By Ken Reed

Undoubtedly, in the future when someone says “2020” the first thing that will pop to mind for the vast majority of the world’s citizens will be the Covid pandemic.

But from a sports perspective — more particularly, a United States sports perspective — 2020 will be known as the Year of Women.

Females broke several glass ceilings in 2020. Kim Ng became the first female general manager in any of the major men’s professional sports leagues in North America (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL) when the Miami Marlins picked her to lead their baseball operations department. Sarah Fuller became the first female to play and score in a Power Five conference football game while kicking for Vanderbilt. And Callie Brownson became the first woman to coach a position group in an NFL regular-season game when she coached the Cleveland Browns’ tight ends on November 29th.

SportsWorld has long been dominated by men. For decades, men have ignored half the population when looking to fill positions they thought only males could fill. Ng, Fuller and Brownson — along with the Marlins, Vandy and Browns — took big steps to help change that approach in 2020. It took courage by these women — and these organizations — to break sexist barriers, just like it took courage for Jackie Robinson, Branch Rickey and the Brooklyn Dodgers to break baseball’s color barrier in 1947.

Women also led the social justice movement in sports during 2020. Tennis superstar Naomi Osaka wore seven different masks at the U.S. Open, each with the name of a Black victim of police brutality. She also said she wouldn’t play her semifinal match at a US Open tuneup tournament in order to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake. The tournament followed her lead and paused the tournament in protest.

“To be honest, I really didn’t stop to think about what others would think of my actions. Other people’s opinions weren’t going to stop me from doing what I know in my heart was the right thing to do,” Osaka said.

Osaka won the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year award for her work on (US Open champion) and off (social justice activist) the court.

“She successfully completed the difficult task of taking excellence in sports performance and using that platform to succeed outside of sports on a much bigger stage,” said Billie Jean King, a 12-time Grand Slam singles title winner and pioneering advocate for women in sports.

“She ignited a conversation on social justice, the results of which were bigger than tennis, larger than sports, and in doing so raised the bar for all those who want to leverage the gifts and talents we have to make a difference in our world.”

Osaka’s goals for 2021: “Work hard, do better, speak up, be kind.” Goals that would make better people of all of us if we chose to follow them.

Elsewhere in sports during 2020, WNBA and NWSL players of all races conducted unified league-wide protests following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis policeman.

While female athletes still lack the sports opportunities available to men, and lack the visibility afforded male athletes, they took several big steps toward changing that in 2020, the Year of Women in Sports.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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