After years of debate about women’s rights to equal opportunities, Title IX amended the United States Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit sexual discrimination in regard to any educational program or activity funded by the government.

It’s now been 40 years since this landmark law passed.

President Richard Nixon signed the bill into law on June 23, 1972.

While not expressly intended to be sports-related legislation, Title IX helped assure that women were afforded the same federally funded opportunities as their male counterparts, including equal athletic programs, facilities and funding. As a result, Title IX fostered the further athletic development of millions of American women who may not have been given such chances without its passing into law.

Here are the 10 best female athletes who have emerged since Title IX became law:

Jackie Joyner-Kersee

The living embodiment of the ideal athlete, Jackie Joyner-Kersee is often ranked among the greatest athletes of all-time, male or female. Joyner-Kersee won three gold, one silver, and two bronze medals in the heptathlon and long jump in competitions over four Olympic Games from 1984 to 1996. She also was a star in both track & field and women’s basketball while she attended UCLA from 1980 to 1985.


Mia Hamm

Few athletes — regardless of gender — have dominated a sport the way Mia Hamm reigned over women’s soccer from 1987 to 2004. Hamm scored 158 international goals in her career, more than any other player, male or female. Hamm was a part of two Olympic gold medal-winning teams and two World Cup champions while with the U.S. National Team, and four NCAA championship clubs while in college at North Carolina. She was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2007.

Lisa Leslie

Among the most dominant women’s basketball players of all-time, Lisa Leslie helped the U.S. National Team win four Olympic gold medals. She was a three-time WNBA MVP and eight-time WNBA All-Star. The 6’5″ Leslie was also the first player to dunk in a WNBA game, an event that perhaps most clearly illustrated how women were able to perform the same athletic feats as men.

Chris Evert

Though she made her Grand Slam tennis debut a year before Title IX became a reality, Chris Evert inspired millions of young women by demonstrating how dominant an American woman could be in the sporting world. Evert held the year-end No. 1 ranking in women’s singles tennis from 1974 to 1978 and 1980 to 1981. Among her 18 career Grand Slam singles victories were a record seven French Open titles and a record six U.S. Open. championships.

Bonnie Blair

American speedskater Bonnie Blair is among the most heralded Olympians ever. In an under-appreciated sport, Blair won five gold medals and one bronze medal as she represented the Unites States in four Olympiads (1984, 1988, 1992, 1994). She was elected to the United States Olympic Hall of Fame in 2004 and remains the most decorated female Winter Olympian in U.S. history.


Janet Evans

Janet Evans is the greatest women’s distance swimmer in American Olympic history. Evans won five Olympic medals — four gold and one silver – in the 400, 800 and 1500 meter freestyle at the 1988 and 1992 Summer Olympics. She has also won 45 national titles, 17 international titles and five NCAA titles. Twenty years and a retirement later, Evans is currently back in the pool at age 40, trying to qualify for the 2012 Olympics in London.

Florence Griffith-Joyner

The late Florence Griffith-Joyner may have been the fastest woman who ever lived. A three-time gold and two-time silver medal-winning sprinter in the Summer Olympics of 1984 and 1988, Griffith-Joyner still holds the world record in both the 100 and 200 meter races, which she set in 1988. Sadly, Griffith Joyner died in 1998 of an epileptic seizure at the age of 38.

Serena Williams

Ranked No. 1 in the world in tennis on five separate occasions, Serena Williams may finish her career as the greatest American tennis player who ever lived. With 13 Grand Slam singles titles and 27 overall Grand Slam titles, Serena has even been more successful than her older sister Venus, whom she has defeated in 13 of the 23 matches they have played. The sisters have also won two Olympic gold medals in women’s doubles. Serena has won more prize money than any other female athlete in sports history.

Lisa Fernandez

Perhaps the greatest women’s softball player of all-time, Lisa Fernandez was dominant both internationally and at the college level. As a member of the U.S. National Team, Fernandez pitched her way to gold medals in the 1996, 2000 and 2004 Summer Olympics. She struck out a record 25 batters at the 2000 Games in Sydney. Fernandez also led UCLA to two NCAA Women’s College World Series titles from 1990 to 1993. As further demonstration of her athletic ability, Fernandez also played basketball while in college at UCLA.

Lindsey Vonn

Lindsey Vonn may finish her career as the best women’s skier of all-time. Vonn has won one Olympic gold medal and one bronze medal. She has four overall World Cup championships in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2012 and 53 World Cup victories, third on the all-time list.

Honorable Mentions: Cheryl Miller, Michelle Kwan, Sheryl Swoopes, Venus Williams, Mary Lou Retton

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