Women breaking barriers in sports

The discussion of who is the most dominant athlete has become a heated one in the recent months. Labelling athletes as the best in their respective sports is quite simpler; Sidney Crosby headlines the NHL, LeBron James for the NBA, Tom Brady in the NFL, Mike Trout in the MLB and Lionel Messi for soccer.

When looking at who could possibly be the most dominant athlete, there are a lot of factors that the argument gets broken down to. As sports fans we argue about whether the athlete should be playing in a team sport or an individual sport. The athletes listed above are all in team sports, making us forget about athletes in individual sports; Novak Djokvic and Roger Federer for Tennis, Rory Mcllory and Jordan Spieth for Golf, and Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather for Boxing.

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Then we come into the discussion of gender. None of the athletes listed above are women, as the impression that female sports or leagues can’t compete against men. However, that notion has been quickly dying over the recent years.

In fact, the discussion of who the most dominant athlete in modern day is has included two very strong female athletes; Serena Williams (Tennis) and Ronda Rousey (UFC). There really isn’t anyone else in the discussion but those two individual athletes.

Discussing Williams or Rousey has been a fun and heated discussion between sports geeks, especially over Twitter. However, if we look at sports in a general view, there are far more female athletes than just Williams and Rousey who are taking their sports by the storm.

As a society, we might be late on the acceptance of females as dominant athletes, but more importantly, we are late on accepting women into the men’s side of sports, no matter what job. As Williams and Rousey dominate their sports, other women have kicked the door down in other fields in different leagues.

In the NBA, the Player Association union announced Michele Roberts as their new executive director in July 2014. Roberts becomes the first woman to hold that position in the NBA and the first to lead a professional sports union in North America.

It wasn’t the first first in the NBA over the last year. San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich hired retired WNBA (Women’s National Basketball Association) star Becky Hammon as a team assistant coach – making her the first ever woman to coach in the NBA.

Hammon’s understanding of the game and attention to detail, along with Popovich’s understanding of Hammon’s quick learning ability led to the six time WNBA all-star being named the Spurs head coach for their Las Vegas Summer League team – making her the first female head coach in NBA Summer League. Hammon’s led the young Spurs team to a Summer League best 6-1 record and a championship win.

Over in the NFL, a league that was recently in the news for domestic violence, had barriers being broken as well. On July 28 of this year, the Arizona Cardinals announced they had signed Jen Welter as an intern assistant coach – making her the first female coach in NFL history. The NFL also hired Sarah Thomas as the first female referee in the league’s history.

Welter’s was only on an intern basis with the Cardinals, so her position with the team ended after the third week of preseason. Nonetheless, Welter and Thomas made history on August 15 when they both stepped onto the same football field as the Cardinals took on the Kansas City Chiefs. Welter stood on the sideline, while Thomas was the line judge for the game.

Thomas is not the first female referee in North American sports as the NBA hired Violet Palmer and Dee Kantner in 1997, and have added Lauren Holtkamp since.

Going back to Williams and Rousey – two of the most dominant athletes today, they’ve both succeeded a lot over their careers and more specifically, over the last year.

Williams, for her career has a 732-122 record and she also has four gold medals, three of which came in doubles play. The most impressive aspect of Williams’ career is that she has a total of 21 Grand Slam titles. She has won six Australian Opens, three French Opens, six Wimbledon titles and six US Opens. This year alone, Williams won three of four Grand Slam finals – falling short of the US Open when she lost in the semi-finals to Roberta Vinci. Williams could have been the first tennis player to complete a Calendar-Year Grand-Slam (winning all four Grand Slams in one year) since Steffi Graf did it in 1988. There have only been six tennis players to accomplish such a thing.

Rousey, like Williams, is also having a great year. She is now the highest paid UFC fighter and is undefeated with a 12-0-0 record and 55 percent of her wins coming by submissions. Rousey’s dominance in her sport is so spectacular that many of her opponents don’t even last a minute. Rousey’s fastest win was 14-seconds versus Cat Zingano, beating out her 16-second knockout win over Alexis Davis. She also has two 25 second fights that led to easy wins.

Though, the two women play individual sports, it is tough to find any other athlete in any sport that is dominating like Williams and Rousey. The argument of who is more dominant between the two is still being heavily discussed, however, Williams’ loss at the US Open clears a path to Rousey being more dominant.

As a sports community, especially in the professional world, the process of allowing women into hold higher positions and on-field positions has been a slow one. For a league like the NFL, that has been labelled a ‘men’s-only world’, allowing women into their league is a huge step forward. Women have proved their dominance within sports long before the recent events, but didn’t gain recognition like current events have.

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Williams and Rousey are not just competing with each other for best female athlete, but best athlete in general. The NBPA has a leader that is female, but more importantly someone the players trust will bring their rights to a full exposure, especially with the NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement soon to come to an end. For coaching and refereeing in professional sports, Hammon’s and Welter’s as coaches, along with Thomas and other fellow female referees the door is now as open as it has ever been for women to enter male-oriented professional leagues.

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