In her senior year at Newport Harbor High School, Allison Stokke became famous. It was already known that she was an exceptional pole vaulter — she had broken the American record for a high school freshman and for a high school sophomore. But as she sat second in the national rankings her senior year, fame hit her from outside of the pole vaulting community.
A California track and field website photographer uploaded photos of her during competition, and before long, photos of her appeared on With Leather, a blog site that has since been acquired by Uproxx that gears its content toward young males. The article, titled “Pole Vaulting is Sexy, Barely Legal,” set off a chain reaction of views, comments and discussion.
People then knew Allison Stokke’s name and face not because of her accomplishments as a pole vaulter and her expected trajectory as an athlete, but because of her looks.
Stokke was objectified. And she’s not alone. Female athletes who came before her at Cal and ones that have followed have seen their bodies sexualized and their looks subject of discussion.
Take Brandi Chastain, for example. Thirteen years after her sole season for the Bears, Chastain took the World Cup-winning penalty kick at the Rose Bowl in front of one of the biggest crowds to ever be at a women’s sporting event.
As her teammates ran at her, Chastain immediately ripped off her shirt in celebration. While many celebrated Chastain and her black Nike sports bra, others berated her with sexist comments.
These athletes, and so many more, deserve better. They deserve to be remembered for what they worked hard for. They deserve full recognition for what they have endured and accomplished.
With that said, here are just a handful of Cal’s notable female athletes who should be recognized today, and every day, for their accomplishments.
Allison Stokke: Stokke was a California Interscholastic Federation state champion in pole vault before coming to Cal. In her first year, she broke a school record for longest distance as a freshman. After graduating with a degree in sociology, Stokke continued to compete and posted a lifetime best of 4.36 m.
Missy Franklin: Franklin returned home from the 2012 London Olympics, just 17 years old and with four gold medals and a bronze medal in various swimming events. After coming back, she turned down the opportunity to be a professional athlete, opting instead for a taste of a collegiate career. Along with earning a number of individual accolades, including the Honda Sports Award in 2015, Franklin helped lead the Bears to an NCAA championship.
Helen Wills: Before Wills even came to Cal, she had already won a major title at age 17, back in 1923. She continued to pave the way in women’s tennis and became an example for other women in other sports, going on to win 31 Grand Slam titles.
Alex Morgan: Morgan is undoubtedly one of the most distinguished American soccer players. During her time at Cal, she led the Bears in scoring, despite juggling national team duties simultaneously. She has been named the U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year and was one of the first women’s soccer players to appear on the cover of FIFA video games. Morgan has also published a children’s book series about female soccer players.
Kristine Anigwe: A legend Cal women’s basketball fans know and love, Anigwe was a consistent headliner for the Bears. Before she was drafted to the Connecticut Sun, Anigwe entered her senior year fourth on Cal’s all-time scoring list and second-most by any active Division I women’s basketball player entering that season.
Gillian Boxx: Boxx was named first team All-American twice while at Cal. While still in college, Boxx competed in the WBSC World Championships, contributing three runs to win a gold medal. Just a year after graduating, Boxx was part of the Team USA squad to win gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
Brandi Chastain: The photo of Chastain in her black Nike sports bra will always be a part of sports history. It is remembered as a turning point, of women claiming their spots in sports and of women embracing and proving their strength and vulnerability. Chastain’s soccer career, like any other, had its highs and lows, but her impact on the sport and impact on those watching her and her USWNT squad win that World Cup will forever be remembered.
These seven Cal athletes are just a sample of the talented, inspirational women that have been a part of the UC Berkeley community. Their athletic feats deserve acknowledgement and celebration — they are proud faces of women in sport.