For far too long, female athletes and women’s sports have been in the shadows of their male counterparts. Whether it’s lack of exposure or outright misogyny, female sports stars are not getting the attention they deserve.
Despite this glaring oversight, there is a laundry list of exceptional women athletes who have worked diligently to change sports history. Their accomplishments and determination have paved the way for future generations.
Here are seven such female athletes who have significantly altered the way the world views women sports.
Babe Didrikson Zaharias – Golf
At the 1938 Los Angeles Open, Babe Didrikson Zaharias became the first woman to compete in a PGA event. Since her appearance, only four other female athletes have played in such an event.
Not only did the Associated Press select Zaharias as the best female athlete of the first half of the 20th century, she also excelled at basketball, track, tennis, baseball, and swimming.
When asked if there was anything she didn’t play, she answered with the following cheeky response: “Yeah, dolls.”
Toni Stone – Baseball
Toni Stone was the first woman to play professional baseball and is considered by many to be the “female Jackie Robinson.” In 1953, Stone was signed by the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League to play second base.
She considered it an honor due to who she was replacing at the position. The man who was previously minding the right side of the infield was none other than Hank Aaron, who had departed to the MLB to play for the Milwaukee Braves.
Nancy Lieberman – Basketball
Nancy Lieberman, nicknamed “Lady Magic,” made the U.S. Olympic team for the 1976 Montreal Games when she was only 17 years old.
She then went on to become the first woman to play in a men’s pro basketball league in 1986 with the Springfield Fame of the USBL.
After the WNBA was founded in 1996, Lieberman returned as a player in 2008 to play one last game. She stepped onto the court at 50 years old!
Steffi Graf – Tennis
WTA phenom Steffi Graf was the greatest athlete in all sports during the calendar year of 1988. She accomplished the sport’s greatest achievement by completing the Golden Slam.
She won all four Grand Slam singles titles (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and U.S. Open) and the Olympic gold medal in Seoul, South Korea in the same year.
Her only loss leading up to completing the Grand Slam was to Gabriela Sabatini at Amelia Island.
Manon Rheaume – Hockey
After a scout sent a videotape of Canadian goaltender Manon Rheaume to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the team invited her to camp. She then made her debut against the St. Louis Blues in 1992 during a preseason game.
“This changed my life basically and took my life in a different direction than I was planning to go,” Rheaume said of the experience. She also won silver for Canada during the 1998 Winter Olympics.
Mia Hamm – Soccer
Mia Hamm made her debut for the U.S. national team at age 15 and quickly became a household name. After winning four NCAA titles at North Carolina, she continued to make history.
Not only was she part of the 1999 World Cup team, which was the first and only women’s team to win the championship on home soil, she became the first female inducted into the World Football Hall of Fame in 2013. A true pioneer for what women’s soccer has become today.
Ronda Rousey – Fighting/Wrestling
After becoming the first American female to win an Olympic medal in judo at the 2008 Summer Olympics, Ronda Rousey began pursing mixed martial arts. She would go on to defeat Liz Carmouche at UFC 157, in the first woman’s fight in league history.
She was successful in six consecutive defenses of the women’s bantamweight title, a record that still stands to this day. She was also the first woman inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame in 2018.