Ladies First: Good Sports!

[Photo: Serena Williams]In the world of professional

sports, the accomplishments of women are often overlooked. I’m sure that if you were to approach a

random basketball fan in a sports bar somewhere and ask him about Michael

Jordan, he’d be able to give you a full biography: career stats, personal life,

and accomplishments in the business world. 

In fact, I’m 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? I’m 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 women’s sports

doesn’t 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

your attention.

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 “World’s 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 President’s 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 team’s 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. women’s

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 WNBA’s 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 Women’s 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 Chicago’s 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.