Let’s take a moment to appreciate American women in sports of the 21st century

Let’s take a moment to appreciate American women in sports of the 21st century

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Image: Getty Images

I will say it loudly and frequently – celebrate women in sports. They belong in sports. They belong wherever the hell they want to belong. Gender has zero bearing on knowledge about a topic. It has always been a battle for equality, and it should not have to be. And it’s not just athletes. Before and even after journalist Melissa Ludtke successfully sued Major League Baseball in 1976 for locker-room press access, it has been an uphill climb for inclusion and representation in media. Today, on International Women’s Day, let’s highlight and give due credit to some of the pioneering women in sports since 2000.

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Serena Williams, Tennis

Serena Williams, Tennis

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Image: AP

Let’s start by dubbing Serena Williams as the greatest tennis player of all time. With 23 Grand Slam victories, she has more than any tennis player, man or woman, in history. In January of 2017, she won the Australian Open while pregnant. She’s won every award under the sun, including the ESPY for Best Female Tennis Player, and has made the annual Time 100 Most Influential People list. She has done it all, and has been doing so for 23 years of extended dominance.

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Megan Rapinoe (and USWNT), Soccer

Megan Rapinoe (and USWNT), Soccer

Illustration for article titled Let’s take a moment to appreciate American women in sports of the 21st century
Image: Getty Images

Rapinoe and the USWNT have been a dominant force both on-and-off the pitch over the last decade. They won consecutive World Cup championships in 2015 and 2019, led by Rapinoe’s monster 2019 season. She won the Ballon d’Or Féminin, the Best FIFA Women’s Player, and Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year in 2019. Off the pitch, Rapinoe has been a warrior for equality and acceptance.

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Simone Biles, Gymnastics

Simone Biles, Gymnastics

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Another G.O.A.T makes the list in Biles, who won five gold medals at the 2019 World Championships, bringing her all-time total to 25. At the 2016 Rio Olympics, Biles won three individual gold medals, one gold as part of the team event, and one individual bronze. Biles is such an icon that a double twisting double back dismount is literally called a “Biles.” If and when the Tokyo Olympics take place, Biles will continue to add to her already-impressive legacy.

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Ronda Rousey, UFC

Ronda Rousey, UFC

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In 2013, Rousey was the first female fighter ever to sign with the UFC. She was an electric and dominant pioneer, paving the way for today’s athletes. She had a 12-2 record in the UFC, retiring in 2016 after losing to Amanda Nunes, who has gone on to become the best female fighter in the world, having won both the bantamweight and featherweight titles.

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Elena Delle Donne, WNBA

Elena Delle Donne, WNBA

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Delle Donne has racked up a truly incredible list of accomplishments in her playing career. She is a WNBA Champion, a 2x WNBA MVP, 6x WNBA All-Star, has won a gold medal with Team USA, and has never lost in a Team USA game that she’s played in (26-0). Delle Donne is also a Global Ambassador for the Special Olympics.

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Lindsey Vonn, Skiing

Lindsey Vonn, Skiing

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Just over a year ago, Vonn announced that she would retire from professional skiing after more than a decade of competition. If it weren’t for numerous major injuries, including torn ACLs, fractures near her knee, a broken ankle, and more, she may have broken the record for the most FIS (pro ski circuit) wins all-time; she finished with 82 wins, four shy of the record. Still, she is widely regarded as the greatest women’s skier of all time, and the greatest U.S. skier of any gender. She won four World Cup titles and three Olympic medals (one gold).

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Danica Patrick, Racing

Danica Patrick, Racing

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Image: AP

Patrick shattered barriers and set many new heights for women in professional racing. She won the 2008 Indy Japan 300, which is the only win by a woman in an IndyCar Series race. She won the pole position in the 2013 Daytona 500, becoming the first woman to start a Sprint Cup race from the pole. She finished fourth in the 2008 Indy 500, the highest finish ever for a woman.

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Missy Franklin, Swimming

Missy Franklin, Swimming

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Franklin announced herself to the global stage as a 17-year-old in the 2012 Summer Olympics, where she won five medals, four of which were gold. She was named Swimming World’s World’s Swimmer of the year and the American Swimmer of the Year in 2012. She won a total of 27 medals in her professional career. When she retired from professional swimming in 2018, she had broken four world records.

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Kendall Coyne Schofield, Hockey

Kendall Coyne Schofield, Hockey

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Coyne Schofield is a six-time world champion and an Olympic gold medalist, and also made history during the 2019 NHL All-Star event by being one of the first women to compete alongside male pros in the skills competition, and being the first woman to beat one of them. In the Fastest Skater Challenge, she beat out Arizona Coyotes star Clayton Keller with a time of 14.346 to his 14.526. She shattered stereotypes by proving that women hockey players can skate just as fast as the men.

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Sarah Thomas, NFL official

Sarah Thomas, NFL official

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Thomas was the NFL’s first female official when she landed the job in 2015 and stepped on the field for her first game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans. In 2019, Thomas became the first woman to officiate an NFL playoff game, and in 2021, she became the first woman to officiate a Super Bowl.

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Doris Burke, Basketball commentary

Doris Burke, Basketball commentary

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Burke is a trailblazing icon, and a flat-out incredible commentator. In 2000, Burke became the first woman commentator to work New York Knicks radio and TV broadcasts. She was also the first female analyst to work Big East men’s games, as well as be the primary commentator for a men’s college hoops conference package. In 2017, Burke became a regular NBA game analyst for ESPN, becoming the first woman to be given a full regular-season national job. In 2020, she called the NBA Conference Finals and the NBA Finals for ESPN Radio, becoming the first woman to ever do so.

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