The Women’s Sports Foundation Celebrates 50th Anniversary, Marks Milestone with Founder Billie Jean King in a Ceremonial Lighting of the Iconic Empire State Building

The national nonprofit reflects on the impact it has made throughout the entire women’s sports ecosystem since its founding in 1974 and commemorates its legacy of helping girls and women play, compete and lead – in sports and beyond – without barriers.

Published on May 2nd, 2024

New York, NY (May 2, 2024) — Today, the Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF) is celebrating its 50th anniversary with sports icon, social justice pioneer and WSF Founder, Billie Jean King leading a ceremonial lighting of the iconic Empire State Building in WSF colors. King will be joined by WSF CEO, Danette Leighton, Paralympian and WSF President, Scout Bassett, and several WSF Trustees, including Board Chair, Robin Harris and past Board Chair, Ilana Kloss, as well as team members to honor its five decades of impact. WSF is commemorating 50 Years of Changing the Game throughout 2024. Today marks the official 50 years-to-the-date when King founded WSF with a $5,000 check she won for being named the best female athlete of the year. Renowned for being one of the first organizations to recognize the powerful connection between sports, equity and society, WSF has grown to be a champion of the entire women’s sports ecosystem, carrying out King’s vision to pave a path to equity for girls and women both on and off the field of play. 

“Quickly after the passage of Title IX, the landmark law faced severe opposition and I knew there needed to be an organization like the Women’s Sports Foundation to fiercely fight to protect it, while amplifying the vital role of sports in society,” said King. “Today, the Foundation’s bold action has contributed to many transformative moments being seen across women’s sports as they’ve invested more than $100 million to help girls and women achieve their athletic dreams, while eliminating barriers that stand in the way, and our work is not done yet!” 

WSF’s mission is to enable girls and women to reach their full potential in sports and life. For 50 years and counting they have had a clear understanding that sport participation is empowering the leaders of tomorrow. This belief is backed up in a recent Deloitte report, which found that 85% of women who played sports say the skills they developed while playing set them up for success in their professional careers. WSF’s work to expand access and opportunities for girls and women in sport to help benefit society at large is why Vice President Kamala Harris chose WSF to co-host a recent event at the VPOTUS’s Residence to honor women in sports in celebration of Women’s History Month. 

“Leaders throughout the country are recognizing what the Women’s Sports Foundation has known since 1974: when girls and women play, they lead, and we all win,” said Leighton. “To the members of the WSF family – athletes, partners, donors, Trustees, allies, and current and past staff – who have helped us reach this significant milestone, thank you. Together, we must head into the next 50 years with great urgency, encouraging others to invest in girls and women throughout the sports ecosystem, until the playing field is finally level.”

WSF is supported by powerhouse National Partners who help fuel its mission, unlocking girls’ and women’s full potential through sport participation. Thanks to Delta Air Lines, ESPN, Gatorade, Michelob ULTRA, NBC Sports and TIAA, WSF has been able to impact even more girls and women in communities throughout the country, while advocating for equity where disparities persist. WSF programs and funds made possible through its national partnerships include:

    • The WSF Athlete Ambassador Program (AAP), in partnership with Delta Air Lines, connects professional, Olympic, Paralympic, and collegiate women athletes and business leaders with youth organizations across the country to inspire girls to keep playing and reap the lifelong benefits of sports.
    • The Sports 4 Life program, celebrating its 10th anniversary this year – co-founded with ESPN and supported by Gatorade seeks to increase the participation and retention of Black, African-American, Hispanic and Native American girls, inclusive of American Indian and Alaska Native communities.
    • The WSF Travel & Training Fund, in partnership with Michelob ULTRA, supports elite women athletes with the financial assistance needed to achieve even higher performance levels and rankings. 
    • The Student-Athlete Mentoring Program, in partnership with NBC Sports, helps NCAA women student-athletes translate the valuable skills they have acquired through their collegiate sport participation into successful careers off the field of play. 
    • The Equity Project®, alongside signature partner TIAA, aims to impact participation, policy, representation and leadership in sports in sustainable and measurable ways. 

WSF is also working to grow the coaching pipeline through its Tara VanDerveer Fund for the Advancement of Women in Coaching and Scott Pioli & Family Fund for Women Football Coaches and Scouts. Since Title IX’s passage, the percentage of women in collegiate coaching roles has drastically declined. During the 1970-71 academic year, 90% of women’s college teams had women as head coaches. Fast forward to the 2022-2023 academic year, where women held only 41% of head coaching positions in women’s NCAA sports. 

Getting more girls and women with disabilities playing and competing on the world’s largest stages is also an important part of WSF’s work. According to its research, 90% of women with disabilities are not active in sport, and boys with disabilities consistently participate in sport at higher rates than girls with disabilities. To address this challenge, WSF has partnered with Scout Bassett to create a grant, which provides much-needed financial support for women athletes with disabilities competing at the elite level. They recently announced the inaugural class of recipients, several of whom are vying for a spot on Team USA for the upcoming Paralympic Games. 

Through its research, advocacy and community programming, WSF will continue to build on its powerful legacy during its anniversary year. Last week, it released a new research report, “Thriving Through Sport: The Transformative Impact on Girls’ Mental Health,” which provides new evidence underscoring the critical role sports can play in boosting girls’ positive mental health. In the fall, WSF will release another report that examines the ways in which sport participation has contributed to women’s leadership across society and will include perspectives from seven decades of women who played sports. The Foundation will further commemorate its 50th anniversary by:

  • Releasing a new PSA, placing a spotlight on the powerful connection between sport access, equity and society;
  • Recruiting a group of 50 runners to take on the TCS NYC Marathon for #TeamWSF –  captained by WSF Athlete Ambassador and Trustee Emerita Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to register and run the Boston Marathon and who won the NYC Marathon 50 years ago – and fundraise in honor of the Foundation’s special year;
  • And hosting its Annual Salute to Women in Sports® – the biggest night in women’s sports is taking place October 16 – which brings together hundreds of athletes, leaders and advocates to celebrate this milestone year and the blockbuster moments being seen across women’s sports. 

Finally, the Women’s Sports Foundation is using this milestone anniversary to galvanize support for its vital mission. 

“This is a pivotal time for women’s rights across the sports landscape,” said Leighton. “From schools and universities continuing to be out of compliance with Title IX, as well as persistent gender pay gaps, inequitable sponsorship dollars and media rights deals for athletes, teams and leagues, it is clear to see our work is far from over. We need support now more than ever.”

Help propel WSF’s work into the next 50 years by donating today.

Photos from today’s Empire State Building lighting ceremony will be posted to WSF’s Instagram. You can also check out the Empire State Building lit up in WSF’s colors this evening here.

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About the Women’s Sports Foundation
The Women’s Sports Foundation exists to enable girls and women to reach their potential in sport and life. We are an ally, an advocate, and a catalyst. Founded by Billie Jean King in 1974, we are one of the first organizations to recognize the powerful connection between sports access, equity, and society. WSF has been changing the game for 50 years through its research, advocacy, and community programming, investing over $100 million to help girls and women play, compete, and lead – in sports and beyond – without barriers. A leader and champion of the entire women’s sports ecosystem, WSF amplifies the vital societal and cultural impact that is made when girls and women play sports. All girls. All women. All sports® To learn more about the Women’s Sports Foundation, please visit

Media Contacts:
Patty Bifulco
Women’s Sports Foundation

Kandice Miller
Women’s Sports Foundation