Over the past five years, women’s sports have undergone a revolution, with female athletes making waves in male-dominated sports. Lines that used to separate male and female sports have been blurred by the women who refuse to let gender restrictions hold them back.
Female athletes of the past like Babe Didrikson Zaharias, the first woman to play in a PGA Tour event in 1938, and Billie Jean King, who played in a historic tennis match against Bobby Riggs in 1973 dubbed “Battle of the Sexes” and beat Riggs in straight sets, and current trailblazers like Serena Williams, Danica Patrick and Annika Sorenstam, have all paved the way for the revolution we are witnessing today. Here is a look at some of the women who’ve made history over the last five years.
Ronda Rousey, MMA (2012) – In November of 2012, not long after famously declaring women will never fight in the UFC, UFC President Dana White had to eat his words when he announced Ronda Rousey as the first female fighter to sign with the company. Rousey’s popularity was impossible to ignore. When the UFC bought the now-defunct Strikeforce promotion and absorbed all of its fighters, it was a no-brainer to usher in a brand new women’s division with Rousey as the main attraction. Her combination of skill, attitude and beauty led to mainstream crossover success, as she’s gone on to star in movies, write a best-selling autobiography, and much more. Rousey helped increase the popularity of women’s mixed martial arts, which led to the UFC introducing a second women’s division, in turn opening more opportunities for female fighters.
Mo’ne Davis, Baseball (2014) – Mo’ne Davis captivated the sports world in the summer of 2014 as one of two girls participating in the Little League World Series. Davis was the first girl to earn a win and to pitch a shutout in LLWS history. She is the 18th girl to play – the first African-American girl to play – and the sixth to get a hit. Plus, she was the first Little League baseball player ever to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a Little League player. She later became the youngest-ever AP Female Athlete of the Year in 2014, and was selected as Sports Illustrated’s Sports Kid of the Year. Davis brought a new and powerful meaning to the phrase, “throwing like a girl.” At just 14 years old Davis, who has aspirations to play basketball for UCONN, has an incredibly bright future ahead of her.
Becky Hammon, Basketball (2014) – Becky Hammon was named the first full-time female assistant coach in NBA history in 2014, joining the San Antonio Spurs coaching staff. A former WNBA star for 16 years, Hammon expressed a desire to pursue coaching after her playing career, and had frequented Spurs practices, coaches’ meetings and games during her year-long rehabilitation after tearing her ACL in 2013. She began making contributions to the staff immediately. San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich appointed her as the team’s Summer League head coach, making her the first female head coach of a Summer League team. Under Hammon’s leadership, the team won the 2015 Las Vegas Summer League title.
U.S. Women’s National Team, Soccer (2015) – The United States women’s national soccer team is responsible for America’s increased interest in soccer. The team won the 2015 FIFA World Cup, avenging a second-place finish in 2011. The nation was enamored with the squad led by Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach. The World Cup final set a new record as the most-watched soccer game in American history with 26.7 million viewers tuning in. And the viewers were treated to a fantastic display of dominance in the U.S.’s 5-2 win over Japan – a rout that featured a quartet of American goals in the first 16 minutes, led by Lloyd’s hat-trick. On July 11, the women celebrated the World Cup win with a ticker-tape parade in New York City, the first team of female athletes to be honoured with a ticker-tape parade in the Canyon of Heroes in Manhattan. It was a storybook ending for Wambach, who retired from the team after 15 years of international competition.
Jen Welter, Football (2015) – Jen Welter became the NFL’s first female coach in 2015 when the Arizona Cardinals named her a coaching intern for duration of training camp and the preseason. A college rugby player who holds a Master’s degree in sports psychology and a PhD in psychology, Welter also played running back for the Indoor Football League’s Texas Revolution in 2014, making her the second female player for a position other than kicker or placekick-holder on a men’s professional football team, and the first at running back. She later became the Revolution’s linebackers and special teams coach. Welter’s internship with the Cardinals ended after the team’s third preseason game on Aug. 30, 2015.
Nancy Lieberman, Basketball (2015) – Nancy Lieberman became the second full-time female assistant coach in the NBA in 2015 with the Sacramento Kings. Lieberman played and coached in the WNBA and is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame and the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. Lieberman is also the first female head coach of a professional men’s basketball team, coaching the Dallas Mavericks D-League affiliate Texas Legends from 2009-11. She later became the Legends’ assistant general manager.
Justine Siegal, Baseball (2015) – Justine Siegal became the first female coach in MLB history in 2015 when the Oakland Athletics invited her as a guest instructor for a two-week stint at the team’s fall instructional league for prospects. Siegal has a PhD in sports psychology and was previously an assistant baseball coach for Division-III Springfield College for three years. She pitched batting practice for the Cleveland Indians in 2011, which was the first time a woman pitched batting practice to a major league team. Siegal also runs a nonprofit organization called Baseball for All, which works towards gender equity in youth baseball by encouraging and providing opportunities for girls to participate in the sport.
Holly Holm, MMA (2015) – Holly Holm made headlines in 2015 after defeating Ronda Rousey in a monumental upset to win the UFC women’s bantamweight championship. But Holm has actually been a premier combat sports athlete for some time now. Holm has held boxing titles in three different weight classes, defending her titles 18 times and finishing her pro-boxing career with a 33-2-3 record. She is currently undefeated in mixed martial arts at 10-0. Her win over Rousey in November at UFC 193 catapulted her into the national spotlight, garnering a ton of media attention. In her hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico, November has been named “Holly Holm Month.”
Kathryn Smith, Football (2016) – Kathryn Smith was hired as the first full-time female assistant coach in NFL history on Thursday, Jan. 21, as the Buffalo Bills’ special teams quality control coach. Smith was the administrative assistant to Buffalo head coach Rex Ryan this past season, as well as in 2014, when they both were with the New York Jets. She was the Jets’ gameday/special events intern from 2003-2007 and was also a scouting intern. Prior to her appointment as Ryan’s administrative assistant, Smith served as a player personal assistant with the Jets from 2007-2014.