Hundreds of thousands of young girls play soccer every day on patches of grass across the United States. A generation ago, they dreamed of being just like
--play at North Carolina and become a star on the national team.
Now they can dream even bigger--of being a professional soccer player.
The WPS will start in April of 2009, and teams are currently gobbling up the best players to start constructing a winner.
First was the allocation of the U.S. national team players, which took place in September. Then there was the international draft a short time later. The four-round general draft took place on Oct. 6 and was open to international and domestic players. The drafting will conclude in January with a post-Combine draft that expects to round out the rosters.
The WPS is calculating momentum that will keep it around for the long haul. It just recently signed a multi-year deal with Fox Soccer Channel for television rights. Seven markets are slated to have teams for 2009 (Bay Area, New York/New Jersey, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, St. Louis and Washington, D.C.), and two more (Atlanta and Philadelphia) will join in 2010. More expansion is expected, perhaps in Dallas.
And, even more importantly, they have a model to learn from. The WUSA was forced to suspend operations in 2003, and committees were immediately formed to determine the best way to re-launch women's professional soccer in the U.S.
This is their answer. The staying power of WPS remains to be seen, but its efforts will trickle down immediately. After all, it is another chance to inspire thousands of athletic girls wanting to dream just like the boys do.
Last weekend marked the 35th anniversary of Title IX, the legislation credited with increasing gender equity in sports. According to the Women���s Sports Foundation, since its enactment in 1972, female athletic participation has increased by a staggering 904 percent in high school and by 456 percent in college.
As someone who has benefited from Title IX, softball star Jennie Finch is quick to share her appreciation for those women that came before her. "I'm truly grateful for people who have paved the way, and have fought the fight," Finch said in the Daily Freeman. "I'm happy they broke down barriers to give women like myself the opportunity to be successful athletes and make a living playing a sport that I love."
I���m no softball star, but I am also thankful for the positive influence of Title IX in my life and the opportunity to play ball in college. Here are some other women who have enjoyed the effects of Title IX and are part of my favorite moments in sports history:
1996 | New Women's Olympic Sports. Women's softball and soccer made their Olympic debut at the Summer Games in Atlanta, and the U.S. dominated, winning the gold in both sports, as well as in basketball, gymnastics and synchronized swimming. The Atlanta Games made stars of Lisa Leslie, Mia Hamm and Lisa Fernandez, giving rise to professional softball and soccer leagues for women in the U.S.
1999 | Women's World Cup. A billion TV viewers and a stadium crowd of 90,000 witness the celebration as the U.S. wins the Women's World Cup in an overtime shoot-out against China. Brandi Chastain ripped off her jersey after scoring the winning goal, giving little girls someone besides a model to look at for a strong, beautiful body. And for the first time, a women's soccer team got as much attention a men's squad usually does.
2007 | Equal Pay at Wimbledon. After 123 years of awarding more prize money to men than women, Wimbledon yielded to public pressure and announced on Feb. 22, that it will offer equal pay through all rounds at this year's tournament.
2006 | Winningest Coach in NCAA History. Pat Summitt, the all-time winningest coach in NCAA basketball historymale or femaleearned her 900th career win as the Tennessee Lady Vols beat Vanderbilt, 80-68. That year, Summitt signed a $1.125 million deal for the 2006-07 season, making her the first women's basketball coach in history to be paid a million dollars or more.
2003 | Annika Plays a PGA Tour Event. Annika Sorenstam became the first woman since Babe Didrikson Zaharias in 1945 to compete in a PGA Tour event. Sorenstam missed the cut at the Colonialin Fort Worth, Texasby four strokes, but walked off the course to a standing ovation.
1997 | The WNBA is Born. The WNBA kicked off its inaugural season with eight teams, but unlike the other women's pro basketball leagues before it, this one has enjoyed longevity, this year celebrating its 10th year of existence.
2001 | Increased Exposure for the Women's Tournament. The NCAA and ESPN announced an 11-year agreement for the cable outlet to televise every game of the women's national championship basketball tournament.
A woman's work is never done. Or, in the case of umpiring a big-league baseball game, rarely done. I picked up a Chicago Sun-Times before work this morning and came across an article about how minor league umpire, Ria Cortesio, is scheduled to be on the bases for tomorrow's Cubs-Diamondbacks game in Mesa, Arizona. She will be the first female ump in a major-league game since spring training games in 1989.
Cortesio is the only female umpire in pro ball. She will be in her fifth season at Class AA and ninth overall. "I was kind of expecting it," she said. "Umpires with my seniority usually get picked. I'm looking forward to it. There will be a lot more people in the stands than I'm used to."
Cubs first baseman, Derek Lee, commented, "It's awesome. I think it's about time. Female eyes are as good as male eyes. Why can't they be umpires? Good for her."
I think it's good for baseball, too. It is about time. I hope this story reaches girls who have thought that they might want to be an umpire but thought it wasn't their place. I wonder how long it will be until a female umpire gets to work a regular season MLB game.
During my college softball years I would hear comments, many times from other females, about how female umps were all terrible. Generalizations and stereotypes such as this are unfair, in my opinion. There are some terrible female and male umpires. There are also outstanding female and male umpires.
What are your experiences with female umpires? Do you support women as umpires in the major leagues?
Today is International Women���s Day! Annually on March 8th, thousands of events are held throughout the world to inspire women and celebrate their achievements as makers of history; it is rooted in the centuries-old struggle of women to participate in society on an equal footing with men.
International Women's Day is also commemorated at the United Nations and is designated in many countries as a national holiday. When women on all continents, often divided by national boundaries and by ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic and political differences, come together to celebrate their Day, they can look back to a tradition that represents at least nine decades of struggle for equality, justice, peace and development.
Despite these struggles for equality, the world of sports has the power
to unite and transcend boundaries that once divided this community. Women's effort to redefine sport and achieve equality is something I am passionate about and has drastically impacted my life. The changes that have occurred so far are promising; women have experienced joy, camaraderie, pride, strength, increased educational opportunities and leadership as a result of their involvement and progression in sports.
In light of recognizing this important day, I���d like to pay homage to some of the greatest moments in women���s sports:
1973 | Battle of the Sexes. In the most watched tennis match in history, Billie Jean King routed Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes. For many, this was the event that defined the women's movement of the 1970s and changed the social landscape for females forever. Thirty-three years later, the USTA renamed the National Tennis Center the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, the first time in U.S. history that a major sports arena bore the name of a woman.
After years of holding out against equal prize money, Wimbledon yielded to public pressure yesterday and agreed to pay female players as much as male players at the world's most prestigious tennis tournament.
"Tennis is one of the few sports in which women and men compete in the same event at the same time," club chairman Tim Phillips said at a news conference. "We believe our decision to offer equal prize money provides a boost for the game as a whole and recognizes the enormous contribution that women players make to the game and to Wimbledon. In short, good for tennis, good for women players and good for Wimbledon."
Last year, men's champion Roger Federer received $1.170 million and women's winner Amelie Mauresmo got $1.117 million.
Among those welcoming the move was former six-time singles champion Billie Jean King, a pioneer for women's sports. "This news has been a long time coming," she said. "Wimbledon is one of the most respected events in all of sports and now with women and men paid on an equal scale, it demonstrates to the rest of the world that this is the right thing to do for the sport, the tournament and the world."
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Today is National Girls and Women in Sports Day!
of sports educators, coaches, athletic directors, recreation directors,
association members, sponsors, students, and parents across the country in
showing your support of the Day and of this year's theme, "<span style="font-weight: normal">Throw
like a girl ��� Lead like a champion!</span>"
NGWSD is celebrated in all 50 states with community-based events, award
ceremonies, and activities honoring the achievements and encouraging
participation of girls and women in sports. Whether you are a new participant
or a veteran, your support of the Day will go a long way to increase visibility
for female athletes and advance their struggle for equality in sports.
NGWSD began in 1987 as a day
to remember Olympic volleyball player Flo Hyman for her athletic achievements
and her work to assure equality for women's sports. Hyman died of Marfan's
Syndrome in 1986 while competing in a volleyball tournament in Japan. Since
that time, NGWSD has evolved into a day to acknowledge the past and recognize
current sports achievements, the positive influence of sports participation,
and the continuing struggle for equality and access for women in sports.
NGWSD is jointly organized
by the National Girls and Women in Sport Coalition. The Coalition combines the
experience and resources of the six premiere girls- and women-serving
organizations in the United States:
Girl Scouts of the USA, Girls Incorporated, the National Association for Girls
and Women in Sport, National Women's Law
Center, the Women's
Sports Foundation, and the YWCA USA.
organizations have been in existence for over 427 years and have a membership
reach of 5.5 million girls and women.
Nicole Woody was recently featured as a stand out high school athlete as read in Sports Illustrated: She is one of the top female wrestlers in the U.S. and still encounters people who think the mat is no place for a woman.
Reportedly, some schools forfeit rather than send a boy to face her, and one fellow wrestler transferred rather than be on her team. But Woody, a graduating junior and team captain, also hears plenty of encouragement. Several girls from states across the country have reached out to her online telling of how they have been inspired to start wrestling.
It's a choice more girls are making. At U.S. high schools the number of female wrestlers has tripled in the last decade, from 1,629 to 4,975. (There are 50 times as many boy wrestlers.) Woody's coach, Bill Royer, says, "It's not a girl-boy thing. She's a wrestler. She lives and dies and bleeds this sport."
Woody began wrestling at age nine at the suggestion of her mother, Mary, who liked the discipline it taught her son. In August, Woody was the only American of either sex to win a title at the Junior World Championships. Her ultimate goal is the Olympics, which added women's wrestling in 2004. Good luck to her!
Thirty girls signed up for the cheerleading squad this winter at Whitney Point High School in upstate New York. But upon learning they would be waving their pompoms for the girls��� basketball team as well as the boys���, more than half of the aspiring cheerleaders dropped out.
The eight remaining cheerleaders now adjust their routines for whichever team is playing here on the home court to comply with a new ruling from federal education officials interpreting Title IX, the law intended to guarantee gender equality in student sports.
1) In 1996, a girls-only division was made available for participants in the GatoradePunt, Pass & Kick competition. About 125,000 of the 500,000 participants that year were girls. By 2000, the number of girls participating in the contest had risen to more than 1 million. The NFL Gatorade Punt, Pass and Kick program creates lively and engaging competition for boys and girls ages 8 -15 to compete separately against their peers in punting, passing and place kicking skills.
2) More than 30 million women watch football on televisions on an average weekend.
3) Game-day attendance is 40 percent female, with more than 375,000 women attending games on an average weekend.
4) Over 100,000 girls participate in local flag football leagues sponsored by the NFL.
Perhaps the phrase "football widow" is on the way out as more and more females are becoming interested and knowledgable in the sport of football.
(Photo provided by Getty Images, taken by Jonathan Daniel)
Last week in the Chicago Tribune's Redeye, I read that Tennessee basketball star Candace Parker dunked again--but this time she was whistled for a technical foul for showboating.
Parker had her fifth career dunk, and third this season, with 12:56 left in the first half of the Lady Vols game against West Virginia. She stole the ball at one end and jammed it with one hand at the end of a fast break. This time Parker's dunk was more emphatic with the rim making a louder thud, and she finished by popping her jersey. That led officials to confer with each other, and a technical was called.
I can't help but thinking how many male college basketball players dunk the ball and then showboat afterwards, playing to the cameras--not only not getting called for technicals, but being admired as superior athletes. I will admit, I appreciate athletes who put their head down and get their work done, hustling in a unflashy manner. Nonetheless, for those who dunk the ball and pop their jersey to represent their team or even themselves, shouldn't men and women get equal treatment?
The NCAACommittee on Women's Athletics released a position statement last week calling for a ban on the use of male practice players in women's intercollegiate athletics. The statement concludes months of debate about whether the practice should continue.
According to the CWA statement, the use of male practice players "violates the spirit of gender equity and Title IX." The committee believes that "any inclusion of male practice players results in diminished participation opportunities for female student-athletes, contrary to the association's principles of gender equity, nondiscrimination, competitive equity and student-athlete well-being."
The most common argument in favor of using male practice players is that it improves female players' skills. The CWA determined that this argument implied "an archaic notion of male preeminence that continues to impede progress toward gender equity and inclusion" and believe that using male practice players is a threat to the growth of female participation.
(Photo provided by Getty Images, taken by Jim McIsaac)
Katie Hnida, the first woman to score in a Division I-A college football game, recently released her autobiography, "Still Kicking: My Journey as the First Woman to Play Division One College Football."
She shares her saga that began as a kicker at Chatfield High in Littleton, Colorado, where she was named one of the 20 Most Influential Teens in America by Teen People. She then walked-on as a kicker for Colorado where she says she was sexually abused by teammates, and among other childish pranks, had footballs thrown at her head. Not typical team-building behavior or college memories, for sure. However, what is most disconcerning, is that this behavior was perhaps deemed as acceptable and even celebrated among the rest of the team.
Despite all she endured, Hnida was able to continue playing college football. She found acceptance at New Mexico and on Aug. 30, 2003, she made history when she converted two PATs for the Lobos in a victory over Texas State.
Is there any hope for females who tryout and legitimately make a team comprised of all males to receive equal treatment? It seems as if the trend is to take it easy on the females or punish them and show them they do not belong on the same playing field.
Conversely, I recently read about a high school male in Wisconsin who was not allowed to train and compete on his school's girls' gymnastic team. His attorney, Jared Redfield, told the Chicago Tribune, "Why not treat the genders equally?...If women can go on our football team and they can wrestle in tournaments, why in the world if there's no access for a male to participate in gymnastics should they not be on the girls' team?" I think he has a good case. What do you think - how could this affect your sport?
(Photo provided by Getty Images, taken by Brian Bahr)
Interesting article in the Coloradoan about how men's sports, both professional and collegiate, continue to outpace women's sports in attendance despite a drastic increase over the the last decade in the level of play of women's sports. One fascinating point made in the article is that the short amount of time, just 30 years, that women's sports have been competing in the marketplace might have something to do with that and that is unfair to compare the two.