With the Super Bowl coming up, society is paying a lot of attention to athletes and their physical prowess. However, what might be even more important is the political views of those very athletes. Even though sports fields are not the first place we look to for gender equality, many athletes espouse extremely feminist views. What follows is a slideshow of five of the greatest feminist athletes of all times.
After Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo posted a YouTube video in favor of gay rights and a Maryland state delegate, Emmett C. Burns Jr. sent a letter to the Ravens’ owner, asking him to “inhibit such expressions from your employee and that he be ordered to cease and desist such injurious actions,” Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe spoke out vehemently against Burns. In his response, he wrote: “Your vitriolic hatred and bigotry make me ashamed and disgusted to think that you are in any way responsible for shaping policy at any level… Why do you hate the fact that other people want a chance to live their lives and be happy, even though they may believe in something different than you, or act different than you? How does gay marriage, in any way, shape or form, affect your life?” Football culture might not always be the best place to look for feminist values, but the domino effect that Kluwe started by sharing his views on gay rights is definitely a step in the right direction.
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Billie Jean King
In a world where women’s tennis is just about as respected and rewarded as men’s, it is hard to imagine a time when it was regarded more as a frilly sideshow. In the early 1970′s, though, this was the case. Billie Jean King, along with eight other female tennis players, broke away from the tennis establishment and formed their own circuit, which was seen as pushy and silly at the time. No one ever believed that women’s tennis would garner enough of an audience to warrant equal prize money to that of the men’s sport. She also unwillingly became a role model for gays when she was sued for palimony in 1981 by a former girlfriend. It is her athletic ability and staunch feminist values, though, that have made her a role model and have helped pave the way for today’s star athletes like Maria Sharapova and the Williams Sisters.
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In the 1980′s, sports reporting was much more of a boys club than it is even today. Part of the reason for this was because women were often not allowed into locker rooms for post-game interviews. According to Cheryl Raye Stout, a sports reporter in Chicago at that time, football locker rooms were the toughest to get into. Jim Harbaugh, quarterback for the Bears at the time, was integral in getting her into the locker room for those important interviews. On her blog, Stout writes: “The Bears drafted Jim Harbaugh, a young quarterback out of the University of Michigan, during the 1987 season. A few weeks into the season I asked to talk to Jim as I sat on the floor. The media person went into the locker room and brought the rookie out for me. Jim looked at me and then said to the media person, “Why can’t she go in the locker room like she does after games?”…Until that point, no one else had even challenged or really cared about my situation. Jim and I talked, and we walked into the locker room. There were no angry voices, there were no insults.” Now, as head coach for the San Francisco 49ers, we’ll see him in action in the Super Bowl.
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Gabby Douglas is an unwitting feminist icon. As the first US gymnast to win both individual and team gold medals at the same Olympics and the first person of color and the first African-American woman to win gold in the gymnastics individual all-around competition, she is a pioneer in her sport and a role model for girls everywhere. Her fierce independence and drive are characteristics that all women can look up to. At the young age of 14, she had her sights so set on Olympic gold that she moved away from her family in Virginia Beach to go to West Des Moines, Iowa to train with the famed Chinese coach, Liang Chow. She experienced racism in this predominantly white town, and sport, but she fought to be seen as an equal and, in fact, excelled. In June, she said, “I have an advantage because I’m the underdog and I’m black and no one thinks I’d ever win. Well, I’m going to inspire so many people. Everybody will be talking about, how did she come up so fast? But I’m ready to shine.” She did shine, brighter than the rest
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British cyclist Emma Pooley spoke out angrily against sexism in her sport. After winning the silver medal in Beijing, she stated that she makes enough money to live off of, but not nearly as much as male cyclists make. She said, “Women’s cycling really does have a problem. It’s not a lack of enthusiasm or willingness, it’s just the races aren’t televised for the most part, so, for sponsors, it’s like night and day compared with men’s cycling. TV time is everything and… There is a lot of uncertainty every year over teams. You think you’ve got a contract, then the team decide women’s racing is not of interest to main sponsors because it’s not visible. It’s a bit depressing – after a while you feel what you’re doing is pointless because no one is interested.” Her other teammates, Lizzie Armitstead and Nicole Cooke have said similar statements, but Pooley’s was the strongest.
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