Sports 2013: Four Stories of a Changing America

Sports 2013 hinted at some major-league changes in our society, including increasing gender and sexual equality, a plea from the new Pope Francis to be less judgmental of each other, and a wider acceptance of  mankind.  Even ageism is less acceptable. (Thank you, Gary Player!)

With that, here are my top four stories of national change:

1) Who's That Little Girl Promoting The NFL?

Pee-wee football star Samantha Gordon is the youngest athlete ever to be featured on a Wheaties box.

Pee-wee football star Samantha Gordon is the youngest athlete ever to be featured on a Wheaties box.

Full-tackle football, apparently, is not just a boys’ sport anymore. An article on Thinkprogress.org's website says there are more than 1,500 girls playing football at American high schools, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations, and that number has increased more than 17 percent in just four years.

These numbers don't even count pee-wee football. Take  Samantha "Sweet Feet" Gordon, the 11-year-old from South Jordan, Utah, who became a football phenomenon on her pee-wee youth league football team last season. She spent Super Bowl Sunday 2013 in the company of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

According to the video that made her a YouTube sensation and brought her national attention, she rushed 232 times for 35 touchdowns and 1,911 yards, while adding in 65 tackles.

After yesterday's season-ending debacle, the Bears need to sign her.

To promote the 2013 season, the NFL Network featured Gordon as one of  its game faces, in a series talking about the joys of football.

Gordon's story wasn't unique. From Atlanta came the  story of Maddy Paige, for whom the Facebook page  Let Her Play was created. Maddy Paige made national headlines when a Henry County private school said she could no longer play because she was a girl.

With grade schoolers and teens in the mix, is it implausible to think that women could someday compete in the NFL?

Most people would say yes, it is impossible, especially with the the likelihood of concussions, brain injuries and long-term damage for all who play the game. But that is the universal proposition for all football players, not just for women.  And the NFL has voiced its commitment to making the game play safer and the equipment more protective.

I am predicting even more girls will be trying out for their local football teams.

2) Women's Ski Jumping: A Step Forward and Back

Olympic ski jumper Lindsey Van.  The sport makes its first appearance in Sochi after a protracted battle

Olympic ski jumper Lindsey Van. The sport makes its first appearance in Sochi after a protracted battle

With Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn struggling to overcome yet another injury to compete in the 2014 Sochi Olympics, perhaps it's Lindsey Van's turn to shine.

Never heard of her? Neither has the rest of the world. But the IOC sure knows her. She's a 29 year old Olympic ski jumper, who started at the age of eight, competing with boys in 1993.

Van is now the spokeswoman and face of women's Olympic ski jumping. Featured in the New York Times Magazine, she detailed a fight that's taken 11 years, three Olympics, and a discrimination lawsuit for women's ski jumping to become an Olympic sport.

Women aren't going to be on a 140-meter "large" hill. Just the 105-meter hill. Which smacks to me of sexism, although none of the athletes, Van included, are commenting. Perhaps they are being made to feel "lucky to be here." So many times, that's happened. And it's wrong. With just 35 meters more, and more than 25 years of experience each among the team members, why would that equal a no-go from the Sochi Organizing Committee?

The official Olympic Ski Jumping Team will be announced Jan. 19.

3) It's Okay to be Gay in the USA

USA Today's shot of Rookie of the Year candidates Elena Delle Donne (left) and Brittany Griner. Delle Donne's buzzer-beater clinched a season sweep of the Phoenix Mercury for the first time Wednesday night.

USA Today's shot of Rookie of the Year candidates Elena Delle Donne (left) and Brittany Griner, who came out as a lesbian not long after Jason Collins announced he was gay.

"I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay."

12-year NBA veteran Jason Collins, 2013 free agent

With gay marriage becoming legal in so many states this year (including Illinois) it appears that another equal rights barrier has been crossed. In April, veteran NBA basketball journeyman Jason Collins became the first athlete in a major sport in the United States to come out in 2013.

Around the same time, Brittany Griner, the WNBA's #1 draft pick in 2013, also came out, with the hope that she could be a role model for girls struggling with sexual preference. She noted that during her college career at Baylor, her coach Kim Mulkey requested she keep her sexuality to herself, saying that she feared coming out would hurt recruiting.

Though Collins has yet to be signed by an NBA team, that hasn't stopped other athletes from coming out.  Players coming out this year included Olympic and professional soccer star Megan Rapinoe, former San Francisco 49er Kwame Harris,  and Olympic figure skating champion Brian Boitano. The gold medalist came out two days after he was named to the U.S. delegation for Sochi along with openly gay athletes Billie Jean King and Caitlin Cahow. The Russian had already come out with a zero tolerance policy for athletes competing in the Olympic games at Sochi.

Ally

4) You're Never To Old To.....

Break swimming records!

Secret's Ad campaign on Diana Nyad broke age and gender boundaries. It left me laughing

Secret's Ad campaign on Diana Nyad broke age and gender boundaries.

Diana Nyad, whose last name means "water nymph," made history as the only individual – of any age or gender to successfully make that 110-mile swim without a shark cage, from Cuba to Florida, was 64 years old. Nyad's  journey took her 53 hours, 35 years, and four prior attempts to complete.  She made her first attempt back in 1978, long before today's nymphs....Missy Franklin, Ryan Lochte, and Michael Phelps....were even born.

Pose Nude!

77 year old Gary Player is one of eight featured covers in the 2013 ESPN The Magazine Body Issue. Why no 77-year-old WOMEN athletes? Did they ask?

77 year old Gary Player is one of eight featured covers in the 2013 ESPN The Magazine Body Issue. Why no 77-year-old WOMEN athletes? Did they ask?

Golf great Gary Player  is the oldest athlete to ever pose for ESPN The Body issue. It's reported that the 77-year-old three-time Masters champ keeps in great shape by doing 1,200 situps a day. He worked his way up from 1,000, according to the magazine's interview, as well as lying on a medicine ball, stretching, and working out with weights. In fact, he says

"Although there's a 77-year-old man, the oldest woman is 34-year-old Kerri Walsh Jennings; it would have been nice to see an older female athlete."

Here's the oldest bag I found who has a Chicago connection: 32-year-old Swin Cash, of the Chicago Sky. I asked Swin why she did it. She smiled, and blushed, and said "It was definitely out of my comfort zone. But I am proud of my body."

Who says she's ready to retire? The Chicago Sky's Swin Cash is featured in ESPN The Body magazine, dropping this Friday.

Who says she's ready to retire? The Chicago Sky's Swin Cash was featured in ESPN The Body magazine.

Jezebel goes on to suggest 75-year-old body builder Ernestine Shepherd.  I couldn't agree more.

Bodybuilder Ernestine Shepherd. Take that, "what's your excuse" Maria Kang!

Bodybuilder Ernestine Shepherd. Take that, "what's your excuse" Maria Kang!

What will 2014 bring? Stay tuned to Token Female for predictions! And make yourself a New Year's resolution to subscribe. It's free!

I talk sports Monday-Friday on WRLR 98.3 FM at 7:20 am. To listen on the Web: http://wrlr.fm

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