NIKE IS A GODDESS by Lissa Smith


The History of Women in Sports
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Calling on female sportswriters from Sports Illustrated, the Miami Herald, the New York Times, and other publications, Smith has assembled a motley collection of 13 essays, each sketching the development of a particular women’s sport. Each writer’s brief history includes profiles of its early heroines and its present stars. In some, such as Jean Weiss’s “Rhapsody in White,” on skiing, the writer’s familiarity with and love of the sport make for a genuinely interesting piece. Others, such as “The History of Women in Track and Field,” by Kathleen McElroy, are as prosaic as their titles, with all the excitement of an encyclopedia article. Even the remarkable Babe Didricksen Zaharias , who turns up in other essays on baseball and golf, seems less than three-dimensional in McElroy’s account. What does come across in many of the essays is how WWII opened a window of opportunity, albeit a temporary one, for females to make their mark in traditionally male sports. More important, however, was Title IX, the 1972 federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in federally funded educational institutions, which has given a significant boost to female athletic programs. Despite its nonspecific title, the history related here is one seen through American eyes. With some exceptions—Sonia Henie in ice skating, Martina Navratilova in tennis, Nadia Comaneci in gymnastics—when other countries’ women athletes are mentioned, it is usually in relation to their American competition. As in men’s sports, success is measured not just in Olympic medals and Wheaties box fame, but in the dollar value of product endorsements, e.g., sneaker commercials. In that respect, it seems, the story of women in sports is just beginning. Even with its shortcomings, this collection serves well as a reminder of how brief a time it has been since only “tomboys” developed muscles, sweated, and played to win.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-87113-726-7
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1998


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