Women in Sports
The first female champion in any Olympic Games was Cynisca, who won the four-horse chariot race in both 396 BC and 392 BC. Her accomplishment was historic, but not the catalyst for female athletic achievement that might have been hoped for.
2022 will mark the 50th anniversary of the passage of Title IX. The federal civil rights law was passed in 1972 and states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Much of the discussion around this amendment has always focused on women’s place in athletics, and the requirement that departments spend as much on women’s sports at educational institutions as they do on men’s. Yet, despite a half-century, many strides still remain to be made for both equality and respect in the world of sports.
Top left: Katie Ledecky, Bottom Left: Megan Rapinoe, Right: Michelle Kwan. Getty Images
The Women’s Swimming Association was founded by Charlotte Epstein, along with a few other women who wanted to swim and teach swimming to promote the health benefits of the sport. Epstein would eventually be referred to as “the mother of women’s swimming in America.”
Alice Milliat founded the Federation Sportive Feminine International, which would launch the first female Olympic games.
Gertrude Ederle becomes the first woman to swim the English Channel and accomplishes it in a faster time than any man.
Charlotte Epstein chaired the swimming committee in charge of the trials and selection of the teams for the second Maccabiah Games at Tel Aviv. The Maccabiah Games are often referred to as the Jewish Olympics.
Charlotte Epstein refused to attend the Berlin Olympics in protest of American participation and withdrew from the American Olympic Committee in protest of Nazi policies.
Toni Stone becomes the first woman to play big-league professional baseball for the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League.
Althea Gibson becomes the first African-American woman to win a Grand Slam Tournament after winning the singles title in the French Open, then she would go on to win Wimbledon and the US open in 1957.
Wilma Rudolph is the first American woman to win three track and field Olympic gold medals. She was the Associated Press Female Athlete of The Year in 1960 and 1961.
Women were not allowed in the Boston Marathon until 1972. When Kathrine Switzer entered in 1968 other racers tried to eject her from the course.
Title IX is passed to provide equal opportunity for men and women at higher level institutes. It was passed as part of the Education Amendments of 1972 and prevents discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal financial aid and states that programs and activities receiving federal funding or assistance must act in a nondiscriminatory manner.
Billie Jean King founded WomenSport magazine, the Women’s Sports Foundation, and with her husband formed World Team Tennis
Nadia Comanci becomes the first to receive a perfect 10 in an Olympic gymnastics event and gold in all-around, beam, and uneven bars. She was fourteen years old.
Pat Summitt became the firstmen’s or women’s NCAA coach to achieve 1000 career wins.
Victoria Roche became the first girl to play in the Little League World Series as an outfielder on the Belgium team.
Anita DeFrantz became the first woman, and African American, to represent the International Olympic Committee.
Steffi Graf completed the only Grand Slam in tennis history at 19 years old by winning all four grand slam singles titles and the Olympic gold medal in one calendar year.
Bernadette Locke becomes the first female Division I coach of a men’s basketball team when she joins the University of Kentucky as an assistant coach to Rick Pitino in June.
Anita Defrantz becomes chair of the IOC’s Committee on Women and Sports, playing a key role in getting women’s soccer and softball added to the 1996 Atlanta Games as medal sports.
The USWNT won the Third FIFA World Cup
Bentwood V Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association determines that high school sports programs are subject to Title IX regulations.
After pressure from Venus Williams, Wimbleton announces that men and women will receive equal prize money.
Trischa Zorn is inducted into the Paralympic Hall of Fame. She is the most successful athlete in the history of the Paralympic Games.
CBS Sports makes history with, “We Need to Talk.” The show is hosted, produced and directed by an all-female crew, led by Emmy-Award winning Coordinating Producers Emily Deutsch and Suzanne Smith, the only woman producing or directing Network NFL games.
The women’s national hockey team announced it would boycott the world championship if they did not receive increased pay.
Serena Williams won her 23 Grand Slam title in the Australian Open (while eight weeks pregnant). She has the most Grand Slam titles of any tennis player.
WNBA players speak out and say they are opting out of their contract agreement, in turn after a long fight the players received a higher salary and improved benefits.
Hudl launches the BreakThrough Summit, a free digital summit to develop and celebrate women in sports, offering an opportunity to hear from top industry leaders in sports.
Kim Ng becomes the first female General Manager in Major League Baseball as she takes over the position for the Miami Marlins.
MLB Analyst, Jessica Mendoza, becomes the first woman to serve as a solo analyst for a national package of MLB games.
Sarah Thomas was the first woman to officiate the Super Bowl, and the first female referee at an NFL playoff game two years ago, and the first full-time female referee in the NFL. She was also the first woman to work a major college football game.
NBA sees Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon take over as the Lakers head coach, becoming the first female to act as head coach in the NBA.
NHL team, Chicago Blackhawks, hires Jamie Faulkner as president of operations, one of the top executive positions across all men’s professional sports
President Joe Biden signs executive order preventing and combating discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.
Discrimination In the NFL
2013: Bailey Davis, former New Orleans Saints cheerleader, filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission citing a double standard for rules with male and female employees after being fired for a social media policy only applicable to cheerleaders.
2013: Former NFL cheerleader for the Miami Dolfins, Kristan Ware, files a complaint against the league and team for gender and religious discrimination.
2020: NFL and MLB receive C grades from the Institute of Diversity and Ethics in Sports for their gender hiring.
2021: On Jan 7, 2021, a virtual hearing was held where Washington Football owner, Dan Snyder, and three minority owners have accused each other of leaking negative and confidential information, including information of sexual harassment allegations, to reporters, in violation of a non disparagement agreement.
Women in Journalism
1869: Maria “Middy” Morgan begins covering horse racing as a Saratoga Correspondent for the New York Times. Her extensive knowledge of horses and “thundering” stories helped when she applied for the Times’ only opening as a livestock reporter.
1879: Sallie Van Pelt, editor of the Dubuque Times, covers 60 games for her paper and the Chicago Tribune informs readers the following year calling her the “best authority in Dubuque on the National game.”
1890: Ella Black’s first byline appears in the Sporting Life in March. She is one of the first baseball writers to be nationally distributed while covering the two Pittsburgh teams 1890 baseball season. Black’s column, “A Woman’s View,” appeared before the start of the season and by April her editor gave her a press credential, becoming the first woman in the magazine’s history to do so. Her coverage only appeared in Sporting Life for that one season, but according to historians she made it her mission to prove that women could understand and write about baseball and she did just that in her short tenure.
1894-1897: Sadie Kneller Miller is credited as being the first and only woman with a professional baseball beat. She wrote for the Baltimore Telegram and covered the Baltimore Orioles writing under the byline “SKM” to mask her gender. Miller also took up photojournalism to include photos to accompany her stories.
1905: Ina Eloise Young of the Colorado-based Trinidad Chronicle-News covers her first baseball game when she is asked to sub in for the regular writer. Her first sports story made such an impression on her editors that they began favoring her over the male writers and gave her more sports assignments. She is believed to be the first female sports editor in America with the Chronicle-News.
1908: Young is nominated as an honorary member of the National Baseball Writers Association by former ball player and Boston Globe reporter Tim Murnane and is voted in.
1912– Idah McGlone Gibson, a nationally well-known baseball reporter and syndicated columnist, covers the World Series and provides readers with the “woman’s perspective” to discuss player personalities and show them in a light that would make women understand why men idolize them.
1924: Margaret Goss begins “Women in Sport,” the first regularly appearing sports column written by a woman, for the New York Herald Tribune. Her columns often appeared on the same page as legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice. Goss’ coverage focused primarily on female athletes.
1938: Pearl Kroll becomes the first female sports editor at a major American magazine when she earns the job at Time but she is generally not allowed to cover events from men-only press boxes.
1974: Former sports editor for the Twin Cities Sentinel (Winston-Salem Journal) Mary Garber first gains access to a locker room during the ACC basketball tournament 30 years after she begins her career as a sportswriter. She gained notoriety during the 1950s and ‘60s by covering stories that no one else at the time wanted, most notably Black collegiate and high school sports in the segregated South.
1976: Lesley Visser becomes the first female NFL beat writer when she is hired by the Boston Globe.
1977: Melissa Ludtke, a Sports Illustrated reporter, is sent to cover Yankees during the World Series but she is barred from the clubhouse citing the players’ privacy. She filed a civil rights lawsuit against Bowie Commissioner of Major League Baseball Bowie Kuhn for discrimination.
Sept. 25, 1978: Ludtke v. Kuhn is decided and female journalists are given equal access to MLB clubhouses. The ruling established a precedent that barring women from access is a violation of the 14th Amendment.
1978: Jayne Kennedy is the first Black woman to host a network sports television broadcast when she joined The NFL Today on CBS
1981: Christine Brennan is the first woman to be hired as a sports writer at the Miami Herald.
1983: Claire Smith is the first woman to hold a full-time position as a beat writer in the MLB covering the New York Yankees for the Hartford Courant.
1985: Christine Brennan is the first woman to cover the Washington D.C. NFL team when she joined the Washington Post as the team’s beat writer. She stopps covering the team after their 1988 Super Bowl victory, but during her tenure she endures harassment from general manager Bobby Beathard and sexual harassment at the hands of former owner Jack Kent Cooke and “a married member of the Washington organization.”
1986: Oakland A’s player Dave Kingman sends a live rat with a tag reading “My name is Sue,” to Sacramento Bee beat writer Susan Fornoff, delivered to her in a pink box. He frequently harassed her since she began covering the team in 1985 because he told her women do not belong in the clubhouse. Kingman is fined $3,500 by the A’s.
1987: Suzyn Waldman of New York’s WFAN radio is screamed at and berated by Toronto Blue Jays outfielder George Bell in English and Spanish when she moves into the group of reporters interviewing him after the team’s win. The entire clubhouse goes silent and as she is attempting to flee the locker room, Toronto right fielder Jesse Barfield courageously calls out to her and asks if she wants to interview him instead.
Gayle Sierens is the first female play-by-play broadcaster on an NFL regular season game.
The Association for Women in Sports Media is established. Christine Brennan is the first president of the organization.
1989: Several players for the Baltimore Orioles start a vulgar and derogatory chant when Baltimore Evening Sun reporter Melody Simmons walks into the locker room. She doesn’t know what the word means and turns to another player who then screams it in her face. Simmons complained to team President Larry Lucchino and the Morning Sun runs a story. The Orioles chalk it up to a “prank” taken too far and say the word was just a modern-day equivalent to the term “broad.” “I looked up the word in the dictionary of slang,” Simmons said. “It doesn’t mean broad.” Her editor Jack Lemmon is furious that she did not handle it quietly and calls the incident an “embarrassment to the paper” and “very minor.”
1995: Lesley Visser is the first female sportscaster to report from the sidelines of a Super Bowl.
2002: Former award-winning Washington Post sports and feature writer Jane Leavy publishes her first biography, “Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy,” and it instantly becomes a New York Times bestseller.
2005: Sportswriter Mary Garber becomes the first woman to win the Associated Press Sports Editors’ Red Smith Award for outstanding contributions in sports journalism.
2006: Leseley Visser is the first woman to be recognized by the Pro Football Hall of Fame when she wins the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award.
2012: San Francisco Chronicle Oakland A’s beat writer Susan Slusser becomes the first president of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
2015: Former Stanford softball standout and two-time Olympian Jessica Mendoza becomes the first female analyst to announce a College World Series game, the first woman in the booth for a Major League Baseball game for ESPN and the first woman to call a nationally televised MLB Postseason game.
2017: Beth Mowins becomes the first woman to call a nationally-televised NFL game and the first woman to call an NFL game in 33 years.
Claire Smith becomes the first woman, and fourth Black writer, to be inducted into the writer’s wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame by winning J.G. Taylor Spink Award, the highest honor for baseball writers
2018: New York Times bestselling author Jane Leavy publishes her third biography, “The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created.” Entertainment Weekly called it “the best novel ever written about baseball.”
2019: Three female reporters, one wearing a purple domestic violence-awareness bracelet, are verbally harassed in the locker room by Houston Astros general manager Brandon Taubman. Taubman turned to the women and yelled multiple times “Thank God we got Osuna! I’m so f—— glad we got Osuna!” after an unimpressive showing by closer Roberto Osuna. Osuna allowed a two-run home run, tying the final game of the ALDS at the top of the ninth inning. Stemming from allegations that he assaulted the mother of his child in May 2018, Osuna was acquired by the Astros after being blacklisted by nearly every team in the league. He was traded by the Toronto Blue Jays when Houston agreed to give up their closer and two potential pitchers.
2020: Mendoza becomes the first female MLB analyst to broadcast a World Series game.
2021: Broadcaster Beth Mowins becomes the first female play-by-play announcer for the Chicago Cubs.
Sexual Harassment in Women’s Athletics
1985: First female reporter to report on the Washington NFL team was harassed by the-owner, Jack Kent Cooke, who tried to kiss her, pat her head and dismissed her questions. General manager, Bobby Beathard, made it verbally known he did not was a woman covering the team.
1990: Boston Herald reporter Lisa Olson is verbally and sexually harassed by three New England Patriots players while she was in the middle of conducting an interview with another player. Zeke Mowatt, Michael Timpson and Robert Perryman deliberately exposed themselves to her in the locker room after practice with no one else around. Instead of confronting the players privately, three days later the incident ran in the Boston Globe. The three men are fined a measly combined $22,500 and the Patriots organization is fined $50,000.
1992: Jack Kent Cooke made sexist insults and comments towards DC mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon while negotiating a new football stadium deal.
2009: Washington Football paid a former female employee $1.6 million after she accused Washington Football owner, Dan Snyder, of sexual misconduct.
2013: Washington Football Team invited cheerleaders to Costa Rica for a calendar photoshoot. Their passports were collected upon arrival by Washington Football officials. They conducted a topless photoshoot, even though they promised the calendar would not show nudity, still, some of the cheerleaders only wore body paint. While the resort was secluded the Redskins had invited spectators onto the shoot and all men were granted up-close access to the photoshoot. (Additionally, after practice one day 9 of the 36 cheerleaders were told some of the male sponsors had picked them as their personal escorts at a nightclub).
2018: Darren Sharper, former NFL player, is sentenced to 18 years in prison for drugging and raping as many as 16 women in four different states.
2018: Larry Nassar, former USA gymnastics doctor, was sentenced to 40-175 years in prison after 160 girls, women, and parents testified the sexual abuse and misconduct of Nassar, who was also facing up to 60 years in prison for federal child pornography charges.
2020: Fifteen former female Washington Football employees reported sexual and verbal abuse on January 14, 2020
2020: Dan Snyder, Washington NFL team owner, promised an extensive unbias investigation after allegations of sexual harassment and verbal abuse. The lawyer hired to investigate is now being sued by team lawyers to prevent her from disclosing information on a settlement regarding Snyders own behavior.
2021: Former Mets manager, Mickey Callaway, was forced to resign after aggressively pursuing five women in sports media, sending three of them nude photos and having requested nude photos from one. He was working as pitching coach for the Angels.
2021: Mets general manager, Jared Porter, was fired just over a month after joining for sending uninvited sexually explicit text messages and photos in 2016 when working for the Cubs.
We at SEW recognize that there are thousands of women in sports who had to punch through glass ceilings, as well as deal with harassment and assaults for simply trying to do their jobs. However, due to limited resources, we also acknowledge that not all of those women and their accomplishements or incidents are listed in our timelines above. We welcome suggestions. Please email us at email@example.com. We will gladly update our lists as soon as possible. Thank you in advance for your contribution.