What a night! This evening we watched as nearly 70 Olympic, Paralympic, champion and elite athletes graced the stage for the 37th Annual Salute to Women in Sports at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City. It was truly a sight to see as hundreds of people joined together to celebrate all the incredible accomplishments of women in sport and all that we will accomplish together.
We honored four inspirational individuals tonight for their achievements in women’s sports and are pleased to introduce them to you as the 37th Annual Salute to Women in Sports award recipients:
Claressa Shields took home the 2016 Sportswoman of the Year Award in the Individual Sport category. This summer at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, Claressa made history as the first American boxer, male or female, to win back-to-back gold medals. She also benefited from the WSF Travel & Training Fund as the USA Women’s Boxing National Team received a grant in 2012 to help provide travel and training expense relief to the team. Learn more about Claressa’s journey in sport here.
Maria Toorpakai Wazir received the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award. Laila Ali was honored to present the award tonight and before doing so got the audience to think a bit as she asked, “Beyond athletic skill, what does courage have to do with being a great athlete? And are the greatest athletes the ones who were also the most courageous?” Maria’s story captivated the room as everyone turned to attention to hear of her pursuit to play sport at the ultimate cost. Learn more about Maria’s journey in sport here.
Ashleigh Johnson, fresh off her Rio Olympic gold medal win, received the 2016 Sportswoman of the Year Award in the Team Sport category. The phenomenal goalie for the U.S. Women’s Olympic Water Polo Team, Ashleigh has had an outstanding career in and out of the pool. She has also benefited from the Travel & Training Fund as the USA Women’s Water Polo Team is a two time grantee. Learn more about Ashleigh’s journey in sport here.
Val Ackerman is this year’s recipient of the Billie Jean Contribution Award for her significant contributions to the development and advancement of women in sports and to the Women’s Sports Foundation. A well-known name in sports and in business, Val is a natural leader and serves as an inspiration everywhere for her dedication to the growth of sports, fitness and physical activity for all women and girls. Learn more about Val’s journey in sport here.
Grand March co-hosts and star journalists Mary Carillo and Jessica Mendoza kicked off the evening as they came out on stage and acknowledged our audiences commitment to sport, though they had the option to be at home watching the final debate.
Between the two, they declared nearly 70 champion athletes and their accomplishments as those phenomenal women walked across the stage to cheers from a packed house. After the final name was read, WSF Founder Billie Jean welcomed the room running down the line giving each of our athletes a high five.
We asked all of our 2016 Rio Olympic and Paralympic athletes to come back out on stage for a standing ovation for their performances this summer and with that the night was off and rolling.
Donations this evening were directed solely towards our Sports 4 Life program. This program was established with espnW in 2014 as a national effort to increase participation and retention of African-American and Hispanic girls in sports. Through our research report ‘Go Out and Play: Youth Sports in America,’ we know that African-American and Hispanic girls are doubly hit by both gender and race disparities in sports and it is these girls that enter sports at a later age and drop out earlier. We also know that sports teach girls the foundational benefits of sports: leadership, self-esteem, confidence, and perseverance. Sports 4 Life reaches these girls and helps teach them these life-lasting benefits.
In years past, to encourage donations we have had our athletes do pushups on stage, had the entire room do jumping jacks and even led a conga line but tonight was a little different. Champion athletes Sasha DiGiulian, Sarah Hughes and Jackie Joyner Kersee were joined on stage by dozens of girls who have benefited from the Sports 4 Life program. As donations came in the girls released lit up beach balls into the audience that floated through the air as everyone worked to keep them from touching the ground.
Mary and Jess may have set the bar high at the start of the night but by the end it was certainly met and surpassed. The energy in the room as people came together to celebrate women in sports and unite through sport for social change was electrifying.
WSF CEO Deborah Slaner Larkin reminded us how being an athlete can change the trajectory of a life and “how more women and girls in sports today means more leaders tomorrow.”
This night was made possible through the unwavering support of our Annual Salute Co-Presenting Sponsors NBC Sports, Fox Sports, Gatorade, and espnW. Thank you to these corporate supporters for all that they do to make this evening so special. We would also like to thank our Event Partners Getty Images, Zeno Group and Collette Lee Inc. Productions. And, finally, we would like to thank everyone in the room tonight and everyone who donated or made a contribution. We could not do the work we do without your support.