03 31 2015
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Venus Williams

"Venus Williams" by Edwin Martinez from The Bronx - US Open 2013 Licensed under CC via Wikimedia Commons 

After watching a half dozen college football bowl games and the first two rounds of the NFL Playoff over the past two weekends, I continue to be proud of how many women are now involved in covering professional and college sports. My favorite sport of football seems to employ the most women. I can’t even name all of the professional sports broadcasters now, with a line-up of women that includes Whites, Blacks, Asians and Latinas. It’s great!

I was only a kid when CBS first hired African-American actress and model Jayne Kennedy for reporting and interview duties on The NFL Today. WHAT? Jane Kennedy is covering football? It was the coolest thing in the world for a kid who had a bunch of Jet magazine “beauties of the week” taped on his walls, wearing swimsuits. But to have a bonafide fox like Jayne Kennedy covering my favorite game and football stars on TV was way cooler.

With a weekly subscription to Sports Illustrated magazine before I was even teenager, my original love for women in sports started with track and field. I remember watching the television movie of Olympic track star, Wilma Rudolf, with my mother and being inspired by it. From there, we watched the 1980s Olympic track stars together, including my mother’s favorite, Evelyn Ashford, alongside Mary Decker Slaney, Valerie Briscoe-Hooks, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, and who could ever forget Florence “Flo Jo” Griffith Joyner. In the 1990s, we watched Gail Devers and Gwen Torrence.

My mother and I also watched Carol Lewis—the younger sister of decorated Olympian, Carl Lewis—go from being an Olympic long jumper in her own right, to becoming one of the first African-American women to cover track and field broadcasts. I was very proud of Carol for that. Don’t just compete in sports, become one the experts who analyze it. I was as proud to see Carol on TV for every track event as I was to see the athletes. I loved listening to Carol speak her calm knowledge about track and field. You go get it, sister!

Before there were the Williams girls—Venus and Serena—in professional tennis, my mother told me stories about she and her friends rooting for African-American legend, Althea Gibson, when they was younger. Althea Gibson played tennis and golf with passion, fearlessness and dignity, inspiring a nation of Black women to not only dream about it, but to do it.

However, my most intimate love for women in sports came from my own hometown of Philadelphia. In my last few years of high school at Central in the late 1980s, there was this city-wide hype and conversation about a girl from North Philly.

People were crazy excited about this girl, explaining the scene in all of their Philadelphian vernacular. “Yo, you gotta see this girl play, cuz. She ballin’! Straight up!”

So I caught the train and bus into the heart of North Philadelphia—where I had no friends, family members or security detail—to attend a girl’s basketball game at Murrell Dobbins Tech High School for my first glimpse of Dawn Staley, up close and personal. My friends thought that I was crazy.

“You went to Dobbins by yourself just to see a girl’s basketball game?”

Yes, I did. And my mind was blown away forever. Dawn Staley was not only the point guard at Dobbins, she led the team in scoring, steals, rebounds, assists, blocked shots and highlight moments before ESPN ever existed. She had the whole Harlem Globetrotter thing going on in with the around the back passes, dribbling through the legs, stop and gos, twists and turns, look-aways, finger rolls, girls tripping and falling down in front of her, and then she would stop and pop 3-pointers on fast breaks before Steph Curry was even born.

You could barely drink a cup or a can of soda when Dawn Staley played. People were constantly screaming, yelling, pointing, jumping and grabbing you every couple of seconds, whether she was on offense or defense.

“Did you see that steal? You see that block? You see that pass? You see that shot?”

Dude, I’m watching her just like you’re watching her. Of course, I saw it! Now can I enjoy the game in peace for a minute, please? God!

After winning several Philadelphia Public League Championships and a national high school player of the year award, Staley went on to star at the University of Virginia, where the Cavaliers were never quite able to get over the hump for a national championship, but she kept them in the hunt for a title every single year. She then played balled overseas, became a WNBA star, a 3-time Gold Olympian, and the head coach at North Philadelphia’s own Temple University—my mother’s proud alma mater—before coaching the University of South Carolina, where Staley’s undefeated Gamecocks are presently the number #1 ranked women’s basketball team in the country.

And me? I went on to cover dozens of live sports events and write interview features as a print journalism major at Howard University, including plenty of exciting girl’s games and track meets, all up and down the East Coast. I’ve also rooted for national television legends; Cheryl Miller, Sheryl Swoops, Chamique Holdsclaw, Candace Parker, Angel McCoughtry, Brittney Griner and Skylar Diggins on the college level, as well as for Cynthia Cooper, Tina Thompson, Teresa Edwards, Diana Taurasi, Lisa Leslie and Seimone Augustus in the WNBA.

I could go on and name many more competitive women, including Marion Jones, Allyson Felix, Sanya Richards-Ross, Dee Dee Trotter, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and dozens of young girls, who have competed inspirationally in track and field at Philadelphia’s annual Penn Relays carnival, hailing from Vere Tech Jamaica to Long Beach Poly, California. Don’t forget about Dominique Dawes, Gabby Douglas and Simone Biles in American gymnastics, along with Claressa Shields, Marlen Esparza and the gifted veteran, Liala Ali, in boxing.

And what about Philadelphia’s Mone Davis, pitching a no-hitter in Little League Baseball this past summer?

The point is that women’s excellence in sports is here stay, and it will continue to grow. So there should naturally be more professional women available to broadcast, prognosticate and critique their peers, as well their husbands, sisters, brothers, cousins, nephews, nieces, sons and daughters.

I stand as a proud supporter of women being involved in sports in every capacity. If it’s good for the competitive and professional spirit of men, then it’s also good for that of women. And I will continue to watch, report, listen, enjoy, learn from and be inspired by you all.

Omar Tyree is a New York Times bestselling author, an NAACP Image Award winner for Outstanding Fiction, and a professional journalist, who has published 27 books, including co-authoring Mayor For Life; The Incredible Story of Marion Barry Jr. View more of his career and work @ www.OmarTyree.com

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