[Photo: Serena Williams]In the world of professional
sports, the accomplishments of women are often overlooked. Im sure that if you were to approach a
random basketball fan in a sports bar somewhere and ask him about Michael
Jordan, hed be able to give you a full biography: career stats, personal life,
and accomplishments in the business world.
In fact, Im sure he could do it in a heartbeat.
But could that same basketball
fan tell you about Sheryl Swoopes, considered by many to be the WNBA equivalent
of Michael Jordan? Im guessing no, at
least not without doing some research first.
While doing research for this
piece, I found that many female athletes are as just accomplished as their male
counterparts. Note that I had actually
to do research to find these things
out (which puts me in the same boat as that random basketball fan I
Unfortunately, the careers and
accomplishments of female athletes are nowhere near as publicized as those of
their male counterparts. I can only guess this is because womens sports
doesnt pull in anywhere near the same amount of revenue or ratings as male sports.
Hopefully, the info we provide
today will help to change that for some of you. These really are some amazing
ladies, and if you fancy yourself a sports fan, their accomplishments deserve
Althea Gibson (1927-2003)
To say that Ms. Gibson, also known as the “Jackie Robinson of Tennis,” had an
accomplished career as an athlete would be an understatement. South Carolina-born and Harlem-raised, Althea was a graduate of Florida A&M University. She was the first African-American to play in both the U.S. Grass Court Championships at Forest Hills New York and at Wimbledon.
At the age of 29 she became the first African-American to win a Grand Slam title. In 1957, she was the first African-American to be voted the Associated Press Athlete Of The Year. She won the title again the following year, and this was all during her amateur career!After Althea Gibson retired from tennis, she recorded a music album, wrote a book, toured with the Harlem Globetrotters doing tennis exhibitions, took on a pro-golf career for a time (she was also the first African-American in the LPGA), and later returned to tennis as a pro to teach. She took on the position of New Jersey State Commissioner of Athletics for a decade, served on the State Athletic Control Board for three years, and rounded out her career on the Governer’s Council on Physical Fitness. In 2007, four years after her death, Althea Gibson was inducted into the U.S. Open Court Of Champions in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of her win at the 1957 U.S. National Championships.
Florence Griffith Joyner a.k.a. Flo-Jo (1959-1998)
Dubbed the Worlds Fastest Woman,
Flo-Jo was the amazing Track & Field athlete who set world records in the
1988 Olympic Games for the 100 Meters and 200 Meters sprint races. Both of those records still stand today. She
was a co-chair for the Presidents Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, and
was dedicated to educating people about health.
Easily recognized in
competitions by her one-legged running suits, Mrs. Joyner used her flair for
fashion to design the uniforms for the Indiana Pacers basketball team.
Jackie Joyner Kersee (1962-Present)
The winner of numerous Olympic
medals and considered to be one of the greatest heptatheletes and Long
Jumpers of all time, Jackie Joyner Kersee started her career as a multi-faced
athlete. She earned accolades in basketball at UCLA, as she was named one of
the top 15 players in the teams history.
She garnered six
Olympic medals in her career – three Gold, one Silver and two Bronze. Athletic ability seems to run in
her family, as her brother Al Joyner is an Olympic Gold medalist in the Triple
Jump. Al Joyner is also the widower of the late Florence Griffith Joyner.
Wilma Glodean Rudolph (1940-1994)
The 20th of 22
children, Tennessee-born Wilma Rudolph was diagnosed with polio at age four. By
age 12 she was cured, and went on to play high school basketball. She was
discovered by the Tennessee State University Track & Field coach, and the
rest is history.
While suffering from sprained
ankle, Wilma Rudolph not only competed in the 1960 Summer Olympics, but became
the first American woman to win three Gold medals in Track & Field during a
single Olympic games.
Lynette Woodard (1959-Present)
Lynette Woodard competed in the
1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles as a member of the Gold medal-winning U.S. womens
basketball team, and went on to become the first female member of the Harlem
Globetrotters. She played professional
Basketball in both Italy and Japan before signing to the WNBAs Cleveland
Rockers in 1997.
Debi Thomas, M.D. (1967-Present)
As the 1986 World Champion,
figure skater Debi Thomas won three World Professional skating titles and earned
the Bronze medal for Ladies Figure Skating in the 1988 winter Olympics. She was
the first African-American ever to win a medal at a Winter Olympics. She has
worked with the Womens Sports Foundation, Athletes Against Drugs and the U.S.
Olympics Sports Medicine advisory board, amongst other organizations and
In 2000, she was inducted into
the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame. Throughout her career on ice, Debi
managed to get her degree in engineering from Stanford University, and moved on
to Chicagos Northwest University Medical School and even more specialized
studies over the years. Today she is an Orthopedic Surgeon.
Vonetta Flowers (1973-Present)
A versatile athlete in college, Alabama-born
Vonetta Flowers made sports history by becoming the first person of African
descent from any country to win a Gold medal in the Bobsled competition. In the
2002 Winter Olympics, she and driver Jill Bakken won the Gold medal in the two-woman
Lisa Leslie (1972-Present)
As one of the original members
of the Los Angeles Sparks, two-time Olympic Gold medal winner Lisa Leslie is of
the most popular players in the WNBA. In
2002, she became the first WNBA player with 3,000 career points, and the same
year she also wowed fans as the first to score with a slam dunk!
By 2006, she had a record of
over 5,000 career points. Lisa has dabbled in acting throughout her career, and
is an advocate for breast cancer research.
Sheryl Denise Swoopes (1971-Present)
As one of the few women in
basketball to become a household name, Sheryl Swoopes recently signed on with
the Seattle Storm after over a decade with the Houston Comets. She has won three Olympic Gold Medals and is
also a three-time MVP in the WNBA. Known as The Female Michael Jordan, Sheryl
is the first WNBA player to have a Nike Sneaker named after her, the Air
Elizabeth Anne Betty Okino (1975-Present)
Born in Uganda to an African
father and Romanian mother, Betty Okino and her teammate Dominique Dawes became
the first African-American females to win a Bronze Gymnastics medal at the
Olympics. At a competition in Indianapolis in 1991, she unleashed a triple
pirouette on the balance beam that was ultimately named The Okino. She
trained with world renowned gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi, and kept up with the
smack-talking from her Romanian coaches and rivals, as she spoke the language
Betty majored in Broadcast
Journalism at the University of Oklahoma, and has appeared in a few shows and
movies, including Moesha, Everybody Hates Chris, and the feature
film Aeon Flux.
Serena Williams (1981-Present)
Younger sister of tennis player
Venus Williams, Serena is an Olympic Gold medal winner and holder of eight
Grand Slam singles titles. As a former World
#1 ranked player, she is the last player of either gender to hold on to four
Grand Slam Singles titles simultaneously.
Venus Williams (1980-Present)
Also a former #1 World tennis
player, Venus is currently the top-ranked American woman. She is an Olympic Gold medal winner, and the
holder of 14 Grand Slam titles. She also currently holds the record for fastest
serve in a WTA main draw match at 129mph. As CEO of her own Interior Design
firm, Venus got her Associates Degree in fashion design and launched her own
line EleVen in 2007.