Women Who Have Made Sports History: Donna Lopiano

Women Who Have Made Sports History: Donna Lopiano Women Who Have Made Sports History: Donna Lopiano

For , we are starting a weekly series where we will publish interviews with astounding women in sports every Wednesday. This week's guest is Donna Lopiano.

Donna is a special guest with 2aDays not only because of her achievements within the sports world, but because of all the projects and webinars she has helped us organize. Through her involvement with the , Donna has helped us coordinate webinars on trouble in the , race issues as a , , and being a transgender athlete. But, Donna's fame started way before we knew her, on the softball field. 

Donna received All-American titles for four different positions in softball, and competed in 26 national championships across 4 sports. After college, she coached , softball, and volleyball for Brooklyn College for 5 years, was the Athletic Director for the University of Texas for 18 years, then became the CEO for the Women's Sports Foundation before founding Sports Management Resources. She was named one of “The 10 Most Powerful Women in Sports” and one of “The 100 Most Influential People in Sports.”

Related: Webinar: The Silent Struggle – Mental Health of College Athletes

During her time with the WSF, Donna was a , but she went to school before Title IX was enacted. She said it wasn't originally created for sports:

“[It was for] The number of women who were not allowed to become doctors, lawyers, engineers. These were the most lucrative-paying jobs, and higher education institutions didn't let women in because they were afraid ‘we're going to waste this degree.' It was really pretty sad.”

Title IX wasn't acknowledged as a sports-related act until later, and Donna got to watch it come to fruition:

“In 1974, the NCAA asked their legal counsel to query congress and to ask ‘Does Title IX apply to extracurricular activities? Like, athletics?' and the answer was ‘Absolutely!' And all hell broke loose!”

Related: What is Title IX?

There was fear that women in athletics would be the death of men's sports. Almost 50 years later, we know this is far from the truth. Girls still aren't getting equal opportunity in sports, but we have come a long way. Oh, and men's sports were not hurt at all in the process. She reminds us: 

“Don't let anyone tell you that opportunity is a zero-sum game; that someone is going to lose if you give opportunities to someone else. Really, the pie grows.”

Before this era, Donna said that girls and womens sports were just sad. So, most girls had to play on outside teams. Unfortunately, this opportunity wasn't available to everyone. You had to be an “extraordinary athlete.”

Related: Not All Sports Are Created Equal, The Truth Behind Women's Rowing and how it Saves Football

Donna touches on the importance of sports: they're how we build confidence and learn a work ethic. 

She goes on to say: “What makes us as good as athletes makes us great as people who work in corporations, businesses, nonprofits… That kind of persistence and self-examination has carry-over. If you spend as much time preparing for meetings as you do in sport, you're going to do great.”

In all, she played four sports in college: basketball, volleyball, field hockey, and softball. At this time, there were no athletic for women, and no out-of-state competition.

Related: 4 Tips for Marketing Your Student Athlete Experience in a Job Interview

After receiving her Masters and then PhD, Donna became a three-sport coach and assistant professor at . From there, she became the Athletic Director at , and then went on to be CEO of the Women's Sports Foundation. She had done everything, so she became a consultant. And so, Sports Management Resources was brought to life:

“You have to be old and wise to be a consultant.”

As such an accomplished member in the world of college athletics, Donna has faced many challenges because she is a woman:

“There are plenty today, and back in the 1970's when everyone was mad at women's athletics because ‘men's football was going to die.' You have to remember that none of it is personal. Nobody is attacking you. [Make] sure you never get angry at someone.”

She talks of overcoming these challenges by meeting mentors and doing your research:

“When you're a person who speaks truth, who does their homework, who really steps up when something wrong is happening, you become really powerful. This doesn't mean you're yelling, but when you take a position, and you're there every day, saying the right thing, people listen and they're fearful of you, because knowledge is power.”

The amount that Donna has accomplished for athletes cannot be emphasized enough in one article. She is an inspiration to all female athletes.

Come back every Wednesday to hear from the next women we feature:
Feb 9: Kaiya McCullough
Feb 16: Kathrine Switzer
Feb 23: Sarah Thomas
March 2: TBA
March 9: Jenny Taft

Have a story idea or know an awesome athlete/coach we should interview? Email us at [email protected]

* Originally published on February 2, 2022, by Jaime Evers

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