It was a big weekend in the sports world: Debuts were made, poles were won and records were broken. This may seem like any other day or any other highlight reel on ESPN, but it was not George St. Pierre, Jeff Gordon or LeBron James who did these things. It was Ronda Rousey, Danica Patrick and Brittney Griner.
Rousey was not only the first woman ever to fight in the UFC octagon, but she and the challenger she defeated, Liz Carmouche, were the main event, something that seemed unthinkable five years ago.
Patrick became the first woman NASCAR driver ever to win the pole for the Daytona 500, the first woman to lead the race and the first woman to finish in the top 10; she finished eighth.
Griner led the Baylor women’s basketball team to a national title in 2012 and continues her dominance this season. She became the eighth woman in NCAA Division I history to score 3,000 points and is just five points away from being fourth all-time. Griner has also set the career record for blocks, with 702 and counting.
In these male dominated sports, these women are making an impact.
The UFC had been toying with signing a female fighter for quite some time but never made the leap. When Rousey won a bronze medal in judo at the London Olympics, they saw what she could do for their business.
Patrick has been racing in the Nationwide Sprint Cup Series since and NASCAR since 2012, but she began her career in the Indycar Series in 2005.
Gordon, Carl Edwards and Jimmy Johnson, three of the sports biggest names, brought their daughters to meet Patrick. “Carl was saying it’s good that she sees me in real life and person because, ‘To her you are like some mythical creature that doesn’t exist,’” Patrick said in an interview with the Associated Press.
In what is the sport’s biggest race of the year her eighth place finish dominated the headlines and stole the spotlight from the winner. She proved this weekend that she is more than a Godaddy.com girl.
Many times these women get pulled away from their sport and get turned into a commercial sex object for men.
Patrick has fallen into this, but has managed to balance it well, and if they do not get turned into a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Cover or become the newest contestant on Dancing with the Stars, they usually just go away.
Teams like the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team get recognition when they win medals or World Cups, but they fade onto the back pages of the newspaper soon after the tournament ends, and their names are not heard for another four years.
But with this group of women it seems different. Griner will soon take Baylor to the NCAA tournament, continue to add to her records and then move on the WNBA. Patrick’s next task is to continue to finish high in the standings and eventually win a NASCAR race. Rousey may not be the main fight at the next UFC event, but she brought new viewers to the sport and will soon defend her championship.
Women may be far from having a full hour of highlights on “SportsCenter,” but slowly more people are noticing them for the talent they bring to their sport and the inspiration they give to the little girls who watch them every week.