Arts & Entertainment

As Foundation Honors Female Athletes, 30-Year Fight for Title IX Continues

From left to right: Tamika Catchings, Katie Smith, Kerri Walsh, Ruth Riley, Misty May-Treanor and Nykesha Sales pose at the Women's Sports Foundation's annual salute. Walsh and May-Treanor were honored as the Sportswomen of the Year (Team). (Photo: Lois Elfman) “It’s hard to even begin to explain how much the Women’s Sports Foundation has changed things for women in sports,” said Janet Guthrie, the first woman driver to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500.

“I love coming back and seeing some of the old faces and meeting some of the new ones. It’s a wonderful experience that I wouldn’t miss for anything.”

The Women’s Sports Foundation’s Annual Salute to Women in Sports is one of the great gatherings of female athletes spanning a vast array of sports.

“Sport is a metaphor for the pursuit of excellence, for putting your best self into whatever you do,” said former distance swimmer Diana Nyad, who was inducted into the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame in the pioneer category.

“What you leave the sport with is that same metaphor to live the rest of your life by—the pursuit of excellence. Regardless of whether I succeed at everything, and I certainly don’t, I walk away from everything I try with a tremendous sense of pride because I know I didn’t leave anything behind. That’s the essence of sport—it’s not winning, it’s about seeking one’s potential.”

On hand as a presenter was plus-size supermodel Emme Aronson, who readily identifies with female athletes who may have been criticized for being too muscular. “I think being an athlete is one of the most powerful ways that you can claim or reclaim your body in this society,” Aronson said. “Whether you’re a professional athlete or a weekend warrior, you can try and get a physical connection to who you are. You won’t really fall prey to what’s going on in society. Being physically active is vital to the mix of feeling good about yourself.”

The beach volleyball team of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh were jointly honored as Sportswoman of the Year (Team) for the second time in three years. “Winning never gets old,” said Walsh. “Misty and I are so inspired being here every single year. The battle is not done. We need to get more girls on the field playing sports.”

Both May-Treanor and Walsh started as traditional indoor volleyball players before switching to beach after college. Vonetta Flowers spent many years as a track athlete before totally changing gears and becoming a bobsledder. With that change came not only success, but also inspiration to others. Her gold medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City was the first gold medal won by a black athlete at the Winter Olympics.

“Hopefully, I’ve opened the doors for African American women and men to look outside the box,” said Flowers, who gave birth to twins after the 2002 Winter Olympics and then returned to Olympic competition in 2006. “I feel God was preparing me all those years of track and field ups and downs. He was preparing me for my destiny, which was bobsled, and I’m grateful for that.”

Other honorees include drag racer Melanie Troxel as Sportswoman of the Year (Individual) and wheelchair marathon racing record holder Jean Driscoll as winner of the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award. Dorothy Gulbenkian Blaney was posthumously awarded the Billie Jean King Contribution Award. Other inductees into the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame were Australian Olympic swimmer Shane Gould in the pioneer category, Rutgers women’s basketball coach C. Vivian Stringer in the coach category and Nawal El Moutawakel in the contemporary category.

Stringer has always taught her players to be warriors on the court and carry themselves with pride and dignity off the court. “It’s important to present ourselves in such a way that young women athletes do not have to choose one particular area,” said Stringer. “There are opportunities to get an education and to focus on many different aspects of life specific to women.”

When she won gold in the 400 meter hurdles at the 1984 Olympics, El Moutawakel was the first woman of Arab, Muslim and African descent to win an Olympic gold medal. She stopped competing three years later and has spent the last 19 years inspiring other women to find empowerment through sports. She created a race in her country of Morocco that now features 25,000 women. She thanked women such as Women’s Sports Foundation founder Billie Jean King, “Billie Jean Queen I like to call her,” for inspiring her.

Among those in attendance was former honoree, Nancy Hogshead Makar, a three-time Olympic gold medalist in swimming who is now an attorney and advocate to sustain Title IX, the 1972 law that mandated gender equity at all governmentally funded institutions.

“Before I went to law school I thought this whole issue was over with,” said Hogshead Makar, an assistant professor at Florida Coastal School of Law.

“Here it is 2006 and we have a Presidential administration that is not supportive of the law and are doing everything it can to find ways to weaken it. So it’s still a fight. We rely on the courts. We have really good case law, but that’s not a very efficient way to go about mass change.”

So she and other female athletes gather and raise their voices together—to remind the world the power of sport in the lives of women and girls.

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