Women in Sports

Women's sports in the United States are becoming more popular every year. More and more women are succeeding as excellent athletes. I'm Shirley Griffith. And I'm Doug Johnson. Women in sports is our report today on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.

Photographs of women taking part in sports events hang on the walls of the Arts and Industries Building in Washington, DC. The female athletes pictured in this Smithsonian Institution exhibit are all ages, from young children to old women. They represent a number of races and ethnic groups. Some have physical problems that would have kept them out of athletics in the past.

The women are swimming or skating. They are playing baseball, raising heavy weights or running races. Others are preparing for competition. Or they are resting after their games. They look intense, extremely happy or full of regret.

The exhibit is called "Game Face: What Does a Female Athlete Look Like?" It will be shown in Washington through the end of this year. Then the exhibit will move to Salt Lake City, Utah for the Olympic games next year. Then the exhibit will be shown in nineteen other American cities. Photographer and museum expert Geoffrey Biddle and sportswriter Jane Gottesman organized the exhibit.

Ms. Gottesman began writing about sports for a San Francisco newspaper in the early Nineteen-Nineties. During that time she noted that only a few pictures of women athletes appeared in the media. So she asked photographers what a female athlete looks like. They answered with the pictures shown in the exhibit. The photos are divided into time periods with names that sound like sports commands: "Get Ready." "Action." "Finish."

Visitors say they will remember some of the pictures for a long time. For example, weight-lifter Cheryl Haworth is shown standing on a road lined by leafy trees. She has raised a log over her head. But she makes holding this huge piece of wood look easy. Ms. Haworth won a medal in weight lifting at the Two-Thousand Olympics.

Another picture shows a table-tennis game in the Nineteen-Ninety-Six Olympics. Photographer Annie Leibovitz captured the image of Lily Yip of the United States team. She took the picture during intense competition. Ms. Yip stands on one foot. Her other leg is in the air behind her. She has just hit the unseen ball. Or perhaps she is waiting for its return. Her expression demonstrates how hard she is struggling to win.

In another picture a small girl rides a skateboard. The photograph is called "Tomboy." This word describes a girl who enjoys the same activities as boys. Photographer Meri Simon took the picture in Nineteen-Eighty-Seven. Still another picture shows a woman during the early Nineteen-Hundreds. She looks very different from the speeding child. The woman stands still on a tennis court. Her dress reaches her feet. A hat covers her head. This athlete looks as though she would have difficulty moving around.

Many years later, Norma Enrique Basilio became the first woman ever to light the Olympic flame. She is shown carrying the torch to light the traditional fire at the Mexico City games in Nineteen-Sixty-Eight.

American parents did not always want their daughters to take part in sports. Many years ago, people praised stars like runner Wilma Rudolph and tennis player Althea Gibson. Few families, however, urged girls to try for a life in sports. And many men in sports actively tried to prevent women from taking part. Experts say the progress made by women in sports is linked to the general progress for equal rights made by women during the past thirty years.

A major step in progress for women in sports resulted from an education law passed by Congress in Nineteen-Seventy-Two. One part of the law is called Title Nine. It bans unfair treatment based on sex in any program of a school receiving money from the federal government. Schools and universities lose government aid if their sports programs do not treat men and women equally. Title Nine says that women should have the same chance as men to play school sports.

As a result of this law, colleges and universities started more women's sports programs. More people began attending women's sports events. Women also began to play sports that had been unusual for them in the past. They started to play hockey and football. A college student in Alabama recently became the first woman to play and score in a National Collegiate Athletic Association football game.

In recent years, women have played in organized professional sports leagues for the first time. For example, the Women's National Basketball Association was organized in Nineteen-Ninety-Seven by the men's National Basketball Association. The W-N-B-A has eight teams. They play in eight major cities including New York; Los Angeles, California; Houston, Texas, and Phoenix, Arizona.

Millions of people all over the world watched the W-N-B-A championship on television earlier this month. The Los Angeles Sparks defeated the Charlotte Sting of North Carolina. Lisa Leslie led the Sparks to their first W-N-B-A championship.

Ms. Leslie scored twenty-four points in the game. She was named the Most Valuable Player of the game. Earlier, she was chosen the W-N-B-A's most valuable player. Many young girls consider fine athletes like Lisa Leslie to be their heroes.

Women's soccer also has made major progress in recent years. Fine players like Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain have helped make the sport more popular. These women were members of the United States World Cup soccer team in Nineteen-Ninety-Nine. They also won medals in Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia, and Sydney, Australia. Now they compete in the Women's United Soccer Association. The league has eight teams. Players come from a number of countries.

An exciting championship game recently ended the women's soccer league's first season. The Bay Area CyberRays of California defeated the Atlanta Beat. More than twenty-thousand people watched the action in Foxboro Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.

Many people say women's professional tennis has become more interesting than men's tennis. More people watch the women's games on television than the men's games. One sports commentator said, "The women are not only good players. They are also very interesting people. "People like to watch two American sisters as they compete in major tennis events.

Venus Williams is twenty-one years old. Her sister Serena Williams is nineteen. The two are among the world's ten top women tennis players. They are the first African American women in years to gain international fame in tennis.

Earlier this month, they became the first sisters ever to compete against each other for the United States Women's Open Tennis Championship. It was the first time two African Americans played for a major singles tennis championship. And it was the first United States Women's Open to be broadcast on television at night.

Venus Williams defeated her sister Serena in the championship match. Both sisters, however, have gained great success. In the past, tennis has often been called a sport for rich people. The Williams family had little money when Venus and Serena were growing up. Their mother says her girls often played tennis with poor equipment on bad courts.

Great athletes like the Williams sisters are not the only American women who take part in sports. Many average women do, too. Some choose team sports. Others choose activities that can be performed alone. These women swim, ski or sail small boats. They lift weights or run long distances.

A fifty-seven-year-old high school teacher in Chicago, Illinois drives many kilometers every day to a horse-riding center. She says she is not especially good at riding a horse. But riding through the woods on a fine animal makes her happy. This woman says sports are good for the human spirit.

This program was written by Jerilyn Watson. It was produced by Caty Weaver. Our engineer was Keith Holmes. I'm Shirley Griffith And I'm Doug Johnson. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.