Black women athletes everyone should know

February 25, 2024
With Black History Month coming to an end and Women’s History Month beginning later this week, today we’re celebrating a few Black women trailblazers and their historic contributions to sports.
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Black women athletes everyone should know
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🏀 The hardwood trailblazers

Long before No. 4 Iowa’s Caitlin Clark was making NCAA history, Lynette Woodard and Pearl Moore were the giants of women’s college basketball. Clark currently holds the all-time NCAA women’s scoring title, but she’s yet to break the non-NCAA scoring records these legends set.

Woodard played for the University of Kansas in the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) Large College division, comparable to the NCAA’s Division I, from 1977 to 1981, netting a Division 1 record 3,649 career points.

  • And it’s no wonder given Woodard’s no stranger to making history. The Hall of Famer won an Olympic gold medal in 1984, became the first woman to hoop for the iconic Harlem Globetrotters in 1985, and even came out of retirement to play in the WNBA’s first two seasons.

As for the all-time college basketball scoring record, that still belongs to Moore, who played in the AIAW Small College division for Anderson Junior College and then Francis Marion University in the 1970s, amassing an unfathomable 4,061 career points. Buckets on buckets.

🏀 Signed, sealed, delivered

Black women athletes everyone should know
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After the aforementioned NCAA trailblazers came the Black women who led on and off the court in the WNBA.

In 1996, Sheryl Swoopes signed with the Houston Comets, becoming the first woman to ink a WNBA contract. Swoopes then led the Comets to the league’s first-ever championship (and the next three after that!).

  • She went on to become the first three-time WNBA MVP and three-time Defensive Player of the Year. And she did it all in style thanks to her 1995 contract with Nike, which made her the first woman to have a signature athletic shoe. Straight fire.
  • Plus, Swoopes continues to impact the game today. In 2019, she founded an organization called “Back to Our Roots” which aims to empower and educate youth with things like sports and farming. What a combo.

Lisa Leslie, a fellow member of the WNBA’s inaugural signing trio, also revolutionized the sport. On the court, Leslie’s long list of accomplishments includes being the first player to dunk in a WNBA game, plus winning three league MVP titles and two championships.

  • Leslie continued to break the mold beyond the hardwood, adding author, actress, model, and team owner to her already towering resume. Nowadays, she works as a BIG3 league coach and a basketball analyst for Bally Sports Florida.

With icons like these laying the foundation, it’s no wonder the Black women of the WNBA (nearly 70% of W hoopers) are the blueprint. From the league’s historic 2020 collective bargaining agreement to flipping the U.S. Senate in 2021, where would we be without the W?

🎾The original queen of the court

Black women athletes everyone should know
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Before Venus and Serena Williams came Althea Gibson. The first Black athlete to win a Major, Gibson grew up in Harlem, NY, where her exceptional ping pong skills eventually led her to tennis. She won two American Tennis Association (ATA) girls’ championships as a teen before rattling off 10 straight titles at the women’s level.

  • Despite her talent, Gibson was not allowed to compete at the international tournaments with tennis still being segregated. Thanks to a strongly-worded letter from former World No. 1 player Alice Marble, Gibson was invited to the U.S. Open Championship (the precursor to the U.S. Open) in 1950.
  • She’d go on to dominate the sport, winning not only that tournament in 1957 and 1958, but Wimbledon and the French Open, while also finding the time to become the first Black woman to join the LPGA tour. What couldn’t she do?

⚽ Kicking down the door

Black women athletes everyone should know
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In 1986, Kim Crabbe became the first Black woman called up to represent the USWNT. Crabbe never appeared in an official game (Sandi Gordon would become the first Black woman to receive a cap a year later), but Crabbe’s impact endures through her work as an advocate and coach.

Perhaps best known for her heroics at the 1999 World Cup, goalkeeper Briana Scurry followed in Crabbe’s trailblazing cleat marks. Scurry competed in three Olympic Games over her impressive career, leading the USWNT to two gold medals. In 2017, she became the first Black woman elected to the National Soccer Hall of Fame and the first female goalie chosen for the Hall.

As for the next generation, the USWNT boasts more incredible Black women on its roster than ever before, with standouts like Crystal Dunn and 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup breakout star Naomi Girma leading the charge.

  • 2022 NWSL champ and league MVP Sophia Smith also continues to dazzle after making history in 2022 as the first Black woman to ever win U.S. Soccer Player of the Year by leading both club and country in goals. LFG.
  • It’s no different north of the border, with the likes of Ashley Lawrence, Kadeisha Buchanan, and Desiree Scott holding it down for CanWNT.