March is Women’s History Month. It is a time to look back and celebrate all the contributions women have made to American history, culture, and society. At Eastbay, our ConqHER campaign continuously highlights women who are breaking barriers in sports. This March we will be sharing some of the stories of women who made history on and off the field in 2020.
Chiney Ogwumike is not only a dominant force on the court but off it as well. A decorated high school and college career led her to be the #1 overall pick in the 2014 WNBA draft by the Connecticut Sun. After multiple All-Star appearances while on the Sun she was traded to the LA Sparks and reunited with her sister Nneka. It was recently announced she and the Sparks had agreed to a multi-year deal keeping her in LA for the foreseeable future. In 2018, she signed a multi-year deal with ESPN, making her one of the youngest people to become a full-time basketball analyst. This year she made history as the first Black woman to host a national radio show for ESPN.
Sam Mewis’s footballing resume continues to get more impressive. The USWNT midfielder has been a staple in midfield for the Americans and was a part of the team that won the 2018 World Cup. Currently, she is holding down the midfield for 2nd place Manchester City in the Women’s Super League. Recently, it was announced she was the 2020 U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year, the first time she has won the award.
Breanna Stewart is arguably the most talented and decorated player to come out of the UConn women’s program. She is now one of the most dominant players in the WNBA, winning an MVP and multiple titles with the Seattle Storm. In 2019, Stewart suffered one of the worst injuries in sports when she ruptured her Achilles. After sitting out that entire season, she returned to help lead Seattle to another title and was named one of Sports Illustrated ‘Sportspeople of the Year’ for her activism off the court.
At every level of the sport, A’ja Wilson has dominated. She was a champion and McDonald’s All-American in high school. In college, she led the South Carolina Gamecocks to their first championship in school history and was a three-time consensus All-American. She was recently named the 2020 WNBA MVP after helping lead the Las Vegas Aces to the WNBA Finals.
Aliphine Tuliamuk will be representing the United States as a long-distance runner at the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Tuliamuk placed first in the Olympic Marathon trials in Atlanta, Georgia with a time of 2:27:23. A former cross-country runner at Wichita State, Tuliamuk was the first person from her village in her native home of Kenya to graduate from college.
Jennifer King recently became the first black woman to be hired as a full-time coach in the NFL. The former two-sport athlete at Guilford College was an intern with the Carolina Panthers, where she served as the wide receivers coach in 2018 and running backs coach in 2019 under Ron Rivera. She then followed him to Washington, where she is now the assistant running backs coach.
Sophie Luoto has exceeded expectations in every role she’s stepped into in her professional career. She began her journey into football while still in college at UCLA when she started working for the athletic department as a student recruiting assistant. Afterward, she took a job at UC Berkley where she was quickly named the Director of Operations. During her time at Cal, several members of the LA Rams organization reached out to gauge her interest in working for an NFL team. She accepted and spent a few years working on the business side before being asked to return to the football side. After a year and a half, she earned the Director of Operations title which made her the highest-ranking female executive in the NFL.
Chelsea Romero has always loved the competitiveness of strength & conditioning. She enjoys inspiring and motivating people day in and day out to reach their goals. Chelsea knows that hard work can lead to incredible opportunities. While working at UC Irvine, she had a chance encounter with the LA Rams head of strength and conditioning. After offering to work for free, she became the training camp intern serving mostly as an extra set of hands at first. It wasn’t long before she was offered, and accepted, a position that made her the Rams first-ever female strength and conditioning coach.
Caster Semenya continues to fight for the human rights of female athletes everywhere. The South African runner was born with a rare genetic condition that causes elevated testosterone levels. This has led many people to demand she take testosterone blockers or simply block her from running. Caster will continue to lead the fight for her right to run the way she was born.
Becky Hammon may be the most well-known female coach in the Big 4 leagues. She is an assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs under Gregg Popovich, a role she’s held since 2014. She has made a name for herself as one of the most well-regarded assistants in the league and received buzz as a potential head coaching candidate this past offseason. This season, after Popovich was ejected during a game against the LA Lakers, Hammon assumed head coaching duties making her the first woman to coach in an NBA game.
Women have steadily entered the basketball and football coaching and front office ranks for the past couple of years, but baseball has lagged a little behind. That began to change when the Miami Marlins hired Kim Ng as their general manager, making her the first female general manager in the Big 4 sports leagues. Kim is a graduate of the University of Chicago where she played softball for four years and earned a B.A. in public policy. She was hired by the Chicago White Sox after graduation and has worked for numerous other teams like the Yankees and Dodgers. She also served as the Senior Vice President of Operations for the league office before accepting her new role with the Marlins.
Sabrina Ionescu was born to get buckets. After a spectacular career at Miramonte High School where she graduated as the all-time leader in points, assists, steals, and triple-doubles, Sabrina chose to attend the University of Oregon and play for the Ducks. During her senior season in a game against #4 ranked Stanford Ionescu became the first NCAA player with 2,000 points, 1,000 assists, and 1,000 rebounds in their career. Following her career at Oregon, Sabrina was the #1 overall pick in the WNBA draft by the New York Liberty, where she plays today.
Alyssa Nakken made history this year by becoming the first full-time female coach in MLB history after being hired by the San Francisco Giants. Alyssa played college softball for Sacramento State, where she was a three-time all-conference selection at first base. She initially interned with the Giants working on their health and wellness programs before going back to school to get her Master’s degree. The Giants then promoted her in January 2020 to a full-time coach.
Katie Sowers has made history twice in the past 5 years. In 2017 she became the first openly LGBT coach in the NFL when she came out as a lesbian. In 2020, Katie became the first female coach to coach in the Super Bowl when the San Francisco 49ers went up against the Kansas City Chiefs. Her career began when she was an intern scout with the Atlanta Falcons before moving over to San Francisco as an offensive assistant on Kyle Shannan’s staff.
Mickey Grace knows that she can accomplish whatever she sets her mind too. The former Math and leadership teacher in Philadelphia was recently chosen to be a part of the Scouting Apprenticeship Program with the Los Angeles Rams. Mickey is a former high school football player and in addition to teaching also serves as the defensive line coach for her school.
This past college football season was unlike anything we’ve ever seen before as COVID-19 wreaked havoc across campuses. Games were canceled, players were forced into quarantine, the whole thing was a mess. From this mess came an opportunity for Sarah Fuller, Vanderbilt’s starting goalie on the women’s soccer team. Vanderbilt had an upcoming game against Missouri, but due to opt-outs and contact tracing protocols, the team had no available placekickers. Head coach Derek Mason reached out to Fuller to see if she would be interested in trying out for the team. Soon after, she became the first woman to play in a Power 5 conference game. Later in the season, Fuller became the first woman to score in a Power 5 game when she went 2-2 on extra points against Tennessee.
There is almost no parallel in the sports world for what Maya Moore has done. She is one of the best players in her sport: a four-time WNBA champion, MVP, and six-time All-Star. Yet she has willingly sacrificed two years of her prime, two years of not playing the sport she loves, to try and secure one man’s freedom from prison. This past July, Jeremy Irons, who was serving a 50-year sentence for burglary and assault, walked free after 20 years. Irons, whose conviction was suspicious given the complete lack of evidence, said of Moore, “She is light, pure light.” Moore has said she will give an update on her basketball career in the future, but whether or not she returns to the court, we should all be inspired by her courage and dedication to justice.
Sarah Thomas has made history multiple times. She was the first female referee to work a major college football game. Then Sarah became the first woman to ref a college football bowl game. Finally, this past February, Sarah became the first woman to officiate a Super Bowl. She continues to be an inspiration for all the other women out there looking to go into officiating.
Amy Trask has been in and around football longer than many people have been alive. The “Princess of Darkness” as she is affectionately called by Raiders fans started out in the legal department of the Los Angeles Raiders back in 1987. She was named their CEO in 1997 making her the first female CEO in the NFL. After resigning from the team in 2013, Trask went on to serve as an analyst for CBS Sports and CBS Sports Network. She recently won the 2020 Top Women in Media award given by Cynopsis Media.
Most people remember Samantha Gordon from when she was absolutely cooking boys on the football field when she was nine. The videos her father uploaded of her blowing past or juking boys twice her size immediately went viral. Now 17, she has continued to fight for all-girls football rights in her home state of Utah.
Congratulations to all the women who made sports history throughout 2020. Here’s hoping you continue to make history in 2021. If you want to see more women who are breaking barriers check out our ConqHER page to see their stories.
A big thank you to the artists who provided these images. Jennifer King was done by Destyni Swoope, Samantha Gordon by Amanda Mendez, Chiney Ogwumike by Caroline Blanchet, and Kim Ng and Sarah Fuller were created by Lari Alejandro.