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21 Female Sports Firsts

by: Esteban On  Wednesday, March 6, 2013

female sports firsts

On Sunday, a 28-year-old woman from New York became the first female ever to try out for NFL teams at one of the league’s regional combines. It really was a historic moment, and the media treated it as such by turning out in droves,.

The only problem, of course, is that the woman, Lauren Silberman, wasn’t a football player, or even a full-time athlete. She tried out as a kicker, but apparently spent a good 20 seconds trying to get the ball to stand up on the tee, and then she took nine awkward steps back and 5 awkward steps sideways to line up just six yards away from the ball. And then she kicked it 20 yards.

Thus, the first female NFL tryout was a dud. There are lots of women out there who might have made female athletes everywhere proud on Sunday, but Ms. Silberman isn’t one of them. And that’s okay. It’s really not that big of a deal, given that I’m pretty sure no woman will ever play in the NFL anyway. (Hey, if I’m wrong, that’s great.) Nevertheless, today I thought it would be cool to talk about some female sports firsts that actually were a big deal. So I put together this lists of achievements. It’s certainly not comprehensive, since you have to choose what “firsts” are interesting or important. But I will say this: every one of the women on this list is or was an genuine athlete.

Take a look.


21. First to Win the Pole Position for Daytona 500

danica patrick daytona 500 - female sports firsts

Might as well start with the most obvious one, right? On February 17, 2013, Danica Patrick became the first woman to win the pole position for the Daytona 500, or any Sprint Cup Series race for that matter. And if she ever wins a race, she’ll be the first to do that, too.


20. First to Compete in a Formula One Race

maria teresa de filippis - female sports firsts

Danica is hardly the first pioneering female race car driver. On May 18, 1958, Italy’s Maria Teresa de Filippis became the first woman to compete in Formula One. She didn’t quite qualify for the Monaco Grand Prix (only 16 of 31 entrants did), but she would later compete in and finish the Belgian Grand Prix.


19. First to Race in the Daytona 500

janet guthrie daytona

Back on this side of the Atlantic there was Janet Guthrie. Though one of many women in NASCAR, Guthrie became the first to compete in the Daytona 500 in 1976.


18. First to Race in the Indy 500

janet guthrie indy 500 - female sports firsts

Guess who? Yep, that is Janet Guthrie again. Just one year after becoming the first woman to compete in the Daytona 500, she also became the first woman to compete in the Indianapolis 500. She went on to compete in two more Indy 500s, too, finishing 9th in 1978.

17. First to Coach Pro Men's Basketball

nancy lieberman - female sports firsts

Nancy Lieberman is one of the biggest figures in the history of women’s basketball. She not only became the first woman to play in a professional men’s league (the defunct United States Basketball League), but in 2009 she made history when she was named coach of the Texas Legends of the NBA Development League.


16. First to Win a Men's Professional Baseball Game

ila borders pitching - female sports firsts

Retired left-handed pitcher Ila Borders actually achieved several firsts in her career. She was the first woman to earn a baseball scholarship and the first to start a college game. Then she was the first to start and first to win a professional men’s baseball game while pitching with the Duluth-Superior Dukes in the independent Northern League. (Well, she was the first in the modern, integrated era, anyway. There are anecdotes of other female pitchers in baseball history. This one is for sure.)


15. First to Ride in the Kentucky Derby

diane crump kentucky derby - female sports firsts

On February 7, 1969, Diane Crump became the first female jockey to ride in a Thoroughbred race in the United States. Then, in 1970, she became the first to ride in the Kentucky Derby.


14. First to Win a Triple Crown Race

julie krone jockey - female sports firsts

Diane Crump didn’t win the Kentucky Derby in 1970. So the title “First Female Jockey to Win a Triple Crown Race” goes to Julie Krone. She won the Belmont Stakes in 1993.


13. First to Play in an NHL Game

manon rheaume nhl goalie - female sports firsts

Manon Rheaume of Beauport, Quebec, became the first and only woman to ever play in any NHL game in 1992. Sure, the goalie only saw action in the preseason, but that’s way further than anyone else has ever gotten.


12. First to Beat a Man in a Professional Tennis Match


Retired tennis player Bobby Riggs goaded Billie Jean King into playing him in a $100,000 winner-take-all match in 1973 by insulting the women’s game. He said that it was so inferior that even he, a 55-year-old, could be the top women. Of course, on September 20, 1973, Billy Jean King defeated Riggs 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.


11. First to Play on the Men's PGA Tour

babe zaharias - female sports firsts

Babe Zaharias, perhaps the greatest female athlete of all-time, became the first female golfer to compete on the men’s PGA tour in 1938. (She also won three Olympic medals in track and field—two gold, one silver.)


10. First to Win Olympic Gold in the 100m

betty robinson first female olympic gold medalist - female sports firsts

Prior to 1928 there was no women’s athletics competition at the Olympic Games. However, it was introduced for 1928, and Betty Robinson (far left) became the very first gold-medalist in the 100 meters sprint.


9. First to Swim the English Channel

gertrude ederle - female sports firsts

In 1926, American Gertrude Ederle, an Olympic gold medalist in the 4x100m freestyle in Paris in 1924, became the first woman to swim across the English Chanel.

Oh, and her time of 14 hours and 31 minutes beat the previous record held by a man.


8. First on a Wheaties Box

babe zaharias - female sports firsts

Remember when I said Babe Zaharias might be the greatest female athlete of all-time? Well, fittingly, she was also the first female athlete to ever appear on a Wheaties Box. However, she didn’t make the front of the box. Just the back.

Who was the first woman to make the front?


7. First on the Front of a Wheaties Box

mary lou retton on wheaties box - female sports firsts

After becoming America’s Sweetheart in 1984 by winning Gymnastics All-Around gold at the Olympics (plus two silvers and two bronzes), Mary Lou Retton became the first woman on the front of a Wheaties box.


6. First Female Football Player Featured on a Wheaties Box

samantha gordon wheaties box - female sports firsts

Since Mary Lou Retton in 1984 there have been other female athletes on the front of a Wheaties box. However, 2012 saw the first female football player make the box: 9-year-old YouTube sensation Samantha Gordon. (She was also one of the most Googled female athletes of the year.)


5. First to Score Points in NCAA Division I-A Football

katie hnida colorado - female sports firsts

Now, if you’re looking for a woman who deserved to be the first female to try out for the NFL, look no further than Katie Hnida. She became the first woman to compete in NCAA Division I-A football when she played for Colorado, and she became the first to score points in the Las Vegas Bowl on December 25, 2002, after transferring to New Mexico.


4. First to Dunk in College Basketball

georgeann wells first woman to dunk in ncaa - female sports firsts

Georgeann Wells is the first woman to dunk in an NCAA basketball game. That happened on December 21, 1984, when Wells’s WVU Mountaineers were taking on Charleston, and her teammates went so crazy on the bench that they were given a technical foul. (They still won the game, though, 110-82.)


3. First to Dunk in Women's Pro Basketball Game

Lisa Leslie dunks

Georgeann Wells was the first woman to dunk in a college game, but Lisa Leslie was the first to dunk in a professional game. That happened on July 30, 2002, with Leslie’s L.A. Sparks taking on the Miami Sol.


2. First to Sign a Major Endorsement Deal

babe zaharias - female sports firsts

If you’ve been paying attention, then you probably could have guessed that this honor would belong to Babe Zaharias. What can I say? She performed a lot of firsts.

Zaharias signed a deal with Wilson in 1947, and she would eventually get her own line of golf clubs. Her deal was reportedly worth a whopping $100,000, which back then was an insane amount of money.


1. First to Sign an Endorsement Deal With Jordan Brand

maya moore jordans - female sports firsts

Babe Zaharias opened the door for female athletes to receive lucrative endorsement deals. However, it took a long, long time for that door to swing all the way open. However, in May 2011 the WNBA’s Maya Moore became the first woman to sign with the marquee brand that every athlete aspires to: Nike’s Jordan Brand. She became the first woman to get her own signature Jordan shoe, joining the likes of MJ (obviously), Dwyane Wade, Randy Moss, and Derek Jeter.