Amid energy and excitement, and in the presence of more than 70 of the world’s most celebrated female athletes, coaches and sports personnel, the 39th Annual Salute to Women in Sports at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City tonight honored a groundbreaking year for female athletes and the girls they inspire.
It was an evening that the large crowd that packed the ballroom – and the hundreds more that tuned in to the second-ever livestream of the event — will likely never forget. Alongside sports heroes that ranged from Olympic and Paralympic medalists to Emmy Award winners, the group celebrated Women’s Sports Foundation founder Billie Jean King’s 75th birthday and recognized four individuals who performed flawlessly, led fearlessly and inspired endlessly in the past year.
Oksana Masters was named the 2018 Sportswoman of the Year in an Individual Sport after winning more medals than any other American female athlete in the 2018 PyeongChang Paralympic Games. In her fourth Paralympic appearance, the skier won gold in the cross-country sprint and middle-distance cross-country, silver in the individual biathlon and biathlon sprint, and bronze in the long-distance cross-country, all while battling a fractured elbow suffered just weeks before the Games. Masters is ranked No. 1 in the world by the International Paralympic Committee in the women’s sitting classification in both cross-country and biathlon. Read more about Masters’ inspiring story & watch her remarks >>
In her Olympic debut, then-20-year-old goalie Maddie Rooney led the U.S. women’s ice hockey team to a dramatic gold medal in PyeongChang en route to 2018 Sportswoman of the Year in a Team Sport honors. Displaying poise beyond her years, Rooney led all Olympic goalies with a staggering 1.16 goals-against average and posted a .945 save percentage, which was second-best in the tournament. USA Hockey also honored her with the 2018 Bob Allen Women’s Player of the Year Award. Read more about Rooney’s journey to the top of the podium & watch her remarks >>
Two-time South African Olympic gold medalist Caster Semenya earned this year’s Wilma Rudolph Courage Award for her persistence in the face of adversity. As the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) continues to attempt to police female athletes’ testosterone levels, Semenya’s personal performance and public persona continue to prevail as steadfast, dominant and truthful. She has experienced unprecedented success on the track while advocating for justice and human rights within sport. Read more about Semenya’s unwavering belief in herself and her cause & watch her remarks >>
A recognized leader with more than three decades of deep expertise in the healthcare industry, Gail K. Boudreaux, President and CEO of Anthem, Inc., was honored with the Billie Jean King Leadership Award. Boudreaux has been named to Forbes’ “Top 100 Most Powerful Women” list and recognized by Modern Healthcare as one of the Most Powerful People in Healthcare. As a former Dartmouth College basketball standout, Boudreaux has made it her mission to hire former female athletes into one of the largest American companies with a female CEO. Read more about Boudreaux’s influence in both sport and healthcare & watch her remarks >>
The evening kicked off with our incredible emcees, Mary Carillo and Julie Foudy, who expertly walked the line between comedic and inspirational throughout the entire show. The success of the evening can largely be attributed to the charisma of everyone – champion athletes, girls from our community programs, our award recipients and top women in sports journalism – who graced the stage.
The awards presentations were especially meaningful. Each recipient shared words of encouragement to their peers in the room and watching from around the world on the live stream.
“My journey from the court to the boardroom was made possible by strong women around me,” Boudreaux said in her acceptance speech. “For me, the love of sports and the desire to compete has been a consistent theme for as long as I can remember … Sports were foundational. They gave me the confidence to believe I could tackle any and all challenges in my way.”
We also celebrated the 75th birthday of WSF Founder Billie Jean King, who has led the push for gender equality in sport her entire life. Her legacy was on full display in the work of all of the champion athletes in the room, and she continues to empower the younger generations of girls in sport. When 9-year-old Angelique, a tennis player from one of our Sports 4 Life programs, was asked on stage what she thought the coolest thing about tennis is, she responded, “You mean besides Billie Jean King?”
Supporters of WSF’s mission rallied around King’s 75th birthday to match $75,000 donations from CitiBank, the Women’s Tennis Association, Scott Mead and Family and Jim Wilkinson. Inspired by the speakers, which included WSF President Grete Eliassen and President-elect Elana Meyers Taylor, and enthusiasm for women’s sport brimming throughout the room, the goal of $75,000 in 75 seconds was surpassed.
Above all, the event reinforced that WSF’s mission is more relevant and important than ever. We would like to thank our co-presenting partners espnW, Gatorade and NBC Sports Group, without whom the evening would not have been possible.