⚽Third time's the charm
The GIST: The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) was supposed to kick off (literally) this Saturday, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has extended their training moratorium (sounds bleak, no?) until May 5th. So to give you the soccer fix you so desperately need, we’re giving you a herstory lesson — and we promise it’s not the boring kind — on women’s pro soccer in North America.
The 1900s: Before diving into women’s pro leagues in North America, we first have to take a step back and look at what was happening internationally. While men’s soccer made its Olympic debut in 1900 and had its first FIFA World Cup in 1930, the first FIFA Women’s World Cup was in 1991 and women’s soccer only became an Olympic sport in 1996. Let that sink in for a minute.
- It was only after the US won the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1999, in front of 90,185 spectators — the largest crowd at a women’s sporting event to-date — that women’s soccer really began to kick (get it?) into high gear.
Early 2000s: Feeding off the momentum of the epic World Cup win, the first women’s professional soccer league in the United States — the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) — began play in April 2001. Unfortunately, in September 2003, the league folded due to financial problems and a “lack of public interest.” Translation: insufficient media coverage and endorsement support from corporations.
- In 2009, the next pro league started, named the Women’s Professional Soccer League (WPS). And despite a strong showing in 2009, following the 2008 US Olympic gold medal win, the league started having problems in 2010. There were internal team struggles, legal battles and, again, financial issues, which led to the league closing its doors in May 2012. Ugh.
The 2010s: At this point, the soccer world was incredibly frustrated at the tumultuous state of women’s pro soccer (like, no duh) and the North American soccer federations finally recognized that to produce high-quality national players, you need to have a local pro league. So the US Soccer Federation (USSF), Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) and Mexican Football Federation (FMF) announced there would be eight teams in a new professional women’s soccer league — the NWSL — that would be funded by the USSF. Ironic.
- The NWSL, whose teams are all based in the US, has been running since 2012. Despite a couple of blips along the way, they are doing pretty well and have since expanded to nine teams. The NWSL’s success has encouraged growth of women’s pro soccer leagues around the world and still touts the highest quality of women’s soccer. Looks like the third time really was the charm.
🏀Who run the world?
The GIST: Thank goodness the WNBA is giving us something to look forward to. Just one more sleep ’til the WNBA Draft!
Wait...remind me what a draft is: A player draft allows a professional league’s teams to select the best eligible amateur players to add to their rosters. In the WNBA Draft, all twelve teams have one pick in each of the three rounds (unless they traded them), and the eligible player pool is mostly made up of college players (there’s pretty detailed criteria to be considered “eligible” though).
Got it. How’s it all going to roll out?: Completely virtually. The draft, which was supposed to take place live in New York City, will be hosted remotely, with Commissioner Cathy Engelbert announcing all the draft picks, and the athletes streaming in via video chat or conference call.
And who’s going to be the first pick?: That honor will, without a doubt, go to the college basketball legend, Sabrina Ionescu (pronounced YOH-NESS-COO) of the Oregon Ducks. The New York Liberty, who already have superstars like Kia Nurse on the roster, have the first overall draft pick and will definitely use it on Ionescu. She’s one of those “once in a generation” players, and all eyes will be on her to lift the league to a new level.
- After Ionescu, mock drafts have Lauren Cox from Baylor or Ionescu’s Oregon teammate Satou Sabally (pronounced SAH-TWO SAH-BUH-LEE) going next. Many teams and scouts have said that the loss of the NCAA Championship Tournament (aka March Madness) has made their selections extra challenging, so it might be a bit of a free-for-all after that. Fun!
And what’s this I hear about a Kobe tribute?: The WNBA is planning to honor not only Kobe Bryant, who was an advocate and big fan of the league, but also his daughter Gianna Bryant, and her teammates, Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester, who were all WNBA stars in the making. No word on just how that will look, but we can’t wait to see what will surely be a beautiful tribute.
Can’t wait! How can I watch?: The action starts at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN in the US (because they finally got their sh!t together) and TSN and Sportsnet in Canada. Get your quarantine snacks rea
🏆Hey hey hey, goodbye
The GIST: It’s not just cancelations and postponements these days. Nope, the sports world has now seen its first league shutdown amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Ouch.
Yikes! Which league?: The very new XFL. The football league, which was supposed to be the younger, funnier cousin of the NFL, was halfway through its first season when play was stopped on March 12th because of the pandemic. With the second half of the season canceled, the XFL laid off all employees last week before filing for bankruptcy on Monday. You hate to see it.
- On the other end of the spectrum, the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) is apparently looking to expand to Toronto. Although this news actually has nothing to do with COVID-19, it’s worth noting that a league with millions of dollars and media support is folding, while a league lacking those resources is expanding. Pretty wild.
Very. Any other postponements?: Oui. The historic Tour de France cycling race is being postponed from its late June start date to August 29th. Not a big change, but the Tour hasn’t been canceled since WWII, so hopefully that will still hold true.
Does any league have a plan for returning yet?: The PGA seems pretty optimistic that they’ll be able to fire up the golf season in June. That said, the first tournament will take place without spectators, and plans for the PGA Championship in August (the first major of the season) includes scenarios without them, too. Honestly, we’ll still take it.
- The NHL is a little more hesitant. Commissioner Gary Bettman says they’re keeping their options open and won’t commit to any firm timelines or plans of action, but he did say his best guess would be a summer start. Again, fine by us!
Anyone else?: Dr. Anthony Fauci (aka the voice of reason) wants to see his reigning World Series champion Washington Nationals play again, so he has an idea. The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases says that if physical distancing measures continue and the curve flattens, the MLB could return, albeit in empty stadiums, by July 4th. Now that would be the best Fourth of July present...ever.
- And over in the NBA, various execs are proposing a 25-day plan, in which players would go through an 11-day individualized training camp to start getting back into game shape, followed by two weeks of actual training camp with teammates. No word on when this would start, as the league says they won’t make a decision until May.
The GIST: Yes. We’re all distraught that the NHL playoffs didn’t start yesterday. So we thought we’d help you get your fix and give you a brief history — nay, herstory — lesson on the first kickass women to have played in the NHL and in other men’s professional hockey leagues.
The first woman to play in the NHL: We’re taking it all the way back to a simpler time when Wayne’s World topped the movies charts (party time, excellent!) and Billy Ray Cyrus had an achy breaky heart. In 1992, Canadian goaltender Manon Rhéaume (pronounced RAY-OHM) became not only the first woman to try out for an NHL team, but also to play in an NHL game, ’tending for the Tampa Bay Lightning in an exhibition game against the St. Louis Blues.
- No woman has played in the NHL since, partly because the women’s game has since gained more international support (women’s hockey became an Olympic sport only in 1998...seriously) and now has pro leagues of its own.
The first position players to play men’s professional hockey: From 2002 to 2004, Canadian forward Hayley Wickenheiser — the woman, the myth, the legend — became the first female position player (aka non-goalie) to play men’s pro hockey, suiting up for HC Salamat in Finland. And, in classic Wick fashion, she killed it. In 2003, she became the first woman to score in a men’s professional league game, eventually recording two goals and 10 assists in 23 games that season.
- Meanwhile, in 2004, American defender and trailblazer Angela Ruggiero became the first female position player to play men’s pro hockey in North America, taking the ice for the Tulsa Oilers in the now defunct Central Hockey League. Fun fact: she played alongside her brother Bill, and the pair are in the Hockey Hall of Fame as the first brother-sister duo to play pro hockey together. Cute!
⛳Master of none
The GIST: Hockey playoffs aren’t the only thing we’re missing right now. The Masters, one of the most prestigious tournaments on the golf schedule, was supposed to begin today. But all is not lost!
Why’s that?: Instead of canceling, the tournament organizers have wisely decided to postpone the Masters to November. This is the first time that the Masters has been postponed (though it was canceled from 1943 to 1945 due to WWII), and it’s never not been held in the spring. The weather in Georgia is still golf-able in November, though we may miss out on the famous azaleas.
- The Masters is usually the first of four majors on the PGA calendar, but it will now be the final major event (if everything goes as planned!). The PGA Championship was moved from May to August, the US Open pushed from June to September and the British Open, the oldest golf tournament in the world, was canceled outright. Welp.
What are the players up to in the meantime?: Tiger Woods, last year’s Masters champion, decided to keep up an important tradition despite the postponement: the Masters Champions Dinner. Typically, on the Tuesday night of Masters Week, the previous year’s champion gets to pick a meal to be served to all previous winners of the green jacket.