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Friday, June 1, 2012
Face of women's sports a matter of opinion

By espnW

Who is the face of women's sports?

Soccer player Abby Wambach

By Meghan O'Leary

I absolutely love that we can debate this issue, and there is most certainly more than one viable candidate. It wasn't too long ago that young girls in sports had only male athletes to look up to.

In my opinion, U.S. women's soccer national team forward and Olympic gold medalist Abby Wambach is the face of women's sports today.

Perhaps it is my childhood bias speaking, having experienced the excitement and monumental change in women's sports that the U.S. women's soccer team of the late 1990s, and especially the 1999 Women's World Cup squad, set into motion. Wambach is arguably the top female soccer player in the world right now and among the best in history. What I love most is that she is a strong and fierce athlete, demonstrating to young girls everywhere that it's OK to run fast, be aggressive and play tough.

Tennis player Serena Williams

By Sarah Spain

Serena Williams is the face of women's sports and I believe she has been for a while. She's been at or near the top of her sport for nearly two decades, and her flamboyant style, outgoing personality and often-outrageous quotes keep her constantly in the spotlight.

Women's tennis has tremendous appeal, so a supremely talented player with a knack for making news -- whether with her fashion, boyfriend or word choices -- trumps talented athletes in lesser-watched sports.

Face changes with the season

By Tamika Catchings

Honestly, this is a hard question. I would say that it changes with seasons.

But with the Olympics upon us, I'm thinking about the women's soccer team and the women's basketball team.

But you could always argue Venus and Serena Williams, because they are names that everyone in the world can identify as individual athletes too.

Basketball coach Pat Summitt

By Jessica Mendoza

Right now I believe the face of women's sports is Pat Summitt. She is someone who every female athlete knows and is somehow influenced by, regardless of sport. She is recognized in any setting and respected for her knowledge and the types of players and people she has produced.

I remember reading one of her books, "Raise the Roof," as a high school athlete, and even though I was a softball player, I felt she was motivating, coaching and teaching me all I needed to know to be successful through the pages of her book. She represents every athlete, coach and fan who loves sports, and the fact that she is a woman makes me proud to say she is also our face.

Distance runner Shalane Flanagan

By Sarah Groff

If I were to name the face of women's sports right now, I'd have to pick distance runner Shalane Flanagan. While overshadowed in the press by her male counterparts such as Ryan Hall, Flanagan has quietly compiled a list of accomplishments that mark her as one of the world's best distance runners and arguably the best female distance runner the U.S. has ever produced.

In London this August, Flanagan will compete in the marathon, the quintessential Olympic running event, and she has an excellent chance of adding to her impressive collection of world championships and Olympic medals. As a triathlete, I realize that I have a bias toward endurance athletes, but an athlete like Flanagan embodies characteristics that should make her the face of women's sports today. The hard work, discipline, humility and grace that Flanagan exhibits makes her an inspiration to me, a respected competitor, and a worthy role model to emulate.

Tennis player Maria Sharapova

By Jessica Hardy

I think it's hard to pick one woman who stands out right now. At this time, before the Olympic Games, nobody has had the time or place to really play her hand and establish herself. There is still so much up in the air. It will be very interesting to see which females establish themselves this summer, and it's something I look forward to!

Natalie Coughlin has had a lengthy career and is one of the most successful U.S. Olympians ever. I also think Missy Franklin is a woman who has the potential to become a front-runner depending on her summer performances.

But I think Maria Sharapova does a great job of establishing herself as a presence beyond just being an athlete. Being the "face of women's sports" is sometimes more than just performance: I think it is important for that woman to have great character, be a proactive philanthropist, and even have sex appeal to a certain extent. Maria Sharapova is a step ahead of every female athlete in the world at having the whole package, and someone that I look up to in my career.

Next generation drive women's sports

By Rachel Dawson

I don't think women's sport, right now, has one face. It has evolved beyond that.

The power of the movement is the belief that sport is for all. It has a million faces that come in a million different shapes, colors and sizes; a million faces that celebrate sport in a million different ways. Some play, some coach, some build fields, some report, some drive buses. The face of women's sport is just as much my mom who drove my sisters and me to practice all those years ago as it is Abby Wambach who'll drive her team toward gold this summer.

But really, if I had to choose just one face to embody women's sport right now, it'd be that of Kylie Peyton Dawson, my 8-year-old niece. That's the girl -- her and her peers -- who drive this whole movement. She's the one I play for. That is the face I want to empower to lead the next generation.

NASCAR driver Danica Patrick

By Kate Fagan

This is a tricky question because it has nothing to do with who is currently the best, most talented, most successful female athlete. Of course, we could argue at length over that latter question -- Maya Moore, Abby Wambach, Maria Sharapova -- but I'd argue none of them are the face of women's sports. That distinction belongs to race car driver Danica Patrick. She is a marketer's dream and one of the only female athletes whose image sells magazines.

Obviously, Patrick's status as the "face" of women's sports opens up a handful of other questions, the most potent of which goes something like this: How do women feel about Patrick using sex appeal, more than driving skills, to sell herself? She has heaped pressure onto herself by accepting endorsement deals worth millions, without achieving comparable on-track results.

Still, as it stands right now, Patrick's is the most recognizable face in women's sports.

First Lady Michelle Obama

By Amanda Rykoff

Michelle Obama isn't just the first lady of the United States, she's also the first lady of fitness.

Without any athlete who clearly fits the bill, I nominate Mrs. Obama as the face of women's sports today. From her "Let's Move" initiative to combat childhood obesity to her own well-chronicled exercise regimen -- complete with a fast-paced, get-your-blood-pumping workout playlist featuring songs by Beyonce, Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder, among others -- Michelle Obama provides an excellent role model for women everywhere to tap into their inner athlete to become healthier.

And if that's not enough, Mrs. Obama will lead the U.S. Olympic delegation at the opening ceremony in London. We'll likely have another athlete emerge from the Summer Games, but right now Mrs. Obama represents women's sports -- as an athlete and an advocate.

Body of women's sports?

By Jim Caple

That's an interesting question. The good part is that naming someone as the face of women's sports is as difficult (and destined for failure) as naming someone as the face of all men's sports. Fortunately, we have so many athletes to choose from now that no one person can be the face of them all. It depends on where you live, what your favorite sport is, which team you root for, what time of year you ask the question -- we'll almost certainly get different answers during this summer's Olympics than we would get in the middle of December -- and who is having a good season.

The unfortunate part is that for too many males, the more interesting question still is, "Who is the body of women's sports?" Although maybe that's not such a bad thing either, now that we're seeing athletic, strong, competitive and confident as attractive. The more that that is seen as attractive, the more popular competing in sports will become -- the same way it's always been one of the appeals for males to try athletics.

Tennis player Serena Williams

By Joanne C. Gerstner

Serena Williams isn't No. 1 in the world anymore. She's not the heavy, odds-on favorite to win Grand Slams anymore -- but she is still on the short list. What Serena has, which other tennis players cannot buy, is gravitas. Say the name Serena, anywhere from Tokyo to Buenos Aires to Paris, and odds are, people will know you are talking about Serena Williams. She's in the rarified air of one-name-only superstardom: Madonna. Beckham. Oprah. Beyonce. And yes, Serena.

She is still the most recognizable female athlete on the planet, respected for what she has accomplished, for her warrior-like approach to playing tennis and for being a winner.

She's not afraid to speak her mind, and Serena is always Serena. She's changed perceptions of female body image, been a role model for women of all colors, and understands her power. She hasn't been perfect and has had some memorable times when she's lost her cool. But that's only added to her legend. She's on the downside of her career at age 30, but is still very much respected by those in tennis and professional sports.

Tennis has not solely defined Serena. But she has absolutely helped define tennis.