Believe it or not, 2021 is rapidly approaching. While the year 2020 has been more difficult than anyone could’ve imagined, there have been some truly amazing sports moments. History was made, records were broken, injustice was protested, and athletes came together in the face of a public health crisis to make the most of their seasons.
Sports Are From Venus has accumulated our top sports moments of 2020. What was your favorite sports moment this year?
NWSL & NWHL Expand
The NWSL and NWHL both announced expansions in 2020, as Proof Louisville FC will be joining the NWSL starting in the 2021 season, and Angel City FC will be joining in 2022.
A year after the CWHL folded, folding all professional Canadian women’s hockey teams with it, the NWHL announced an expansion team in Toronto with the team joining in the 2021 season. The Toronto Six made major strides for the league as both a privately owned organization and the league’s first Canadian franchise. An all-women leadership team led by team president and well-respected coach Digit Murphy alongside signings like Mikyla Grant-Mentis and Elaine Chuli show a great start for not only the Toronto Six, but the future of professional women’s hockey in Canada.
Alyssa Nakken Coaches in the MLB
Alyssa Nakken, working as the chief information officer for the San Francisco Giants organization, was promoted last January to the major league coaching staff as an assistant coach. That made Nakken the first full-time female coach in MLB history. Nakken wears a uniform but is not in the dugout during games. On July 20, during an exhibition game, Nakken was the first base coach and became the first woman to coach on the field during an MLB game.
Sarah Fuller Kicks & She Scores
Sarah Fuller made history this year as the first woman to play — and later score — in a Power 5 football game. Sarah is already an SEC champion as a goalkeeper for Vanderbilt’s women’s soccer team, which is probably why she wore the words “Play Like a Girl” on her helmet.
South Carolina Goes Undefeated in SEC, Finishes No. 1
The 2019-20 NCAA women’s basketball season may have been cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Dawn Staley’s South Carolina Gamecocks still managed an undefeated SEC season before things shut down. It was the second time the Gamecocks went 16-0 in SEC play, and their 32-1 overall record was the best in program history. South Carolina finished the season No. 1 in the AP women’s basketball poll, and many believe the Gamecocks would have won the NCAA Tournament had it not been canceled.
Kim Ng Finally Becomes GM
In November, the overqualified Kim Ng was finally hired to be General Manager of the Miami Marlins after thirty years of front office experience. She is the first woman in the United States to be GM of a professional men’s team. She has spent time with the Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, and Los Angeles Dodgers in their front offices. Ng most recently was senior vice president of baseball operations for Major League Baseball, where she worked under Joe Torre. Ng is the first Asian-American GM in MLB history.
Courtney Vandersloot Beats the Assist Record With Pass to Her Wife
After years of flirting with the record, Courtney Vandersloot finally beat the single-game assist record with back-to-back assists to her wife and teammate, Allie Quigley. She also became the first WNBA player to average 10 assists per game, besting her own records from the past three seasons. Some of us were incredibly excited.
Female Owners Winning Titles
2020 was an incredible year for women in sport’s leadership and governance, with many championships across several leagues going to organizations primarily or entirely owned by women. In the WNBA, the Seattle Storm’s all-women ‘superfan’ ownership group claimed yet another title, showcasing the power of an ownership group that consciously seeks to empower women. On the NBA side, Jeanie Buss of the Los Angeles Lakers became the first female owner in league history to earn a championship, having completely revitalized the once embattled franchise since taking a controlling interest in 2017.
Breanna Stewart’s Comeback
2018 WNBA Most Valuable Player Breanna Stewart returned to the court over a year after rupturing her Achilles tendon while playing in Russia, and it was impossible to tell she’d ever been injured. Stewart was the best player on a dominant Seattle Storm team that swept its postseason competition to win its fourth WNBA Championship, and her numbers during that run were fairly ridiculous: 25.7 points (65.3% true shooting), 7.8 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game in the playoffs.
WNBA and NWSL Prove Women’s Sports Sell
Despite the challenges of shortened seasons, missing star players, and other challenges that come with playing in a pandemic, both the WNBA and NWSL enjoyed a rise in viewership, merch sales, and sponsorships. The NWSL partnered with CBS to broadcast their Challenge Cup in America and Twitch internationally, something that proved beneficial as the league broke their viewership record on their opening day and then broke that record again at the final with 653,000 viewers. Viewership was up a whopping 493% for the NWSL this year, according to league commissioner Lisa Baird. Likewise, the WNBA finals saw an increase both in series views and viewership for the title clinching game. Around 570,000 people watched the Storm become champions, a 27% increase from last years final game.
Viewership is only one area of sports business where the WNBA and NWSL thrived in 2020. The WNBA made a deal with their player association to increase salaries and playing conditions this year while the NWSL raised the salary cap by 19.33%. Both leagues were ranked 1 and 2 when it came to engagements of pro sports leagues on social media. Orange WNBA hoodies flew off the shelves to fellow athletes and fans alike. Big companies proved they believed in women’s sports too with new or reimagined sponsorships like AT&T and the WNBA or Google for the NWSL.
While other sports leagues saw a drop in revenue and viewership, women’s sports innovated and thrived.
NWSL First US League to Return to Action
Setting the script for the rest of the US sports scene, the NWSL became the first American sports league to restart during the COVID-19 lockdown when they returned to play on June 27. The Challenge Cup was executed in a near flawless bubble environment, and saw the Houston Dash defeat North Carolina (2018 and 2019 champs), Portland (2017 champs), and Chicago (2019 finalists) to win the tournament.
Naomi Osaka Serves a Message
Naomi Osaka won her third major and second US Open title, defeating former world #1 Victoria Azarenka (making her return from maternity leave) in the final. Osaka also used her platform to show her support for the Black Lives Matter movement, wearing masks showing the names of victims of police brutality during her walks onto and off of the court.
A’ja Wilson Wins MVP
Entering the ‘Wubble’ season, many counted the Las Vegas Aces out of contention, as they were missing important pieces like Liz Cambage and Kelsey Plum. But young star A’ja Wilson refused to back down, playing some of the best basketball of her career in a season where she averaged 20 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks on a career-best 48% shooting from the floor. The Aces rode Wilson’s hot hand to the WNBA Finals, and A’ja picked up her first MVP award in the process.
Maya Moore Helps Win Jonathan Irons’ Freedom
Maya Moore is one of the biggest legends in WNBA history for her play on the court, but her contributions extend past just basketball. The 6x All-Star, 4x Finals Champion, and 2014 WNBA MVP has not played since the 2018 season after taking the last two seasons off to advocate for criminal justice reform. On July 1, Moore helped secure the release of Jonathan Irons- who was serving a 50-year sentence that began when he was 16-year old. Like straight out of a movie, Moore and Irons are now married.
USWNT Continues Fight For Equal Pay
The decorated athletes of the U.S Women’s National Team continued their fight for equal pay with the much less successful men’s team in their lawsuit against U.S. Soccer. Despite some setbacks, USWNT reached a partial settlement on working conditions, providing for greater equality in hotel accommodations, flights, staffing, and venue selection. USWNT is expected to appeal on its claim of wage discrimination.
Sabrina Ionescu with NCAA 2000 points, 1000 rebounds, 1000 assists
In February, now-rising New York Liberty sophomore Sabrina Ionescu was still a senior at Oregon University, and she was still breaking a new NCAA record what felt like every single day. On the 24th, the triple-double queen put yet another feather in her cap, when she became the first NCAA athlete of any gender to record 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, and 1,000 assists on her career. Makes sense that the NCAA record-holder for most triple doubles is also the sole college athlete who can boast a triple-thousand.
WNBA Dedicates Season to Social Justice
Say Her Name. Every WNBA player wore Breonna Taylor’s name on the back of her jersey in 2020, dedicating the season to her and other Black women who have been murdered by police. Following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, the league banded together, locking arms in an iconic image and choosing not to take the court in what Los Angeles Sparks forward and WNBPA President Nneka Ogwumike called “A Day of Reflection, a Day of Informed Action and Mobilization.” Players regularly wore custom t-shirts throughout the season; some read “Arrest The Cops Who Killed Breonna Taylor” and others “Vote Warnock,” the latter of which campaigned for Rev. Raphael Warnock, the Democratic challenger to Atlanta Dream owner and white supremacist Kelly Loeffler in the upcoming Georgia Senate runoff election.
This was a collaborative effort by the writers at Sports Are From Venus. Contributors include Kacey Ferber, Eric Nemchock, Pratap Jayaram, Becky Canary-King, Dani Bar-Lavi, Melanie Pitman, and Zachary Diamond. A special thanks to Chris Wozniak (@wlohaty) for designing the bracket!