Trailblazers: Women who fought for equality in sport
Josh Werle, Sports Editor
March 8 marks International Women’s Day, a time to celebrate the achievements and contributions of all the amazing women in our world — both past and present. In the world of sports, women have consistently had to compete for their opportunity to compete, seemingly always needing to remind sports fans why they deserve the same attention as their male athlete counterparts.
In some cases, certain women have risen to the occasion in the sporting world, and used their position as a top-tier competitor to fight for others to receive the treatment that an athlete — professional or otherwise — deserves. These are only a few of the most prominent trailblazers in the world of women’s sports.
“Never.” Only one word, yet it held so much weight for all the female martial artists in the world when Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) president Dana White responded to a reporter on Jan. 19, 2011 when asked if women would fight in the UFC.
The sport of mixed martial arts allows competitors to focus on any skill they would like, so to think that all the female wrestlers, karate practitioners, judo competitors and boxers around the world would seemingly never have a chance to compete in the big leagues is a truly saddening thought. Then came Ronda Rousey — a female judo competitor who was so exciting and encapsulating that White had his hand forced. Only two years later in 2013, Rousey would be one half of the first female UFC fight, standing opposite of rival Liz Carmouche. Rousey would go on to become one of the UFC’s biggest stars, regardless of gender. Rousey’s contributions to the growth of women’s MMA can not be overstated, as her presence as a champion and star of the UFC has allowed the women’s divisions of the company to be one of their most prominent and featured for marquee matchups.
Jackie Joyner-Kersee is a former track and field athlete, having won six Olympic medals across four different Olympic Games. Joyner-Kersee is a philanthropist and activist who primarily works in racial equality and women’s rights. Joyner-Kersee was named by Sports Illustrated as the greatest female athlete of the 20th century, and was the first American woman to win a gold medal in long jump and heptathlon. In 1988, Joyner-Kersee created her own foundation with the purpose of helping youth through healthy living, education and sports. She is both a trailblazer and prominent figure for women in sports, and African-American athletes around the world.
Billie Jean King
Considered largely to be the greatest tennis player of all time, Billie Jean King’s 22 year pro career is a spectacular example of trailblazing in sports. Jean King won 39 major titles, and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1987, three years before she completed her playing career. Jean King was a major activist for equality in female sports — in tennis or otherwise. She was the first female athlete to earn over $100,000 in prize money, and after winning the US Open in 1972 — earning $15,000 less than her US Open winning male counterpart — Jean King would go on strike and refuse to play the following year if the female and male pay were not of equal value. This resulted in 1973’s US Open payment being equal for both men and women winners.
That same year, Jean King became the president of the Women’s Tennis Association — created to advocate for a better future for women in tennis. On Aug. 12, 2009, Jean King was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from then US President Barack Obama, for her contributions to the female sports community.