5 Women Who Led The Way In Sports And Games

Sports and games are sometimes presented by the media as a uniquely male pursuit. It might be true that men usually get paid more than their female counterparts when it comes to sporting or gaming endeavors, but that doesn’t mean that they’re more skilled or competent. The gender balance of sport today might be better than it was at the turn of the century, but there’s still a lot of work to do before we reach parity. For that to happen, we’re going to need a few more female sporting pioneers to break the mold and lead the way.

When the next female sporting or gaming superstar does appear, they’ll join a list of superstar women of the past who changed the way that we think about women in sports and gaming, and opened the door for more to follow. These are the women who’ve inspired change in both sport and society, and changed the way that the media both report on and think about sport and gaming from a female perspective. This article is a celebration of five of those game-changing women, and their achievements!

Golf: Babe Didrikson Zaharias

We’ve associated Babe Didrickson Zaharias with golf because it was the sport she was most prominent in, but we could also have nominated her for her achievements in swimming, baseball, basketball, or tennis. She grew up with the ambition to be the greatest athlete who ever lived, and she had no intention of letting anything as trivial as her gender get in the way of that. When she competed in the Los Angeles Open in 1938, she became the first woman ever to appear at a PGA event. If you need an indication of how closed-off the world of golf still is to women, only four more female competitors have appeared at official PGA events since.

The Associated Press named Zaharias as the best female athlete of the 20th century, and it was an award she more than deserved. In our of our favorite quotes by any woman in any sport ever, her response to the question of whether there was anything she didn’t play, she said “dolls.” Zaharias was a force of nature, and although she’s largely forgotten by the modern press, she was a trailblazer.

Poker: Victoria Coren Mitchell

We’ll include Victoria Coren Mitchell in our article with a disclaimer. There have been other female poker stars, and some were arguably more successful, but none have had her profile. There may also be better female gamblers playing today on one of the plethora of online slots and casino websites that exist in the 21st century. The semi-anonymous nature of online slots websites means that often, the companies that run those websites have no idea whether their players are male or female.

Winning huge sums of money playing slots doesn’t require anything more than good luck, though. With Victoria Coren Mitchell, her success is all down to talent.

Her biggest claim to fame is being the first-ever woman to win any event on the highly-respected European Poker Tour. She followed that up by being the first woman to win two “Main Event” tournaments on the European Poker Tour and has won more than two million dollars thus far. Her achievements have seen her inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame. Casinos and poker tables can be stuffy, male environments, but Victoria Coren Mitchell bucks the trend.

Video Games: Sasha Hostyn

During the past thirty years, video games have gone from being a niche interest to nerds to a lucrative career for many people. The majority of those people are male, and like gambling, video gaming is still seen as a primarily male interest. The number of successful female gamers is rising, but none of them have risen through the ranks quite as spectacularly as Sasha Hostyn, better known to the gaming community as “Scarlett.”

In 2016, Sasha earned herself a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as the highest-earning female gamer in history. She specializes in playing “StarCraft II,” although she’s equally skilled at a number of different video games. The Canadian-born gaming superstar is still under 30 years old, and she has broken down more than one barrier. As well as changing the definition of what it means to be a female gamer, she’s also an outspoken supporter of the trans community based on her own personal background. There isn’t a barrier in the gaming world she hasn’t tried to kick down.

Tennis: Billie Jean King

We could have included either one of the Williams sisters in this article for tennis – and we nearly did – but on balance, we’ve decided that they’ve walked through a door that was opened decades earlier by Billie Jean King. She was the first female global icon in the world of tennis, and also one of the very first female athletes to beat a man in any competitive sport in front of a live television audience.

When the now-fabled “Battle of the Sexes” was announced in 1973, many pundits sneeringly predicted that Bobby Riggs would defeat Billie in straight sets. Instead, on Mother’s Day of all days, she handily defeated him and left a lot of people with egg on their faces Her dominance of women’s tennis lasted almost until her 40th birthday, and she’s still one of the most respected voices in the sport today.

Combat Sports: Ronda Rousey

Even today, there are people who clutch their pearls at the very thought of women fighting. That’s why female boxing has struggled to gain a platform even a tenth as lucrative as men’s boxing. It would probably also be the reason that women’s mixed martial arts received little mainstream attention today if it weren’t for the efforts and success of Ronda Rousey. She competed in the first-ever women’s UFC fight and became the first-ever bantamweight world champion, defending her championship belt six times. That remains a record, and the achievement has put Rousey in the UFC Hall of Fame.

Rousey no longer competes in the cage, but she’s become a mainstream sports celebrity in her own right. In 2019 she made history a second time by becoming one of the first women to compete in the main event of WWE WrestleMania, performing in front of eighty thousand people. Rousey is uncompromising – and, at times, controversial – but she’s changed what it means to be a woman in combat sports.

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