Throughout history, sports in the United States have been seen as a form of entertainment for all to enjoy. However, there are moments when societal issues bleed onto the athletic scene, prompting many famous athletes to take a stand, or express their personal beliefs.
Unfortunately, in the early 20th century, simply being female in the world of sports was seen as an act of protest by some. While this may be true to some extent, there have been many women in sports brave enough to silence those against them who have gone on to do incredible things. The following are just a few of many.
Babe Didrikson Zaharias
A true renaissance woman, Mildred Ella “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias is often referred to as one of the greatest athletes of all time. She won two Olympic gold medals and one silver in Track & Field in 1932, was an AAU All-American in basketball, and won a total of 41 professional golf titles; an amazing collection of achievements that we may never see again.
Perhaps most importantly, Didrikson was a founding member of the LPGA. She would go on to play in a PGA event just three years after joining the sport of golf; the first woman to ever achieve such a feat, and to this today, the only woman to ever play in a PGA event. Even after being tragically diagnosed with colon cancer in the 1950s, she remained a top-ranked golfer and won two more events before succumbing to her illness.
Wilma Rudolph’s life began at a very difficult point. At a young age, she was diagnosed with polio, scarlet fever, and pneumonia, all of which doctors believed would lead to her never walking again. Unbelievably, she would go on to compete in the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia, winning bronze with the 4×100 metres relay team.
Even more impressive, she competed in the 1960 Rome Olympics and won three gold medals in Track & Field. These accomplishments, combined with with the fact that these were the first-ever televised Olympics made her a hero in the United States. Outside of her athletic achievements, Rudolph would remain an advocate for both civil and women’s rights up until her passing in 1994.
Billie Jean King
In her 18-year tennis career, Billie Jean King won a total of 20 Wimbledon titles, and was second to none as a female tennis player. She would go on to win 12 Grand Slam singles titles, and 129 overall. Many remember her best for the match she played titled “Battle of the Sexes.”
At the age of 29, King faced off against 55-year-old Bobby Riggs, who was rated the number 1 player in the world for three years (1939, 1946, and 1947). King would go on to defeat Riggs in all three sets, solidifying her status as one of the greatest female athletes of all time, and improving the world’s view on women athletes in general.