Game Changers: Empowering Women in Sports for a Brighter Future

Game Changers: Empowering Women in Sports for a Brighter Future

Game Changers: Empowering Women in Sports for a Brighter Future banner

It wasn’t until the early 20th century that women and sports even appeared in the same sentences. Until then, sports were something that women did on their own for exercise, usually dressed in layers of clothes. The idea of women competing in sports and (ahem) getting paid didn’t even occur to people (at least to men). Women athletes have come a long way since the Victorian period. Today, we have college scholarships for women athletes, women competing in every Olympic sport, and women coaching both women’s and men’s teams at the professional level. However, there is still a lot of room for growth.


Women have traditionally been marginalized and not taken seriously in sports. It wasn’t until 1972 that female athletes had the opportunity to earn college scholarships, and it was only a little over a decade ago that women were able to compete in every Olympic sport. Gender equality isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s beneficial for the development and mental health of girls and women. According to Billie Jean King’s Women’s Sports Foundation, sports help to boost a woman’s self-esteem and collaboration skills. Girls that participate in sports earn higher grades, have a more positive body image, and are less likely to experience an unintended pregnancy.


Although men have been participating in amateur and professional sports since time immemorial, women in sports is a relatively new phenomenon. Prior to the 20th century, sport was considered something women did for fitness, not to compete.

Athletic Clubs

It was athletic clubs for women that paved the way for women’s sports teams. Women began forming sports clubs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to give women a place to participate in team sports, particularly in larger cities like New York City and New Orleans. These informal clubs focused on sports like tennis, croquet, archery, and bowling. In the early 20th century, many colleges picked up the model and began supporting women’s sports clubs and even some coed sports clubs.

Olympic Games

Women first competed in the Olympic Games in 1900 in Paris. Twenty-two of the 997 athletes were women, and they competed in tennis, sailing, croquet, equestrianism, and golf (only tennis and golf were women-only events.) It wasn’t until the 2012 Olympics in London that women competed in every sport that men competed in. During the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan 48 percent of the athletes were women, compared to just 13 percent as recently as 1964.

All-American Girl Professional Baseball League

If you’ve ever watched the movie, “A League of Their Own”, you’re aware of the All-American Girl Professional Baseball League. This sports organization, the first women’s professional sports team in the US, was founded in 1943 during World War II when many male baseball professionals were away fighting. The league, which was eventually made up of 10 Midwest teams, had a peak attendance of more than 900,000 spectators. The players were paid a pittance compared with their male counterparts, just $50–$85 per week (or $785–$1491 in 2023 dollars). The league was dissolved in 1954.

Title IX

Title IX, enacted in 1972, prohibits discrimination based on gender in any school or education program funded by the U.S. government. In sports, this means that schools are required to offer women sports scholarships if the same financial incentives are offered to male athletes. It also evened up the disparity in coaches’ salaries between the women’s and men’s teams.

National Women in Sports Day

National Women in Sports Day, February 4, was created in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan. Originally designed as a day to honor the work of Olympian Flo Hyman and her work toward gender equality in sports, the day has evolved as a day to honor all women in sports.


The women who have pushed for the equality of women in sports are too numerous to name. However, just a few of the superstars in the arena of gender equality in sports include…

Serena Williams

American tennis legend Serena Williams broke barriers in the sport for both women and African Americans. During her career, she won 23 Grand Slam singles titles and ended the season as the number one-ranked player five times. She is also the only player to complete a grand slam in both singles and doubles. Off the court, Williams is well-known for her support (in both money and time) for social causes, especially those that touch the Black and LGBTQ+ communities. Since her retirement, she has founded a venture capital firm, Serena Ventures, that helps to fund company founders from diverse backgrounds, especially companies in the sports industry.

Condoleezza Rice

Although most people recognize Rice for her work in politics as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State under President George H. W. Bush, she is also a presence in American football. Rice was one of 13 inaugural members of the College Football Playoff Selection Committee in 2013. More recently, she was part of the investment group that purchased the Denver Broncos in 2022. Rice was also one of the first two women admitted as members to the prestigious Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters Tournament.

Erin Andrews

Erin Andrews is a sportscaster for Fox Sports. She previously worked for ESPN for eight years. When she entered the sports reporting arena in 2000, she was one of few women in the field. She continues to work at Fox Sports to this day and has covered major sporting events such as the Super Bowl, the World Series, and the Olympics. Andrews is regarded as a respected figure in the field of sports journalism, receiving recognition and rewards for her contributions.

Becky Hammon

Becky Hammon is a three-time All-American basketball player for the Colorado State Rams, a former WNBA player, and the current head coach of the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces. Hammon was previously an assistant coach for the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs, making her only the second female coach in NBA history.


Several names stand out when discussing women leaders in U.S. college sports. Among these are:

Pat Summitt

Pat Summitt is an Olympic silver medalist and NCAA champion who went on to become the winningest coach in women’s college basketball. She coached the University of Tennessee women’s basketball team from 1974 to 2012. During her tenure, UT won eight NCAA Division I basketball championships.

Alfreeda Goff

Alfreeda Goff was an assistant track and field coach at the University of Pittsburgh before serving as Pitt’s head track and field coach for six years. She later moved into administration at Pitt and served as the Director of Athletics at Virginia State University. She was also the first administrator at Virginia Commonwealth University to oversee both men’s and women’s sports. One of the first African-American coaches in women’s sports, Goff has been a tireless advocate for equality in women’s sports for decades.

Diane Milutinovich

Diane Milutinovich served for 22 years as the associate athletic director and later senior woman administrator of  Fresno State University’s sports program. Her strong push for gender equity ultimately led to her being fired from the athletics department. She sued the university for gender discrimination and was eventually awarded substantial damages.

Karol Kahrs

Dr. Karol Kahrs was a physical education instructor at the University of Illinois who, after the passage of Title IX, led that university’s women’s athletic program and helped UI become among the first universities to comply with the new law. During her 30-year career, Kahrs served as president of the National Association of College Women Athletic Administrators (later rebranded as Women Leaders in College Sports) and in several other influential roles.


Despite these contributions and all the advancements made in women’s sports over the last several decades, women athletes are paid much less than their male counterparts, both at the player level and at the coaching level. Some of this is due to women’s sporting events attracting a smaller audience – and thus less revenue – than men’s sports. However, you could also argue that women’s events aren’t promoted or broadcast nearly as vigorously as men’s events.


Empowering women isn’t just about breaking barriers, it’s also good for girls and young women. According to UNESCO, “Participating in sports can help break down gender stereotypes, improve girls’ and women’s self-esteem and contribute to the development of leadership and strategic thinking skills.”

One of many organizations actively involved in empowering women in sports is the Global Sports Mentoring Program. This program, supported by the U.S. State Department, aims to “expand the footprint of Title IX and its message of equality and opportunity for women into every corner of the world. This sports diplomacy effort allows new generations of girls to experience the many benefits of sports participation: increased confidence, improved health, greater employment opportunities, and enhanced academic success.”

Another organization making a difference is Sport at the Service of Humanity. This faith-based organization works to facilitate dialogue and bring interested parties together to create grass-roots sports initiatives, especially for girls and women.

Breaking Stereotypes

The old stereotype that being a championship athlete isn’t “ladylike” is obsolete and gradually fading away. However, more can be done to raise the level of awareness of women’s athletics. Gender stereotypes, such as “sports are for boys” can discourage girls from participating in sports. According to Healthline, research from the Women’s Sports Foundation state that “boys get 1.13 million more sports opportunities than girls” and 83% of college coaches have never had any Title IX training.

Another thing that needs to change for women to realize equality in sports is media interest. According to UNESCO, women’s teams receive just four percent of media coverage. Is it any wonder the public isn’t aware of the many extraordinary things women are accomplishing in sports?


As more and more women break barriers at all levels and types of sports, the future of women in sports looks brighter and brighter. From NASCAR to the Olympics, women are excelling, both breaking records and erasing traditional impediments to discrimination. They are also participating in more and more sports leadership and management roles. At a younger level, educators are encouraging children to be more active, starting at the preschool level.

In addition, with the recent passing of the Cantwell-Capito Equal Pay Bill, which “ensures all athletes who represent the United States in global competition – like the World Cup, Olympics, and Paralympics – receive equal pay and benefits – regardless of gender, the future of women in sports is exciting.” 


Johnson & Wales University offers multiple MBA programs, including an MBA in Sport Leadership. This two-year degree program prepares students for a variety of careers, including coaching, team management, sport venue management and sports operations. Course highlights in this program include Effective Communication Strategies in Sport, Operations Management, Global Issues in Sport Management, and Contemporary Leadership in Sport. This program may be completed via online learning. More than 95 percent of JWU graduates find work in a related field.

For more information about completing your degree online, submit the Request Info form, call 855-JWU-1881, or email [email protected].

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