Annual Salute

2021 Sportswoman of the Year – Team Award Recipient

Jordan Larson

Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

When the U.S. Women’s National Volleyball Team won their first Olympic gold medal at the Tokyo Games, Jordan Larson was the one to score the winning point. When her kill made contact with the court, Larson collapsed to the floor in pure joy and was embraced by her teammates. Larson, who has been team captain since 2017, had finally achieved her dream of being an Olympic gold medalist. The U.S. women swept Brazil, who had never lost an Olympic final before, 3-0 (25-21, 25-20, 25-14). Larson’s incredible performance, including being named both Olympic Most Valuable Player and best outside hitter of this historic team, is why she is this year’s WSF Team Sportswoman of the Year Award winner. 

Larson is one of the premier all-around players in her sport. She has an exceptionally high IQ on the court which has easily earned the respect of teammates and competitors alike. The past year has been especially momentous for Larson, adding gold medals and championship titles to her impressive list of accolades. With the inaugural season of the Athlete Unlimited volleyball league in February of 2021, Larson was finally able to play professionally in the United States for the first time. Larson was not only the first player to sign with the new league, she was the inaugural season’s champion after earning 4,569 points over the five-week-long season. In June, Larson won her first gold medal of the year in the 2021 FIVB Volleyball Women’s Nations League finals. The U.S. women’s team beat the Brazilian squad 3-1 (26–28, 25–23, 25–23, 25–21) to claim the gold. And just a few months earlier, in 2020, Larson became one of the youngest members to be inducted into the University of Nebraska Hall of Fame. While she was a Husker, Larson won a national championship in 2006, and in 2008 she became the first woman in Big 12 history to be named the league’s Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season. 

Now a three-time Olympian, winning silver and bronze medals in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, Larson has played professionally in Puerto Rico, Russia, Turkey, China and the United States. To sustain her on this inspiring journey, she treasures every challenge along the way and proudly wears the “Play For Kae” tattoo on her left wrist in memory of her mom, who lost her fight to breast cancer in 2009. 

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2021 Sportswoman of the Year Award – Individual Recipient

Allyson Felix

Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

World record holder, 11-time Olympic medalist, 18-time World Championship medalist over the course of her two-decades-long career, a historic performance at the 2020 Tokyo Games. Allyson Felix is a powerhouse, and this year’s WSF Individual Sportswoman of the Year Award winner.

In Tokyo, Felix earned a bronze medal in the 400-meter race — her first Olympic event since giving birth to her daughter, Camryn, in 2018 — breaking her own 400-meter W 35 (women athletes between the ages of 35–39) masters athletic record in the process. She followed up that strong performance by helping the U.S. women’s 4×400-meter relay team win the gold medal the following day with the fifth-fastest time in the event’s history. Since she stated prior to the 2020 Olympic Games her intention to retire before the 2024 Games, winning gold in her final Olympic race was especially meaningful for Felix, as it moved her ahead of Carl Lewis to become the most decorated American track & field Olympian in history.

At this stage of her career, Felix also has found passions off the track, which she believes are her true calling. She is driven by all of her experiences — as athlete, mom and social justice advocate — to use her voice to create change for mom-athletes and all women who are striving to successfully combine their professional careers and motherhood. Earlier this year she launched her own footwear company, Saysh, designed for and by women, which she wore during her historic Tokyo performance. Through her advocacy and increasing awareness of the challenges mom-athletes face in sport, Felix helped inspire the Power of She: Child Care Grant, a new program launched in partnership with Athleta and the Women’s Sports Foundation to help support mom-athletes and allow them to compete without barriers. Additionally, Felix serves on the board of Right To Play, raising awareness for underserved children in developing regions, as well as &Mother, which envisions “a culture where motherhood is not a limiting factor in how women succeed professionally or personally.” 

Having accomplished so much through sport, Felix says that her true, greatest achievement and greatest love is her daughter, who reminds her every day that she can never stop fighting for what is right in this world. She continues to strive for greatness in all areas, demonstrating that we all can achieve things we have never even dreamed of.

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2021 Wilma Rudolph Courage Award Recipient

Naomi Osaka

Photo by Graham Denholm/Getty Images

Tennis pro, trendsetter, activist, mental health advocate, and history maker, are just a few monikers that describe our 2021 Wilma Rudolph Courage Award recipient, Naomi Osaka.  

Since breaking into the professional tennis circuit with her powerful serve and strong forehand in 2013, Osaka has become a four-time Grand Slam champion – winning both the US Open and the Australian Open twice. Osaka is the first Asian player to hold the WTA world number one ranking in singles, and the first Japanese player to win a Grand Slam. Representing her native country of Japan, Osaka was bestowed the prestigious honor of lighting the Cauldron at the opening ceremony for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

Osaka has become known as a voice in activism on and off the court. She ceaselessly uses her platform and her voice to advocate for social change, gender equity in sport, and mental health. During last year’s Western and Southern Open she withdrew from playing, helping to raise awareness for the tragic deaths of Jacob Blake, Tamir Rice and many other Black men and women. Her powerful message on social media resulted in the tournament pausing play for 24 hours: “Before I am an athlete, I am a black woman. And 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.” 

Three days later, Osaka walked into Arthur Ashe Stadium wearing a black face covering. It bore the name Breonna Taylor, a Black woman who was fatally shot by police. Over the course of the US Open, Osaka wore a different mask for each of her seven victories. Each mask commemorating a Black person who was a victim of violence. Osaka emerged as the champion of the US Open, lifting the trophy to honor Black lives and making a bold statement against racism and inequality.

Earlier this year, Osaka took a stand for her own mental well-being and in so doing, brought world-wide attention to the topic of mental health and the challenges elite athletes face. Expectations, constant demand, the weight of perfectionism, can all spur anxiety. Heralded by the fans as you rise, yet the cheers can turn in a moment, when you falter. The courage to put her mental well-being first, Osaka received accolades from health-care professionals, appreciation from fellow athletes across sports, and she spurred the general public to stop and think about mental health. Courage and character beyond her 23 years. 

Pursuing passion and achievements off the court as well, Osaka made her debut at New York Fashion Week in 2020, showcasing a collection she co-designed with Adeam, and just recently served as co-host of the 2021 MET Gala. Osaka is also an entrepreneur, recently launching a skincare brand named KINLO, in homage to her bicultural heritage (Kin and Lo meaning ‘gold’ in Japanese and Haitian Creole, respectively.) 

Osaka is a three-time member of Time’s annual list of the100 most influential people in the world, and was named one of the 2020 Sports Illustrated Sportspersons of the Year, an Ad Week Most Powerful Woman in Sports. 

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2021 Billie Jean King Leadership Award Recipient

Kim Ng

Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Each year the Billie Jean King Leadership award is presented to an individual who has demonstrated outstanding leadership and made significant contributions to the advancement of women through achievements in sports and the workplace. This year we honor Kim Ng, the Miami Marlins General Manager, for her excellence, persistence and commitment to breaking down barriers in sports. 

Ng joined the Marlins organization in November 2020, becoming the fifth person in club history to hold the top position in baseball operations. She is the highest-ranking woman in baseball operations among the 30 MLB teams, the highest-ranking Asian-American female baseball executive, and the first woman hired to the general manager position by any of the professional men’s sports teams in the North American major leagues.

A recognized trailblazer, Ng has more than 30 years in Major League Baseball, including a combined 21 years of experience in the front offices for the Chicago White Sox (1990-96), New York Yankees (1998- 2001), and Los Angeles Dodgers (2002-11). She has been an integral part of eight postseason appearances, including six league championship series and three World Championships (all with the Yankees, 1998-2000). Prior to the Marlins, Ng spent nine years as Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations with MLB, where she directed international baseball operations, working with the front offices of the 30 major league clubs and many other baseball leagues and entities around the world. Ng also focused her efforts on growing the game of baseball, leading MLB’s efforts to improve the quality of play, caliber of talent, and rate of participation for amateur baseball around the world while also supervising MLB playing initiatives for girls and women. Additionally, she served on MLB’s Diversity Pipeline Advisory Committee.

Ng has appeared on Forbes’ list of the Most Influential Minorities in Sports, Forbes’ list of the Most Influential Women in Sports, and Adweek’s Most Powerful Women in Sports. Most recently, she was named one of InStyle Magazine’s Badass 50 Women, and was included among the South Florida Business Journal’s Power Leaders. Ng serves on the Anti-Defamation League’s Sports Leadership Council, and took part in the 2021 Presidential Inauguration as part of the Celebrating America event.

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Wilma Rudolph Courage Award Recipient

The Players of the WNBA

(Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

For their bold courage and unity in the face of some of the most turbulent times in this country’s history, the Players of the WNBA have shown grace, poise and power in an unconventional 2020 season by dedicating themselves and their season to social justice and racial equality. For their strength, unity and bravery, the Players of the WNBA as a collective are this year’s Wilma Rudolph Courage Award recipient, to be awarded at the Women’s Sports Foundation annual Salute to Women in Sports livestream event on October 14. The Players of the WNBA are joining a long list of accomplished past honorees that includes Marta Vieira da Silva, Caster Semenya and Tatyana McFadden. The award will be presented during the live broadcast 2020 Annual Salute to Women in Sports on October 14 at 8 PM ET.

In early July, just a few weeks before the teams entered the ‘Wubble’ at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., for their shortened season, the league and the Women’s National Basketball Players Association announced The WNBA Justice Movement and the creation of the WNBA/WNBPA Social Justice Council, setting the stage for a bold, first-of-its-kind commitment from the players to advocating for social justice.

In a league that is comprised of 80% Black women, players utilizing their voices and platforms is nothing new. WNBA players have historically been at the forefront of issues they are passionate about and have been unapologetically themselves as they continue to speak out about issues facing the LGTBQ+ community, racial and gender equality and mass incarceration, among other causes.

Though the season is dedicated to the Black Lives Matter and Say Her Name campaigns, the mission of the Social Justice Council — led by players like WSF Ambassador Layshia Clarendon, Breanna Stewart, A’ja Wilson, Satou Sabally, Tierra Ruffin-Pratt and Sydney Colson — is to be a driving force of necessary and continuing conversations about race, voting rights, LGBTQ+ advocacy and gun violence, as well as other societal issues.

The players have taken the initiative and put it into action. “Black Lives Matter” shirts are worn during warm-ups at every game — Clarendon’s New York Liberty have also worn “Black Trans Lives Matter” shirts — and players’ jerseys display Breonna Taylor’s name to “seek justice for women and girls who have been the forgotten victims of police brutality and racial violence.” Also, a moment of silence and remembrance is held before each game to honor Black women who have been killed as a result of the systemic, race-based violence that is the center of the Black Lives Matter movement.

In addition to the league-wide initiatives, teams and individual players have begun their own movements. The Indiana Fever players led the #Rebounds4Change campaign as a fundraiser for fans to donate to social justice causes for each rebound this season. The Atlanta Dream, Phoenix Mercury and Chicago Sky wore “Vote Warnock” shirts to support the Senate campaign of Raphael Warnock in Georgia, who is running against Dream owner Kelly Loeffler, an outspoken opponent of the Black Lives Matter movement. Maya Moore, Natasha Cloud, Renee Montgomery and others have taken the bold step of opting out of the season, in effect pausing their WNBA careers, to fight for social justice off the court. Further, several players, including Candace Parker, Devereaux Peters, Jonquel Jones, Wilson and Clarendon have penned pieces in The Players’ Tribune about their experiences as Black women in this country, and others such as Katie Lou Samuelson, Elena Delle Donne and Natalie Achonwa have publicly spoken out about their struggles with health, both mental and physical.

In 2020, the Players of the WNBA have set the bar for other professional sports leagues — men’s and women’s — looking to add their voices to the momentum around combatting police brutality and race-based oppression.


Billie Jean King Leadership Award Recipient

Ursula Burns

(Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for FORTUNE)

After an influential career in which she demonstrated a commitment to diversity while breaking down barriers for the next generation of women leaders, Ursula Burns, retired Chairman and CEO of Xerox Corporation and VEON, Ltd., is the 2020 Billie Jean King Leadership Award recipient. The award will be presented at the Women’s Sports Foundation 2020 Salute to Women in Sport event on October 14.

Burns, the first Black woman to head a Fortune 500 company, has spent her extraordinary career breaking down barriers for the next generation of women leaders and advocating for gender and racial diversity in major companies.

Burns joined the Xerox Corporation as an intern in 1980 and spent most of her career with the company, rising to Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, roles in which she served from 2010-2017 and 2009-2016, respectively. She had held additional leadership roles in the company spanning corporate services, manufacturing and product development. As CEO, Burns led the company’s transformation from a global leader in document technology to the world’s most diversified business services company serving enterprises and governments of all sizes.

Since Burns retired from Xerox in 2016, there have been no other Black women and only four Black men Fortune 500 CEOs – a clear paucity of diversity at the highest echelons of corporate America, and the impetus for Burns’ continued advocacy for more women and Black voices at the table. She also helped launch The WomanMakers initiative, an outgrowth of The HistoryMakers, the nation’s largest African American video oral history collection.

Burns, who regularly appears on Fortune’s and Forbes’ list of the world’s most powerful women, is a board director of Exxon Mobil, Nestlé and Uber. U.S. President Barack Obama appointed her to help lead the White House national program on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) from 2009-2016, and she served as. Chair of the President’s Export Council from 2015-2016 after service as vice chair from 2010-2015. In 2008, Burns was also named to the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Board of Directors.

Applying her knowledge and expertise beyond the C-Suite, Burns also provides leadership counsel to several community, educational and nonprofit organizations including the Ford Foundation, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Corporation, Cornell Tech Board of Overseers, the New York City Ballet, and the Mayo Clinic, among others. She is a member of the National Academy of Engineers and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Burns is the 51st recipient of the Billie Jean King Leadership Award, which recognizes an individual or group who demonstrates outstanding leadership and makes significant contributions to the advancement of women through achievements in sport and the workplace.



2020 Champion For Equality Award Recipient

Bruce Arians

Photo By Kyle Zedaker/Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Under the leadership of head coach Bruce Arians, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers franchise has grown into one of the most inclusive and diverse organizations in the NFL. At its helm, Arians has fostered inclusion not just on the field — where he has assembled the most gender diverse coaching staff in the league — but also at the grassroots level, where he leads the organization in creating opportunities in football for girls in the Tampa Bay area and across the country.

Hired in January 2019 after serving as the Arizona Cardinals head coach from 2013-2017, Arians was quick to bring the same culture he had created in Arizona to Tampa Bay. While with the Cardinals, Arians made history by hiring Dr. Jen Welter, the first woman to coach in the NFL, as a training camp and preseason coaching intern.

With the Buccaneers, Arians has taken his commitment to progress even further. Under his team mentorship and the organization’s leadership, Tampa Bay became the first in NFL history to hire two female coaches in full-time assistant roles — Maral Javadifar and Lori Locust serve as assistant strength and conditioning and assistant defensive line coaches, respectively. Additionally, the Buccaneers recently hired Jacqueline Davidson as director of football research, further diversifying the team’s front office staff.

Throughout his career, Arians has held the belief that everyone deserves a seat at the table, and that it is well past time to dismantle the diversity problem in NFL coaching, which has historically been largely occupied by white men. Case in point, the Buccaneers are the only NFL franchise to have three coordinator positions, as well as the role of assistant head coach, filled by minority coaches.

Arians’ influence also extends to the grassroots level, where he is ensuring that the next generation of girls grow up in a world in which they are welcomed in the traditionally male-dominated sport of football. This year, the Buccaneers hosted the second annual Girls High School Flag Football Preseason Classic, the largest girls flag football competition in the country. The team has also implemented girls flag football curriculum into local communities, including establishing the Jr. Buc’s Girl’s Flag Football League to help grow the game at the youth level.

Arians’ coaching accolades speak for themselves. He is a two-time Associated Press NFL Coach of the Year, earning the award in 2012 (Indianapolis Colts) and in 2014 (Arizona Cardinals). He is the only coach in NFL history to earn the award multiple times in a three-year span with different teams, and is one of only 12 coaches in NFL history to win the award multiple times.

Arians joins John Burke, the president and CEO of Trek Bicycle Corporation, as the two recipients of the Women’s Sports Foundation Champion for Equality award, which began in 2019.