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Just Jillian: Who are Our Sport Herstory Makers?

In honor of Women’s History Month, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary, this post focuses on this year’s theme of “Writing Women Back into History.” In addition, I dedicate it to my late Grandma—Bette Jane Dale—who taught me how to be a feminist before I even knew the word.

It’s been almost 40 years since the passage of Title IX—the law that has given girls and women access to opportunities that in 1972 were far from typical (e.g. protection against sexual harassment, equal access to subjects like math and science, higher education, career training, technology, and employment) while it’s impact has been most notable in sport. However, how far have we truly come?

The research supports that there is no denying that while participation in various sports at the high school, collegiate, and professional levels have increased for our sisters the number of female coaches has decreased. Sure our visibility has increased in the media yet at what costs to ourselves and our sisters who are attempting to blaze new trails by breaking out of expected gender roles. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled that I can follow the March Madness of women’s basketball on the ESPN network, yet that also requires me to have cable (or go to a sports bar) to watch the games, which is not the case for our brother’s who are not only on CBS but also the focus of most office pools around the country. In my opinion, this is just one example of the inequities we face and the stories not being told by being in a male-dominant society.

Similarly, another recent example is a story coming out of Texas in which the state’s board of education, which is made up of only 5 current or former educators out of the 15 member board, “have preliminary[ly] approved new curriculum standards for teaching social studies, history, and economics to K-12 public schools students that are sanitized, reactionary, and weighted heavily in favor of white, Conservative Christian views” (Brink, 2010). In other words, the history and knowledge of women, people of color, and other marginalized groups and cultures are being down played or eliminated all together. So, why should those of us outside of Texas care?

Well, as one of publishing’s biggest clientele, Texas sets the standard for curriculum nationwide. These standards that are currently up for final vote, if approved, would be adopted in 2011 and would stay in place for the next decade. Now you might be thinking, “Great point Jillian, but what does that have to do with sports and women’s sports at that?” The point is that if we as girls and women are down played or worse eliminated from the textbooks that are educating our future, there is definitely no guarantee that our youth—girls AND boys—will learn about women (and Blacks) fighting for the right to vote, the feminist movement of the late 60’s and early 70’s, or key legislation that have improved our lives such Roe v. Wade and the passage of Title IX. Thus, leading me to consider: who are our sport herstory makers of today and how do they compare to those of the past (e.g. Babe Didrikson, Wilma Rudolph, the numerous women of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, Athena Gibson, and Billie Jean King just to name a few) or even from the last 10-20 years (e.g. Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Mia Hamm, Lisa Leslie, Laila Ali, Nancy Lopez, and Kristi Yamaguchi).

I’m far from having the answers to these questions, especially since I struggled to come up with examples that were inclusive of our vast diversity. However, I say why even bother making the comparison and instead suggest that we begin to surface the silenced voices and less known athletes who are using sport as a vehicle to be competitive, reach personal goals, and ultimately, have an impact on their peers within and outside the sporting community. Although Women’s History Month will come to a close in just a few days, I believe it’s the duty of both women and men to carry the torch throughout the year by surfacing and sharing these unknown stories and silenced athletes. It’s my hope to accomplish this in the months ahead. In fact, it will begin with my next post as I share my interview with Gold medalist Paralympian Alana Nichols. I look forward to sharing with you her story of triumph, courage, and athleticism as well as her wonderful spirit.

CALL 2 ACTION: Use this blog as a conversation starter to unearth and talk about the unheard stories of female athletes. Feel free to share these stories with me at

Reference: Brink, ? (2010). Texas Whitewashing U.S. History. Retrieved on March 20, 2010 from
Jillian Ross

Jillian Ross is a researcher, writer and learner determined to make a difference in the world. Her work has focused on Title IX and gender equity; the intersections of identity (e.g. race, gender, sexual orientation, class, etc.), especially that of Black queer female student-athletes; creating safe schools and spaces for students and teachers; and more recently, educational and teacher leadership with a focus on school leadership for social justice. Although she no longer participates in competitive sports, Ross still considers herself an athlete. Her love of sport began with basketball and track, and has expanded to her current love of hiking in Tilden, working out at the YMCA, and biking around the Bay Area. Ross works and resides in Berkeley, CA with her partner of 7 years.

Ross writes a women-focused blog addressing the just & unjust in the world at