It’s been a big week for women in sports. A few days ago, Hope Solo, Carli Lloyd, Becky Sauerbrunn, Alex Morgan, and Megan Rapinoe of the World Cup champion U.S. Women’s National Team sued U.S. Soccer for wage discrimination. Last year, they generated over $20 million more than the U.S. men’s team (and won the World Cup!), but only made about a quarter of the amount the men’s team did. They want equal pay for equal work, and I'm looking forward to following their case.
Tonight at 8:30, the University of Connecticut and Syracuse University women’s teams will face off in the NCAA championship game on ESPN. Breanna Stewart of UConn and Brittney Sykes of Syracuse played on a team together in high school and are close friends, which is pretty cool.
But the biggest news (for me, anyway) was that WNBA great Sheryl Swoopes is entering the National Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as part of the 2016 class! The class of ten also includes Shaquille O’Neal, Bulls’ owner Jerry Reinsdorf, Allen Iverson, and Yao Ming.
The WNBA started up in 1996 (games started in 1997) when I was in junior high, spending the winter months playing on my school team and in a park district league and cheering on the Chicago Bulls. So, I was pretty excited when the NBA announced a professional women’s league. There were plenty of elite female athletes- the U.S. women’s soccer, basketball, and gymnastics teams took home gold medals at the 1996 Summer Olympics- but few professional opportunities for women in the United States outside golf and tennis. The National Women’s Soccer League didn’t start up until 2012!
Sheryl Swoopes was the first player signed by the WNBA in 1996. She had led Texas Tech to an NCAA championship her senior year in 1993, when she was named 1993 Sportswoman of the Year by the Women’s Sports Foundation and Naismith Player of the Year, an honor currently held by UConn’s Breanna Stewart.
Swoopes’ career has been truly remarkable. In 12 seasons in the WNBA, she won four WNBA championships, has been WNBA MVP three times, an All-Star six times, and WNBA scoring champion twice. Sheryl Swoopes also has three Olympic gold medals. AND, she had her own line of Nikes, Air Swoopes, well before celebrity fashion collaborations became ubiquitous.
Her selection for the Hall of Fame feels like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? But, it’s really exciting, because along with contemporaries like Lisa Leslie, Rebecca Lobo, and Cheryl Miller, she’s part of the first generation of women in basketball who had the opportunity to show us how great they could be. We don’t have to wonder any more about what they or any of the other women who have played in the WNBA could have done given the chance. I hope that the WNBA, the National Women’s Soccer League, and the new National Women’s Hockey League all thrive and grow.
While I never had the talent, drive, or ambition to be a pro athlete, I was among the millions of girls who participated in team sports growing up. It’s hard to describe how excited I was about A League of Their Own when it came out, because I’d never seen anything like it before, and because anyone in high school or younger has always had women on pro teams to cheer for if she wants to. For those girls who have what it takes to go pro themselves, I want to be able to cheer them on more than once every four years, when the Olympics or World Cup roll around. And I want them to get the recognition and respect they deserve, which is why I am so thrilled to see Sheryl Swoopes being honored by the Hall of Fame for her talents and contributions to basketball, and inducted alongside her peers in the NBA.
What do you think about this week's news of women in sports?