10 Trailblazing Women Who Changed Sports

To celebrate Nicki Minaj making moves in the sports betting world, here are 10 other women who changed sports, according to MaximBet.

Megan Rapinoe of the USA lifts the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup Trophy
(Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty Images)

In case you missed it, Nicki Minaj recently blazed (another) trail by joining the world of sports betting as a MaximBet investor, advisor, and first global ambassador. The multi-award-winning artist is no stranger to breaking barriers as she joins an impressive list of incomparable women who gone down in sports history. From executives to athletes, here are 10 trailblazing women who’ve made a lasting impact in the world of sports.

Katherine Switzer

First Woman To Officially Compete In The Boston Marathon – 1967

In 1967, women weren’t allowed to compete in the Boston Marathon. That didn’t sit too well with runner Katherine Switzer, who entered the race under “K.V. Switzer” to mask her gender. Unfortunately, during the event an overzealous race director identified her as female and chased her down on the course in an attempt to pull her from the race. That history-making moment was captured by multiple photographers and remains an iconic image of women’s fight for equality. She ended up finishing the race, becoming the first woman to complete the marathon as an official entrant.

Billie Jean King

Defeats Bobby Riggs In Battle Of The Sexes – 1973

Considered one of the greatest female tennis players of all time, Billie Jean King is a former world No. 1 player who has won 39 major titles, including a Career Grand Slam. She was a pioneer of gender equality and social justice. King is best known for defeating Bobby Riggs in an exhibition match dubbed “The Battle of the Sexes” in 1973. Riggs had been a top men’s player, who claimed women’s tennis was “inferior” to men’s matches. More than 90 million viewers watched King soundly defeat the self-proclaimed “male chauvinist.”

Janet Guthrie

First Woman To Compete In NASCAR 1976

A former aerospace engineer, Janet Guthrie was the first woman to compete in NASCAR at the 1976 Winston Cup Series. The following year, she became the first woman to run in the Daytona 500 before switching to open wheel racing and becoming the first woman to ever qualify for the Indianapolis 500. 

Violet Palmer

NBA’s First Female Referee – 1997

In 1997, Violet Davis officiated a basketball game between the Vancouver Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks, becoming the first female referee in NBA history. Retiring in 2016, Palmer is credited with officiating 919 professional basketball games over the span of her historic career.

Nancy Lieberman

First Female Professional Men’s Basketball Coach – 2009

Nancy Lieberman was a star basketball player in her own right, nicknamed “Lady Magic.” Her on-court skills also earned her a spot on the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1996. In 2009, she was hired as the coach of the Texas Legends, an NBA Development League team. This put her in the history books as the first ever woman to coach a professional men’s basketball team. In 2015, Lieberman was named assistant coach for the Sacramento Kings, making her only the second woman in history to work as an assistant coach in the NBA.

Michele Roberts 

First Female Executive Director of NBPA – 2014

Michele Roberts was named executive director of the National Basketball Players Association in 2014. Originally a trial lawyer in Washington, DC, Roberts is the very first woman to hold the ED position. Additionally, she is also the first woman to ever head a major professional sports union in North America.

Sarah Thomas

First Female NFL Referee – 2015

Sarah Thomas shattered a big glass ceiling when she became the first female to be hired as a full-time NFL official. Although Shannon Eastin was technically the first woman to officiate a game – in 2012 when she was a replacement during a referee lockout – Thomas was the first with a full-time position. She cemented her status as a trailblazer in 2019 when she also became the first female to earn an officiating position for an NFL playoff game and the Super Bowl when she was selected to ref the 2021 Super Bowl.

Katie Sowers 

First Female & First Out LGBTQI+ NFL Coach – 2017

Katie Sowers joined the NFL in 2016 as a coaching intern with the Atlanta Falcons. The following year, Sowers moved over to the San Francisco 49ers as a seasonal intern before taking on a full-time position. 2017 was also when she came out publicly. In that first season as an offensive coach, the 49ers advanced to the Super Bowl, making Sowers the first female and openly gay coach ever in Super Bowl history.

Kim Ng 

First Female General Manager Among Big Four Major Leagues – 2020

In 2020, Kim Ng was hired as general manager of MLB’s Miami Marlins. That put her in the books as the first woman to work as general manager of a team in any of the four major leagues: MLB, NHL, NFL, NBA. In her current position, Ng is the highest-ranking female executive in baseball and she’s also the first person of East Asian descent to serve as a GM for an MLB team.

Entire United States Women’s Soccer Team 

Achieving Equal Pay – 2022

Earlier this year, the players of the U.S. women’s national soccer team reached a landmark settlement over pay equity. Following a six-year legal battle, the players made a deal with US Soccer for pay, bonuses and prize money to match that of male pro soccer players in the country. As if we already didn’t adore Megan Rapinoe enough already, right?

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