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Women’s Sports Foundation honors the game-changers who helped level the playing field in 2020

On the 50th anniversary of their landmark decision that paved the way for the WTA, Billie Jean King and the rest of the "Original Nine" were honored Wednesday night.
On the 50th anniversary of their landmark decision that paved the way for the WTA, Billie Jean King and the rest of the "Original Nine" were honored Wednesday night.Chuck Burton/Associated Press

The coronavirus pandemic forced the Women’s Sports Foundation’s “Annual Salute to Women in Sports” to be held online Wednesday night, but the fact that the event — which was live-streamed via Yahoo! Sports — was held virtually certainly didn’t diminish the importance of the message.

Hosted by Laila Ali, it featured special appearances from Billie Jean King, actress Natalie Portman, figure skater Michelle Kwan, soccer player Carli Lloyd, skier Lindsey Vonn, and quarterback Tom Brady. And while the star power was an added attraction, the spotlight was squarely on those who have impacted women in sports over the course of the last year

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The Wilma Rudolph Courage Award, which is given to the athlete who reflects the spirit and determination of Olympian Wilma Rudolph, was given to the players of the WNBA for their actions around social justice.

Layshia Clarendon of the New York Liberty accepted the award on behalf of the players.

“We stand together. We stand for something bigger,” Clarendon said when asked about the community displayed by the players and league this year, who joined together to try and bring about change.

“I hope what we’re doing inspires so many young people to realize they have a voice,” she added. “Seeing what the next generation is going to bring, from a grassroots level, it’s the same way I’ve gotten this league passed down to me from the greats like Rebecca Lobo and Tamika Catchings and Tisha Penicheiro … and Sue [Bird] is still in the league, passing the baton. That’s our hope — that we pass that down.”

Layshia Clarendon accepted the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award Wednesday night on behalf of all WNBA players.
Layshia Clarendon accepted the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award Wednesday night on behalf of all WNBA players.Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

The Champion for Equality Award was presented to Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians, who hired two women to his coaching staff — Lori Locust, the assistant defensive line coach, and Maral Javadifar, who serves as assistant strength and conditioning coach.

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“This is not a gender-based type of role,” said Locust. “This is not something [Arians] just started doing. This is part of his fabric.”

“They’ve been fantastic,” Arians said of the two female coaches on his coaching staff. "Very, very qualified individuals [who have] really helped us win.

“Our organization is so inclusive,” he added. “If they’re the best people who will help you win, let’s hire them.”

The Billie Jean King Leadership Award is given to someone whose leadership has broken barriers, and this year, Ursula Burns, a former CEO of the Xerox Corporation and the former chairwoman and CEO of Veon Ltd., was honored by King, who praised her as a “game-changer.”

And finally, the Original Nine — the group of trailblazers who broke out and helped launch the women’s professional tennis tour 50 years ago — were also honored in a video salute from Portman.


Christopher Price can be reached at christopher.price@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at cpriceglobe.