Women Athletes Put On Their Game Face

There was a time when the term “female athlete” was an oxymoron

Muscles and sweat were not feminine, and few parents encouraged their daughters to compete in "unladylike" activities. But as women won more rights, attitudes began to change. Then along came Title IX, the 1972 law effectively mandating equal opportunity for girls in sports. It took years for the number of women with athletic skill to reach a critical mass, but finally there are professional women’s teams in basketball and soccer, to name two.

When Jane Gottesman began writing for the San Francisco Chronicle’s sports section in the early 1990s, she noticed that pictures of women athletes were rare. What does a female athlete look like? She put the question to photographers and began collecting their responses. The result became "Game Face," an exhibition cocurated by Geoffrey Biddle that opens June 27 at the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building and will tour for five years. A book of the same name is being published by Random House. The photographs capture little girls just discovering what it feels like to test their skills, as well as seasoned athletes. First-person essays convey what it means to be a coach, an athlete or an athlete’s mom. It’s been a struggle from empty stands to a Rose Bowl sold out for the Women’s World Cup. To every female athlete, whether on a professional team or just in a pickup game: you go, girl!

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