aug. 23 in Kenosha, Wisconsin, a white police officer shot Blake, who is Black, seven times in the back as he opened the door of his car, where his kids were sitting in at the time. After a video of the shooting went public and more shootings occur during local protests, the Milwaukee Bucks, who play about 60 miles from Kenosha, refuse to take the court for Game 5 of their first-round playoff series. The team’s statement reads, in part, “Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball.” Their opponent, the Orlando Magic, refused to play as well, forgoing a forfeit despite trailing in the series. The NBA would postpone its remaining games that day through Aug. 28. In the WNBA on Aug. 26, the Washington Mystics’ players wore white shirts with a letter each to spell Blake’s name on the front. On the backs were seven bullet holes. Players across teams would kneel and link arms during the national anthem before walking off the court. Elsewhere, the Detroit Lions canceled their practice on Aug. 25 and instead players discussed measures they could take and publicly advocated for change. On Aug. 27., nine other NFL teams canceled football activities, as did multiple college football teams. In MLB on Aug. 26, the Brewers and Reds game was called as players striked, and two games would later be postponed. The NHL postponed its playoff games on Aug. 27 and 28. MLS canceled five games as players walked off the pitch, and Naomi Osaka announced she was skipping her Aug. 26 tennis semifinal in protest.
Naomi Osaka wins US Open while honoring Black victims of police brutality or racist violence
Osaka, whose mother is Japanese and father is Haitian, won all seven of her 2020 US Open matches to capture her third grand slam title. As part of each match, she wore a mask with the name of a Black man, woman or child who died from police brutality or violence rooted in racism. The names were Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, Philando Castile and Tamir Rice.
Athletes, teams and open sporting venues help set record U.S. voter turnout
Athletes, leagues and organizations made voting and civic engagement one of its top social justice initiatives over the summer. Across sports, voter education and registration efforts take place. RISE held almost 90 voter education and registration sessions for professional teams and collegiate athletics departments leading up to Election Day. Additionally, roughly 70 sports venues open their doors as polling sites throughout the process, part of an effort that began years ago that included the work of RISE board members Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and former NFL executive Scott Pioli. Said Kathy Boockvar, Pennsylvania’s Secretary of State: “There is no question that seeing the athletes and the leaders in athletics made a huge difference in the enthusiasm.”
U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee defies IOC rule and ends ban on athlete protests
The International Olympic Committee’s Rule 50 has long banned protests at the Olympics, but it was the U.S. committee that sent track & field athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos home from the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City when the two raised their fists to protest racial injustice during their medal ceremony. Nothing had changed in 2019, when the U.S.O.P.C reprimanded hammer thrower Gwen Berry and fencer Race Imboden for protesting on the medals stand at the Pan American Games. However, in December 2020 the U.S.O.P.C. announced it would no longer punish athletes who participate in peaceful protests, despite the IOC refusing to end Rule 50. The American federation’s decision comes at the recommendation of the athlete-led Team USA Council on Racial and Social Justice.
Sarah Thomas becomes first woman to officiate a Super Bowl, and Maia Chaka becomes first Black female NFL official
Since becoming the first permanent official in NFL history in 2015, Thomas has worked full time in the league. In February 2021, she adds another milestone in a career full of glass ceilings being shattered: Thomas is an on-field official for Super Bowl LV . Thomas is also the first woman to officiate a major college football game (2006), the first woman to officiate a bowl game (2009) and the first to officiate in a Big Ten stadium (2011). Chaka also makes history in March 2021. Seven years after she joins the NFL’s officiating development program, Chaka becomes the league’s first Black female official. “I just want [young girls] to know if you have a passion for something and if have a drive for something, don’t let it hold you back just because you think that something may give you some type of limitation,” she said.
Coach Maral Javadifar and Coach Lori Locust of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers become first female coaches to win the Super Bowl
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers make history in 2019 when they become the first NFL team to have two full-time female coaches on staff. In 2021, the diverse coaching staff led to the team’s second Super Bowl win at Super Bowl LV. The defensive line, which Locust helps coach, is the standout group from the game as they hit and harrassed former Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes all evening.
Renee Montgomery becomes first former WNBA player to become an owner and executive of a WNBA franchise
As a member of the Atlanta Dream, Montgomery opts out of the WNBA season in June 2020 to focus on issues of social justice, voter suppression and education, but later in the year starts envisioning a future as a co-owner in the league. That moment comes in early 2021 with her own team, when Kelly Loeffler sells the Dream to an ownership group that includes Montgomery. Dream players and stars from across the WNBA wanted Loeffler removed after she wrote a letter criticizing the league and the Black Lives Matter movement, and Montgomery would write an ensuing letter to Loeffler that would go unanswered. Ultimately, Loeffler decides to sell the team and now Montgomery is part owner, the first former WNBA player to earn that title.