The Final Whistle

Women Who Helped Change the Game

More stories from Jon Fortier

The Final Whistle
May 15, 2019

Women have often been overlooked in the sporting world and it is fair to say that they have a much harder path to national prominence than any other group of people.

Even as a sports fanatic, I must admit that I have never really paid much attention to the struggle that women went through in order to break into the industry and change it forever. With Women’s History Month now in full swing, it is time to look at the women that changed the game.

Jackie Mitchell was certainly not the first woman to play Minor League Baseball, but her impact on the game is more historical than any other woman to play the game.

In 1931, at the age of 17, she signed with the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts as a pitcher. Then on April 2, she played in an exhibition game against the New York Yankees. She replaced the starting pitcher after he gave up consecutive hits.

The first batter that she faced was none other than, Babe Ruth. She struck out Ruth in four pitches, and he was noticeably upset. She then struck out Lou Gehrig, another all-time great.

After the game, Ruth said that women would never make it in the game because they were too delicate. Mitchell will always be remembered for being tough enough to strike out two of the greatest players in the history of the game.

Ann Meyers Drysdale became the first woman to sign an NBA contract in 1979. She was signed by the Indiana Pacers as a free agent and was soon cut from the roster.

Boston Celtics legend, Bill Russell, claims that Drysdale was one of the best players ever regardless of gender. After being cut, she became a color commentator for the team and became the first woman to broadcast an NBA game. She paved the way for the women that would follow her.

The creation of the WNBA in 1997 was sparked by the continued interest in professional basketball by women. Several prominent figures emerged from the league as leaders of the women’s movement in professional sports.

Lisa Leslie was the face of the WNBA from 1997 to 2009 and continues to make an impact in the league as a co-owner of the Los Angeles Sparks. She was also the first woman to dunk during a professional game.

Becky Hammon became the first woman head coach in the NBA summer league in 2015, guiding the Las Vegas Spurs to the summer title. The following season, she made even more history by becoming the first full-time female assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs of the NBA.

While there are many more women that have changed the sports industry, it still isn’t enough.

In a world where we need separate leagues because men don’t think that women can play with them and keep up because women are “fragile.” Those separate leagues don’t generate nearly as much money as the men’s leagues, leading to a significant pay gap in the industry.

It is all too easy to blame an entire industry for these shortcomings, but we should consider the impact our culture and mindset have on the issues and how we can change them.

Fortier can be reached at [email protected]