10 things: The most inspirational sports moments of 2020

WNBA supports Warnock

The 2020 U.S. elections have remained heated in Georgia, with Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler facing off against Democrat Raphael Warnock in a runoff in January 2021. Among the groups who helped Warnock advance are WNBA players, including several from the Atlanta Dream, of which Loeffler is part-owner. The players, who participated in some of the most poignant Black Lives Matter demonstrations earlier this year, rejected Loeffler’s claim that sports shouldn’t be political, along with her proposed bill attacking transgender girls in high school sports. Players from all 12 teams in the WNBA wore shirts proclaiming “VOTE WARNOCK” in August—and 32.9 per cent of voters did, propelling him to the runoff against Loeffler, who won only 25.9 per cent of votes.

Laurent Duvernay-Tardif helps in fight against COVID-19

As COVID-19 swept through Quebec in March, Super Bowl Champion and McGill medical school graduate Laurent Duvernay-Tardif immediately acted to help in the fight against the pandemic. Duvernay-Tardif was assigned to a long-term care facility near the South Shore and focussed on helping by any means necessary, despite playing in the most-watched television program in North America just 10 weeks prior. When the NFL decided on plans to return to play for the 2020 season, Duvernay-Tardif announced that he would opt-out of playing, citing his understanding of the pandemic’s severity. Caring for patients as a doctor seemed a more worthwhile risk than playing football.

NBA players strike

 Following the shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Bucks chose to strike during a playoff game against Orlando in protest. The decision prompted a chain reaction throughout the NBA bubble in Orlando, with many other organizations following suit, leading to the cancellation of playoff games for multiple days. This type of protest was unprecedented in modern sports. The last NBA team to go on strike for social justice was the Boston Celtics in 1961, who refused to play after Black players were denied service at a Kentucky restaurant. 

The Chicago Blackhawks hire Kendall Coyne

On Nov. 23, the Chicago Blackhawks hired former Olympic Champion Kendall Coyne Schofield as the first female player development coach in the organization’s history. Coyne Schofield was also the first woman to participate in the NHL All-Stars Skills Competition in 2019, coming in seventh in the fastest skater competition, less than a second behind the winner, Connor McDavid. The first female coach in the 103-year history of the NHL, Dawn Braid, was hired only four years ago in August 2016. The hiring of Coyne Schofield was another step toward equality and representation in the NHL and the sport of hockey in general. Coyne Schofield adds to a growing list of women working for an NHL team, including Canadian Hall-of-Famer Hayley Wickenheiser, who is the assistant director of player development for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Empty arenas find new use

With voter registration initiatives and early voting reaching unprecedented numbers in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, sports arenas contributed to making voting more accessible: Over 35 NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA, WNBA, and MLS stadiums acted as polling stations for both early and Election Day voting. As other polling locations closed and petitions sought to invalidate early votes, these stations proved to be invaluable for the election. 

Naomi Osaka’s strike

Star tennis player Naomi Osaka announced on Aug. 27 that she would not play in her semifinal match of the Western & Southern Open after the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

“As a black woman I feel as though there are much more important matters at hand that need immediate attention, rather than watching me play tennis. I don’t expect anything drastic to happen with me not playing, but if I can get a conversation started in a majority white sport, I consider that a step in the right direction,” Osaka wrote in a tweet.

Osaka did not play again until her next tournament, the US Open, which she won on Sept. 12 in a 3-set comeback victory against Victoria Azarenka. Osaka brought seven face masks to this tournament, each displaying the name of a Black victim of police brutality.

Megan Rapinoe and Sue Bird’s engagement

After four years of dating, power couple Megan Rapinoe and Sue Bird became engaged. The two met while representing the United States at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. In 2018, Rapinoe and Bird were the first same-sex couple to be featured in ESPN’s Body Issue. 

Rapinoe and Bird are already considered greats in their respective sports of soccer and basketball. Rapinoe, in 2019 alone, won the Ballon d’Or Féminin, World Cup Golden Boot, World Cup Golden Ball, and World Cup Final Player of the Match. Bird’s career is equally as impressive, totalling three WNBA titles, four Olympic gold medals, two NCAA championships, and the all-time assist record in the WNBA. Rapinoe and Bird’s relationship will continue to break down boundaries for same-sex couples, similar to how they break down the opposing defence in games.

Marcus Rashford’s School Meal Initiative

Marcus Rashford is currently one of the best players in the Premier League, scoring 17 goals for Manchester United in the 2019-20 season. However, this year Rashford made headlines for his work off the field. As a child, Rashford experienced food insecurity and was often dependent on the UK government School Meal Programme, which provides free meals for children in school. When the government decided to pause the programme in the summer holidays during the pandemic, Rashford filed a petition for its continuation, which gathered widespread support and forced the government to reverse its decision. Rashford has also lobbied to expand the eligibility criteria for the programme to include more vulnerable households. For his efforts in mobilizing support for this noble cause, Queen Elizabeth awarded Rashford with the Member of the British Empire award. Rashford’s petition has started a national debate on social welfare programs in the country, especially those relating to children.

NWSL and WNBA maternity benefits

Female athletes have historically faced several barriers if they wanted to have children without giving up their playing careers. Issues of unpaid maternity leave, childcare support, and the social expectations that come with being a mother have all been unfortunate realities in women’s sports. However, 2020 brought promising changes to women’s sports leagues that will hopefully set a precedent for the continued support of athletes with children. In January 2020, the WNBA and the Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA) reached a new collective bargaining agreement that included fully paid maternity leave and other benefits for mothers in the league. Furthermore, the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) hosted their Challenge Cup in a “bubble” in Utah over the summer, making sure to find a way to accommodate players with children and ensuring access to childcare

Katie Sowers is the first female coach in a Super Bowl

Another glass ceiling was broken after San Francisco 49ers offensive assistant coach, Katie Sowers, became not only the first female but also the first openly lesbian coach in Super Bowl history. Sowers is a former professional football player, playing as a part of the Women’s Football Alliance, and led the U.S. to a gold medal in the Women’s World Championships in 2013. Her journey has not been an easy one.

“As I was finishing college, I actually got turned down from a volunteer coaching job (basketball) because I was a lesbian,” Sowers told Outsports in an interview. “I was told ‘because of your lifestyle, we ask that you do not come around the team.’”

Sowers has used this discrimination to motivate her, and she believes that although the hate was tough to deal with, she would not be where she is today without it. 

 

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