March 3, 2022
March 9, 2023
Anything You Can Do, We Can Do Better
In 1920, the 19th amendment granting women the right to vote, widely considered the first step towards gender equality, was ratified. Yet, over a century later there is still gender inequality in the United States. In male dominated fields, such as maritime, construction, and athletics, it is particularly obvious. Throughout the last century, it has been proven time and time again that anything a man can do, a woman can do just as well.
In 1943, there was an unexpected emergence—women began to play professional baseball.
Many male athletes were overseas fighting in World War II, but those that remained at home craved the same entertainment that they had before the war. Initially, the plan was to have women play in Major League parks but when the league was first formed, many ballpark owners did not want the women to play. It was decided that four non-major league parks close to the league headquarters in Chicago would be used. Teams were established in Racine and Kenosha,Wisconsin, Rockford, Illinois, and South Bend, Indiana.
The first year of the league turned out to be a successful one with more than 176,000 fans attending 108 games. Attendance reached more than 450,000 in 1945 after the war ended and reached a peak of 910,000 fans in 1948 with 10 teams in the league. The women were paid $85 a week, which, adjusted for inflation, is equal to $1,470 a week today. The establishment of the league was memorialized in the 1992 film, A League of Their Own.
In February of 1966, 23-year old, Roberta Gibb (also called Bobbi) was denied entry in the Boston Marathon. “This is an AAU Men’s Division race only,” wrote race director Will Cloney. “Women aren’t allowed, and furthermore are not physiologically able.”
Gibb became interested in running while watching the 1964 race, after which she began training. She was not able to participate in the marathon despite devoting herself to training for the marathon for two years.
In response, Gibb didn’t make a statement—she made a scene.
The day of the race, Gibb jogged around town for a bit before hiding in some bushes by the starting line. After the race began, she slipped into the pack. The runners noticed quickly, and Gibb stated in an interview with Roy Wallock that “The men loved the fact that I was running. They were very protective and encouraging.”
Gibb finished the race at 3 hours, 21 minutes, and 40 seconds. Her time was 13 minutes ahead of the time required to qualify, proving women were as physiologically capable as men to run long distances. The Governor of Massachusetts at the time, John A. Volpe met her at the finish line to shake her hand.
Gibb paved the way for Kathy Switzer, another female runner determined to race.
A year after Gibb became an icon, Switzer took her own step by registering for the Boston Marathon as a man using her first and middle initials. Switzer received a number and became the first woman to officially run. Switzer enraged race co-director Jock Semple who tried to physically remove her from the race. Switzer finished an hour behind Gibb in that race, despite being restrained and pushed around.
The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) was founded in 1996.
The league initially saw great success and had a good business plan that utilized basketball-hungry markets such as Houston, Los Angeles, and New York with fans eager to tune in to see more of their cities’ teams win. The men’s league, the National Basketball Association (NBA), supported the WNBA.
The WNBA saw icons such as, Sheryl Swoops, Lisa Leslie, Cynthia Cooper, Becky Hammon, and Sue Bird excel at the sport. Hammon became much more than a player. After retiring she became the first full-time female assistant head coach in NBA history. Past and present players regard her time on the San Antonio Spurs staff fondly. The Las Vegas Aces hired her as head coach in 2022.
In 2020, Sarah Fuller became the first woman to play in a Power Five football game. The Power Five consists of the main five conferences in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) for football. The NCAA includes the Southeastern Conference (SEC), the Big Ten, the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), the Big Twelve, and the Pacific 12 Conference (PAC-12).
Fuller was playing on the soccer team at Vanderbilt University at the time as the starting goalkeeper. After winning the SEC championship in soccer, she was kicking for the football team. Fuller ended her college football career 2-2.
There have been many female athletes that push for change in the world, succeed in their field, and inspire the younger generation. As we continue to see change throughout the sporting landscape, a future without separate male and female sporting events might not be far off.