It’s a wonderful time of year isn’t it? Pro football is in full swing, major league baseball is heading to playoff time, Premier League Soccer is kicking…It’s a good time for sports.
But today’s Google Doodle made us think of another reason it’s a good time for sports. Today’s Doodle celebrates what would’ve been Althea Gibson’s 87th birthday. In 1956, Gibson won the French Open, becoming the first person of color to win a Grand Slam title. She later became the first black woman on the women’s professional golf tour. While many country clubs made her change in her car due to segregation, she was one of the top 50 money earners for 5 years.
As we celebrated Gibson’s birthday, another young woman of color made her own mark. For the past several weeks, we’ve been watching the Little League World Series. The story has been dominated by the performance of South Philadelphia’s Taney Dragons’ Mo’ne Davis. Davis is a 5-foot 4 pitcher who throws a fastball in the mid-70’s range. Given her size, that would be a 95 m.p.h. screamer in a big league game. She is the first girl to pitch a no-hitter in the LL World Series, and today, became the very first little leaguer to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated. To put that in perspective: since 2000, she’s the 35th woman on the cover, and the 11th woman of color.
Also this week, Brittney Griner of the Phoenix Mercury recorded the first dunk in WNBA playoff history. According to Griner, it was no bigs. “That’s what I do,” she said. “I dunk.”
Perhaps the gender gap is truly shrinking? A few weeks ago, the San Antonio Spurs hired a new assistant coach. Sitting on the bench manning a clipboard for the World Champions will be Becky Hammon, a former 5-foot 6 WNBA point guard. She will be the first full-time, paid assistant coach in NBA history.
Being an amazing female athlete, though, isn’t a brand-new thing.
Mildred Didrikson was born in 1911, and was known as a fantastic seamstress. Growing up in Texas, she often hung out with the boys, becoming quite the baseball player. “Babe” (her childhood nickname), dropped out of high school to take a job with an insurance company, who wanted her for their company basketball team. She became an All-American basketball player, and went after track & field. At the 1932 AAU Championships, she entered 8 events, winning first in 5 and tying for first in a sixth. She then ran straight to the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, winning 2 Gold medals and a Silver.
In 1935, Babe grew tired with running, and decided to take up golf. When she was denied amateur status, she qualified for the 1938 Los Angeles Open on the men’s PGA tour. While she missed the cut after two rounds, she never missed the cut in a men’s tournament again. She eventually played in several PGA events, and dominated the fledgling LPGA, winning every title worth having. She said,
“Before I was ever in my teens, I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up. My goal was to be the greatest athlete that ever lived.”
Not a great baseball player or runner or golfer, and not just a great athlete. “The Greatest.”
Oh, and little Mo’ne Davis? Baseball is not her first sport. Her goal is to play for U.Conn. In basketball. We hear she has a mean jumper.