The Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF) in collaboration with espnW and Women in Cable Telecommunications has released their list of 40 women who played sports in high school or college since the enactment of Title IX in 1972 and have made a significant impact on society. It is nothing short of impressive.
The honorees will be recognized as part of a 40 FOR 40 event on June 21 at the J.W. Marriott in Washington, D.C. The event will feature keynotes and a power panel comprised of top honorees. The panel will explore the impact of Title IX as well as the role sports has played in helping them overcome obstacles and forge new opportunities. 40 For 40 will be part of a range of activities each organization has planned surrounding the anniversary of Title IX, including programming, social media activation and additional educational outreach.
“We are proud to recognize these women and the positive role that the passage of Title IX has played in the lives of countless women and girls,” said Kathryn Olson, executive officer of the WSF, founded by Billie Jean King. “Each has used participation in sports as a step toward making a very significant contribution to society in a wide variety of fields.”
Because of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, these women were able to participate in team sports—a liberty once only available to boys. Title IX requires schools and colleges receiving federal money in any education program or activity to provide the same opportunities for girls as they provide for boys. According to WSF, Title IX has resulted in growth of girls participating in high school sports from 1 in 27 in 1972 to about 2 in 5 today. Title IX has done more than increase athletic participation, it has created educational opportunities for girls and women, states a press release. According to several studies, the combination of the two has produced significant long-term educational, health and economic benefits for women.
On the Title IX website, Dr. Dot Richardson explains the frustration she felt before Title IX and when she longed to play sports. “One day while I was helping my brother warm up before his Little League baseball game, his coach saw me playing and asked if I wanted to play on the team,” wrote, Dr. Dot Richardson, a medical doctor included on the 40 FOR 40. “I really wanted to, but there was a catch. I’d have to cut my hair short, and be called, ‘Bob.’ Although I really wanted to play, I was not brought up to do something like that. I smiled and politely declined.”
The 40 FOR 40 list includes government and civil service workers. Dr. Condoleeza Rice, the former U.S. Secretary of State and Stanford University political science professor, performed as a figure skater. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, U.S. Senator and two-term Congresswoman from New York, played collegiate squash. Mary Bono Mack, a seven-term Congresswoman from California and avid advocate for sports and physical activity, competed in high school gymnastics.
The list also honors entertainers. Tina Fey, a high school tennis player, became an award-winning writer, producer, actress, comedienne and bestselling author. Queen Latifah, a high school basketball star, made a name for herself as an actress, singer, author, and production company owner. Ellen Degeneres, a high school tennis player, is now a famous talk show host.
Esteemed business leaders also made the venerable list. Meg Whitman, CEO of Hewlett Packard and former CEO of eBay, competed in lacrosse and squash in college. Kathy Levinson, managing director for Golden Seeds, a national network of angel investors dedicated to investing in early-stage companies founded and/or led by women, was a collegiate athlete of many talents: basketball, field hockey and tennis.
The 40 FOR 40 additionally recognizes career athletes and women who helped expand access for girls and women in sports. They include: College basketball great Val Ackerman, who launched and served as the first president of the WNBA, the women’s professional basketball league; Julie Foudy, two-time World Cup and Olympic gold medalist and advocate for women’s and children’s rights, including Title IX; Mia Hamm, who played on four NCAA Championship soccer teams, two World Cup Championship teams and two Olympic gold medal teams, also helped found the first professional women’s soccer league; Volleyball great Flo Hyman, for whom “National Girls and Women in Sports Day (NGWSD)” was posthumously established, in recognition of her contributions to growing sports for girls and women; Jackie Joyner-Kersee, six-time Olympian and a college Track & Field star who ranked among the all-time greatest female athletes in the world and is also known for her efforts in giving underprivileged children more opportunities to safely participate in sports; Pat Summitt, who played basketball during the enactment of Title IX and whose success as a college coach at Tennessee greatly expanded recognition and opportunities for women in basketball; and Venus Williams, three-time Olympic medalist and seven-time Grand Slam tennis champion who helped lead a successful effort to gain equal prize money for women at Wimbledon.
“It is important to also recognize leaders whose primary contribution has been through sports,” said Laura Gentile, vice president at espnW. “The inspiration they provide and the battles they fought for access, respect and recognition paved the way for all who follow.”