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MADAMENOIRE is back with round two of which women to watch in the sports industry. Black women are no strangers to sports excellence, as our timeless coverage of African American women proves. Stil, there is so much light that skips over us. The following women are not only diverse in their accomplishments—they are standouts. They break barriers and set examples by establishing presence and boundaries. The brand of sportsmanship claims acts of self care (like opting to sit out a professional season) and the bag (like becoming the highest earner in her respective field). These women make sacrifices in favor of their own personal health and break glass ceilings in the midst of personal strife. They have set themselves apart, perfected their craft and modeled skill and intellect. These women lead the way in sports and life. You should definitely know them.
Dawn Staley, Coach
Dawn Staley is a basketball veteran of many titles—player, Olympian and coach—and 2021 appears to be her year. Staley has been an active athlete since high school. She attended Virginia State University where she racked up Player of the Year awards, and went on to join the National Basketball league, WNBA, and Team USA. Though, Staley became an Olympic staple her most memorable moment was her first appearance in the 1996 Atlanta Games. As a part of Team USA Staley claimed “the 1996 Olympic gold medal and was named the 1996 USA Basketball and U.S. Olympic Committee Team of the Year,” cites USAB.
Staley was a natural to say the least. She has proven her excellence in coaching just as she did when she was a player. In her decades long coaching career, Staley boasts multiple Olympic wins as the Coach of Team USA’s women’s basketball team. She has been named the Big 5 Coach of the Year and has led the South Carolina, Gamecocks to numerous victories. The Gamecocks list a few of Staley’s achievements: Five SEC regular-season championships, Seven NCAA Attendance titles, Six SEC Tournament titles, just to name a few.
These victories have led Staley to where she is today. Staley is making history as the highest paid Black head coach in basketball. ESPN reports that Staley signed a contract extension with the South Carolina Gamecocks worth $22.4 million.
Tiffany Hayes, Basketball
Tiffany Hayes WNBA star has returned to the Atlanta Dream after sitting out the 2020 season. She is rested and ready and definitely a woman to watch. Hayes is an Atlanta dream staple having played with the team since the 2012 season, according to the Dreams official website.
Hayes chose to sit out the 2020 season telling ESPN “Although I love playing this game, I believe there are much more important things to be thinking about at this moment,” Hayes said referring to the global pandemic and the social unrest that marked the summer of 2020.
As the fires of protest have settled down and the vaccines have given many the confidence to resume a sense of normalcy, Hayes has returned to the court. It is a homecoming of sorts, as Hayes has played for the team her entire WNBA Career.
Nicky Nieves, Volleyball
Nicky Nieves is a powerhouse in standing volleyball. The Afro-Puerto Rican Olympian is aware of her influence and wants “to use [her] platform for representation to show others that even if you don’t see yourself within your team or within an organization, don’t let that hinder you from being the best that you can possibly be.”
After spending most of her childhood in Queens, New York, Nieves’s mother relocated the family to Kissimmee, Florida, when she was 10-years-old. As an adolescent, Nieves was active in high school sports, played traditional volleyball and was eventually named Conference Player of the Year. Determined to continue playing volleyball once she graduated high school, Nieves sent game tapes to recruiters in an attempt to drum up interest in herself as a potential college athlete. She caught the eye of Queens College Division II coach Pascale Lubin. Nieves was offered a position to play for the women’s volleyball team at Queens College, where she caught the eye of Paralympic recruiters.
Nieves gives back to her community and has started Limitless People Inc, a non-profit organization that teaches young adults sitting volleyball. For Nieves this initiative is a calling: “I feel the need and want to create a life where I can share with others what has blessed my life immensely, volleyball.”
Crystal Dunn, Soccer
Crystal Dunn is ranked by ESPN as the 6th best active footballer in the world. Dunn’s ranking may be high, but her path has not reflected as much. Dunn has been vocal about the disparities she faces as a Black woman who does not fit the European beauty standards common in women footballers. Dunn believes she does not get the same level of care when it comes to promotion, as a kinky-haired, brown-skinned woman. Dunn has expressed difficulty being styled for photoshoots. Her hair and skin require a knowledgeable stylist, photographer and editor — which she rarely sees in those spaces. This is just one of the things that affect Dunn’s upward progression when courting sponsorship. Other players have found sponsorships that are reflective of what they bring to the table as athletes—players who, according to the rankings, are not as talented. Dunn has stated: “I feel like someone has dimmed my light in a sense”
Dunn notes the reasons for these feelings come from what she sees as a discernible difference in how photo shoots are approached and sponsorship deals are negotiated.
Erin Jackson, Skating
Erin Jackson is making waves. The Winter Olympics is upon us. Erin Jackson Will attempt be a part of the final batch of hopefuls and she is off to a spectacular start. Only three years in to her professional career, Erin “became the first Black woman to win a race on the World Cup, the sport’s highest level.
“Jackson, a 29-year-old whose best prior World Cup finish was ninth, won the 500m at the Olympic season opener in Poland. She clocked 37.613 seconds, edging 2018 Olympic champion Nao Kodaira of Japan by .13 of a second” according to NBC Sports.
Jackson is no stranger to speed. She began skating on wheels when she was just nine years old. She is a four time World medalist in In-line Skating. Still, when the opportunity to transfer her skills to the ice, Jackson accepted the challenge. She is committed to showing athletes in the African American community the possibilities of Winter Games.
“You hear the argument, `There’s nothing holding back people of color from doing these winter sports.’ Of course not, but like with Sally Ride (the first U.S. woman in space), there was nothing holding back women from studying science and space exploration, but once she became the first, the numbers of young girls interested in space skyrocketed. I hope I can do that for someone.”
Jackson continues to thrive on her way to the qualifying round of the Olympics, winning her third Gold medal in the World Cup, according to CBS Sports. Tune in as Jackson becomes the first African American woman to win gold in long range skating.