If you tune into the NCAA Women’s Final Four basketball tournament next weekend, you’ll hear the voice of former WNBA star Kara Lawson, who 11 years ago became the first woman to analyze a nationally broadcasted NBA game on TV.
Female athletes like Lawson have a long history of breaking down gender barriers in search of opportunity on the court or field. Here are six others who revolutionized the role of women in male sports.
The first woman to try out for an NBA team
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By 1979, Ann Meyers Drysdale had already amassed a list of barrier-breaking accomplishments: first woman with a four-year UCLA athletic scholarship; college player of the year; medalist with the first U.S. women’s Olympic basketball team; first player drafted to the Women’s Professional Basketball League, which predated the WNBA. Then she became the first female free-agent in the NBA when the owner of the Indiana Pacers asked her to try out. But Meyers Drysdale fell just short of becoming the first female NBA player when she was cut from the team. Now, she is the vice president of the Phoenix Suns and Mercury and a sports broadcaster.
The first female pitcher in Negro Leagues of baseball
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Mamie “Peanut” Johnson was 17 when she tried out for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. But she was denied, not because she lacked talent, but because she was black. The teen was discovered striking out grown men on a recreation field in Northeast Washington, The Post previously reported. A former player got her signed with the Indianapolis Clowns, a pro team in the all-male Negro Leagues. She left the team in 1955 with a trading card and list of impressive stats: a pitching record of 33-8 with a .270 batting average. In the off-season, she earned a nursing degree. Johnson died in 2017 at the age of 82.
The first solo female MLB scout
National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
A child prodigy on the diamond at age 10, Edith Houghton began her baseball career in the 1920s playing shortstop for the Philadelphia Bobbies, a team of young women who competed in the Bloomer Girls league. A fan favorite, she toured in Japan and later signed with the New York Bloomer Girls. In 1946, after serving in World War II, she began a career with the Philadelphia Phillies as the league’s first solo female scout before serving again during the Korean and Vietnam wars. She died in Florida in 2013, eight days before her 101st birthday.
The first female pro baseball umpire
It took a five-year court battle with the National Association of Baseball Leagues, but in 1972 Bernice Gera umpired a Class A minor league double-header in the New York-Penn league. It was her first and last time as a professional umpire. Gera quit after the game — not because she didn’t love the sport but because it wouldn’t love her back. Her fellow umpires ignored her, and after she bungled a call, an outraged coach said she belonged in the kitchen. Gera ejected him. “He was judging me as a woman, instead of as an official,” she later told a Florida newspaper. In 1974, she joined community relations with the New York Mets. Gera died in 1992.
The first full-time female coach in the four major pro sports
Before she was hired to the coaching staff of the San Antonio Spurs, Becky Hammon played pro basketball for 16 years and was a six-time WNBA all-star. She is among the best, regardless of gender. “I’m a little uncomfortable with people saying ‘trailblazer’ ... because I know somebody else blazed the trail for me to even have the opportunity to play basketball,” Hammon told The Post in 2015. “If I can in some way make a path for somebody else to walk through — maybe it’s your daughter or your aunt — that’s the bigger picture, and that’s really what makes everything all worth it.”
The first woman to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500
Janet Guthrie qualified for the Indianapolis 500 in 1976, but the backlash began before she ever climbed into her car. Top male drivers said she couldn’t handle it. Fans shouted, “Get the tits out of the pits.” Guthrie raced anyway. Ever since, she has advocated for female drivers and argued that financial barriers cripple women most. Without buy-in and access to fast cars, she wrote in The Post in 2013, women will always be disadvantaged. Guthrie would know. When team owner Rolla Vollstedt first recruited her decades ago, according to NASCAR.com, he said: “You will never be a winning driver, because no one will ever give you a winning car, because you are a woman.”