These Books About Women In Sports Will Inspire You To Sweat It Out

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By Kerri Jarema

It's no secret that women's accomplishments have often been hidden, stolen and forgotten; there are countless bad ass women you never learned about in history class. This is also true for women in sports. For centuries women were kept from competing in and even simply from watching sports, from the married women who were barred from attending the Ancient Olympic games, under penalty of death to modern women who could not compete in the Olympic marathon until 1984 because there were concerns that it would render women infertile. Insert side eye emoji here.

The history of women in sports is rife with this discrimination, and it has served only to set women back in damaging ways that we are perhaps only now beginning to see. Most of our modern media still portrays powerful sports stars like Serena Williams and Caster Semenya (who was at the center of a horrible sex verification controversy in 2009) as "too muscular," "too manly," and just not feminine enough.

And with femininity being heralded as the most important thing a woman can possess, and looking anything but perfect being unacceptable, many young girls feel uncomfortable and afraid of grunting, sweating, running, jumping and generally being wholly unconcerned with how they look rather than how much power they have. Not to mention that many women who express an interest in sports are considered wannabes by male fans, who harass and quiz them incessantly on every single aspect of a sport's history before believing they're not just faking it to get a guy.

And so women skip gym class, stay off of sports teams, and stay away from a day at the ballpark in droves. It is obvious that there is some serious work that still needs to be done, and what better way than to acquaint ourselves with some of the most kickass women in sports, both past and present? These women had the talent, passion and determination to make their marks in the sports world, despite intense scrutiny and discrimination. Maybe they will inspire you to lace up your own sneakers and get out there, sweat and all.

'Bloomer Girls: Women Baseball Pioneers' by Debra A. Shattuck

Though baseball began as a gender-neutral sport, girls and women of the nineteenth century faced many obstacles on their way to the diamond. Yet all-female teams took the field everywhere. Debra A. Shattuck pulls from newspaper accounts and hidden club archives to reconstruct a forgotten era in baseball history. This fascinating social history tracks women players who organized baseball clubs for their own enjoyment and found roster spots on men's teams. Entrepreneurs, meanwhile, packaged women's teams as entertainment, organizing leagues and barnstorming tours. If the women faced financial exploitation and indignities like playing against men in women's clothing, they and countless ballplayers like them nonetheless staked a claim to the national pastime. Shattuck explores how the determination to take their turn at bat thrust female players into narratives of the women's rights movement and transformed perceptions of women's physical and mental capacity.

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'Dust Bowl Girls: The Inspiring Story of the Team That Barnstormed Its Way to Basketball Glory' by Lydia Reeder

At the height of the Great Depression, Sam Babb, the charismatic basketball coach of tiny Oklahoma Presbyterian College, began traveling from farm to farm, recruiting talented, hardworking young women and offering them a chance at a better life: a free college education if they would come play for his basketball team, the Cardinals. Despite their fears of leaving home and the sacrifices faced by their families, the women followed Babb and his dream. He shaped the Cardinals into a formidable team, and something extraordinary began to happen: with passion for the game and heartfelt loyalty to one another and their coach, they won every game. Dust Bowl Girls conveys the intensity of an improbable journey to an epic showdown with the prevailing national champions, helmed by the legendary Babe Didrikson. And it captures a moment in American sports history when a visionary coach helped his young athletes achieve more than a winning season.

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'The Frailty Myth: Redefining the Physical Potential of Women and Girls' by Colette Dowling

The myth of female frailty, with its roots in nineteenth-century medicine and misogyny, has had a damaging effect on women's health, social status, and physical safety. It is Dowling's controversial thesis that women succumb to societal pressures to appear weak in order to seem more "feminine." The Frailty Myth presents new evidence that girls are weaned from the use of their bodies even before they begin school. By adolescence, their strength and aerobic powers have started to decline unless the girls are exercising vigorously... and most aren't. By sixteen, they have already lost bone density and have also been deprived of motor stimulation that is essential for brain growth. Yet as breakthroughs among elite women athletes grow more and more astounding, it begins to appear that strength and physical skill, for all women, is only a matter of learning and training. Drawing on extensive research in motor development, performance assessment, sports physiology, and endocrinology, Dowling presents an astonishing picture of the new physical woman. And she creates a powerful argument that true equality isn't possible until women learn how to stand up for themselves physically.

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'Making My Pitch: A Woman's Baseball Odyssey' by Ila Jane Borders

Making My Pitch tells the story of Ila Jane Borders, who despite formidable obstacles became a Little League prodigy, MVP of her all-male middle school and high school teams, the first woman awarded a baseball scholarship, and the first to pitch and win a complete men’s collegiate game. Borders played four professional seasons and in 1998 became the first woman in the modern era to win a professional ball game. Making My Pitch shows what it’s like to be the only woman on the team bus, in the clubhouse, and on the field. Her story encompasses the loneliness of a groundbreaking pioneer who experienced grave personal loss. Borders ultimately relates how she achieved self-acceptance and created a life as a firefighter and paramedic and as a coach and goodwill ambassador for the game of baseball.

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'Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina' by Misty Copeland

As the only African American soloist dancing with the prestigious American Ballet Theatre, Misty Copeland has made history. When she discovered ballet, Misty was living in a shabby motel room, struggling with her five siblings for a place to sleep on the floor. A true prodigy, she was dancing en pointe within three months of taking her first dance class and performing professionally in just over a year: a feat unheard of for any classical dancer. But when Misty became caught between the control and comfort she found in the world of ballet and the harsh realities of her own life, she had to choose to embrace both her identity and her dreams, and find the courage to be one of a kind. Misty opens a window into the life of a professional ballerina who lives life center stage: from behind the scenes at her first auditions to her triumphant roles in some of the most iconic ballets. But she also delves deeper to reveal the desire and drive that made her dreams reality.

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'A Spectacular Leap: Black Women Athletes in Twentieth-Century America' by Jennifer H. Lansbury

When high jumper Alice Coachman won the high jump title at the 1941 national championships with “a spectacular leap,” African American women had been participating in competitive sport for close to 25 years. Yet it would be another 20 years before they would experience something akin to the national fame and recognition that African American men had known since the 1930s, the days of Joe Louis and Jesse Owens. From the 1920s, when black women athletes were confined to competing within the black community, through the heady days of the late twentieth century when they ruled the world of women’s track and field, African American women found sport opened the door to a better life. However, they also discovered that success meant challenging perceptions that many Americans — both black and white — held of them. Through the stories of six athletes — Coachman, Ora Washington, Althea Gibson, Wilma Rudloph, Wyomia Tyus, and Jackie Joyner-Kersee — Jennifer H. Lansbury deftly follows the emergence of black women athletes from the African American community, their confrontations with contemporary attitudes of race, class, and gender, and their encounters with the Civil Rights Movement. Uncovering the various strategies the athletes use to beat back stereotypes, Lansbury explores the fullness of African American women’s relationship with sport in the twentieth century.

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'Game Changers: The Unsung Heroines of Sports History' by Molly Schiot

Based on the Instagram account @TheUnsungHeroines, a celebration of the pioneering, forgotten female athletes of the twentieth century that features rarely seen photos and new interviews with past and present game changers including Abby Wambach and Cari Champion. Featuring icons Althea Gibson and Wyomia Tyus, relative unknowns Trudy Beck and Conchita Cintron, policymaker Margaret Dunkle, sportswriter Lisa Olson, and many more, Game Changers gives these “founding mothers” the attention and recognition they deserve, and features critical conversations between past and present gamechangers—including former US Women’s National Soccer Team captain Abby Wambach and SportsCenter anchor Cari Champion—about what it means to be a woman on and off the field. Inspiring, empowering, and unforgettable, Game Changers is the perfect gift for anyone who has a love of the game.

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'The Sweetest Thing' by Mischa Merz

Journalist and amateur boxer Mischa Merz fulfills a long-held ambition to travel across the United States and compete in a series of amateur boxing tournaments. On this wild and fascinating journey she meets her idols, including Lucia Rijker of Million Dollar Baby fame, and some other truly extraordinary characters. Merz discovers the horrors and delights of the world of women's boxing and gains insights into this eccentric subculture's place in American life. She also meets some of the pioneers and trailblazers of the contemporary rise in women's boxing as well as some of the younger stars now hoping to make it onto the first women’s boxing team in the 2012 Olympic Games. Written in a compelling and highly entertaining narrative style, Mischa Merz takes us right into the ring and reports, with a rare insider’s view, on a sport that has for centuries defined our ideas about masculinity.

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'A Game of Their Own: Voices of Contemporary Women in Baseball' by Jennifer Ring

A Game of Their Own chronicles the largely invisible history of women in baseball and offers an account of the 2010 Women’s World Cup tournament. Jennifer Ring includes oral histories of eleven members of the U.S. Women’s National Team, from the moment each player picked up a bat and ball as a young girl to her selection for Team USA. Each story is unique, but they share common themes that will resonate with young female players and fans alike: facing skepticism and taunts from players and parents when taking the batter’s box or the pitcher’s mound, self-doubt, the unceasing pressure to switch to softball, and eventual acceptance by their baseball teammates as they prove themselves as ballplayers. These racially, culturally, and economically diverse players from across the country come alive as they recount their battles and most memorable moments playing baseball — the joys of exceeding expectations and the pleasure of honing baseball skills and talent despite the lack of support. With exclusive interviews with players, coaches, and administrators, A Game of Their Own celebrates the U.S. Women’s National Team and the excellence of its remarkable players. In response to the jeer “No girls allowed!” these are powerful stories of optimism, feistiness, and staying true to oneself.

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'Beyond Bend It Like Beckham: The Global Phenomenon of Women's Soccer' by Timothy F. Grainey

Though it burst into public consciousness only with the 1999 World Cup, women’s soccer has been around almost as long as its male counterpart, flourishing in England during and after World War I. From the rise of women’s soccer following Title IX legislation in the early seventies to the watershed 1999 World Cup performance that turned the American team into instant celebrities, soccer is now the most popular sport for girls and women, with participation growing exponentially worldwide. Beyond Bend It Like Beckham presents the first in-depth global analysis of the women’s game — both where it has come from and where it is headed. With commentary from key players, coaches, and administrators, Timothy F. Grainey follows the sport’s reach into the unlikeliest places today, even countries where women were banned from playing soccer just a few short years ago. Though women in the United States and Canada still fight for equal treatment and funding, their situations differs markedly from the hostility, abuse, and even outright bans that some women still encounter in trying to pursue an activity they love. Through the prism of soccer, this book explores the struggle for women’s rights abroad, in countries as diverse as Sweden, Russia, South Africa, Pakistan, Australia, and Iran.

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'Women In Sports: 50 Fearless Athletes Who Played to Win' by Rachel Ignotofsky (July 18, 2017)

Women in Sports highlights notable women's contributions to competitive athletics to inspire readers young and old. Keeping girls interested in sports has never been more important: research suggests that girls who play sports get better grades and have higher self-esteem...but girls are six times more likely to quit playing sports than boys and are unlikely to see female athlete role models in the media. This book features 50 profiles and illustrated portraits of women athletes from the 1800s to today including trailblazers, Olympians, and record-breakers in more than 40 different sports. It also contains info-graphics about relevant topics such as muscle anatomy, a timeline of women's participation in sports, statistics about women in athletics, and influential female teams.

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