Women in sports: Here are the stories of a few who attempted to join
in men’s sports and how far they got.
Rhéaume was one of the best goalies in Canadian minor league hockey in the late 1980s. The Trois-Rivieres Draveurs, a Quebec team in a league that was just a step below the NHL, signed her in 1991—the first woman to play at that level. It was logical she’d try out for the NHL after that, another first. In 1992, Rhéaume was signed by the Tampa Bay Lightning as a free agent. She hit the ice for one period each in two exhibition games, and that was that. She was scored on twice, so she wasn’t the best goalie, but at any rate, she won a silver medal in the 1998 Olympics…for the Canadian national women’s team.
In 2013, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban made headlines when he publicly stated that he was considering drafting Griner, the top prospect in women’s college basketball. During her college career at Baylor University, the center scored 2,000 points and blocked 500 shots—a college basketball first for any player, male or female. Griner is 6’8” and the right size for the NBA, and a woman playing in the NBA would certainly be historic. But then the Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA drafted Griner with the #1 pick. The ongoing success and high play level of the WNBA will probably prevent many women from ever joining the NBA.
However, in the 1970s, a woman did play on an all-male pro basketball team. Lieberman was a top high school prospect, and at 18 led the U.S. women’s basketball team to a silver medal at the 1976 Olympics. After that she played college ball at Old Dominion, where she won a national Player of the Year Award and two national championships. There was no WNBA back then, so college was pretty much the end of basketball for most women. Not for Lieberman. She played in the United States Basketball League, a minor league, but an all-male league nevertheless. More interestingly, Lieberman went on to play for the Washington Generals…best known as the team that loses every night to the Harlem Globetrotters.
In 2013, the NFL invited Thomas to be one of 21 finalists for a full-time officiating position for the 2014 season. This summer, she went through league training, calling scrimmages for the New Orleans Saints and spending a few days at the Indianapolis Colts’ training camp. Thomas would be the first permanent female ref in the NFL (the first woman overall: Shannon Eastin, a temporary ref during the 2012 referee lockout). Thomas has worked her way up through the officiating world. After regularly calling high school games, she was hired by Conference USA in 2007—the first woman to referee games at the top level of college football. In 2010, she became the first woman to officiate a college bowl game (the Little Caesars Bowl). How do the players feel about having a woman on the field? Saints safety Roman Harper told CNN, “She will be hated like the rest of them.”