Athletic Role Models: Five Lessons We Can Learn from Black Female Athletes Throughout History

There is a lot we can learn from noteworthy female athletes.

As a member of the Forum, an organization for recognized female sports surgeons, I like to think of female athletes as a sisterhood. I started thinking this way in my earliest days, when the camaraderie I developed with my lacrosse team extended far past the playing field. The friendships I made with other female athletes over the years have inspired me time and time again, and gotten me through some of my most difficult moments.

In a sisterhood like this, it is always important to look to history. Especially in this day and age, it is important to acknowledge the accomplishments of all female athletes, especially people of color. As women, we all know the hardships we face in a predominantly male arena such as sports. Historically, women of color have faced that, on top of segregation, racism, and prejudice that extends into the present political climate.

There are lessons to be learned here. So, I wanted to shed some light on a few noteworthy female black athletes, and pinpoint the lessons we can learn from them.

Althea Gibson

Gibson broke records when she won the American Tennis Association’s local tournament championship 10 years in a row! Originally, the sport was segregated, but Gibson was invited to the U.S. National championships after gaining support from former tennis player Alice Marble. Gibson was the first black tennis player invited to Wimbledon in 1951, and in 1956, she became the first black tennis player to win a Grand Slam at the French Open. Gibson represents what a person can achieve, when they aren’t held back by societal restraints.

READ MORE: Five Female Olympic Athletes to Watch

Wilma Rudolph

As a child, Rudolph was told she would never walk again, after being diagnosed with pneumonia, polio, and scarlet fever. As an adult, she became the first American woman to win three gold medals at a single Olympic Games, for her accomplishments as a runner. Her hometown planned a segregated parade for her, but Rudolph refused to participate, making change by forcing the parade to integrate. Rudolph is a shining example of overcoming obstacles to achieve your dreams.

Sheryl Swoopes

The WNBA (Women’s National Basketball Association) was founded in 1996, and Sheryl Swoopes was the first player they signed. She has won the WNBA championships four times, received three MVP awards, and won three gold medals at the Olympics in 1996, 2000, and 2004. Through her achievements, Swoopes reminds us that women are just as capable of excellence in sports, as our male counterparts.

Simone Biles

Biles participated in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and won four gold medals, and one bronze. This achievement gave her the distinction of the most decorated American gymnast of all time, male or female. In 2018, she became the most decorated gymnast in world championship history. Biles has dominated gymnastics, showcasing excellence regardless of race, gender, and age. She exemplifies the ultimate excellence that female athletes can achieve.

Serena Williams

The Williams sisters need no introduction, but Serena Williams has achieved worldwide fame in tennis on her own merits, on a path paved by athletes like Althea Gibson. Williams has won 23 Grand Slam titles and four Olympic gold medals. She is a both a mother and a world-class athlete, proving to female athletes everywhere, that it is possible to have it all.

Published by karenmsutton

HSS Orthopaedic surgeon in sports medicine | Mother of 4 amazing children | Team physician for USA Women's Lacrosse | ACL injury expert

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