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8 Trail-Blazing Female Firsts In Sports

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Last week, ESPN announced that Jessica Mendoza would serve as one of their full-time Sunday Night Baseball analysts for the 2016 season. The former Olympic softball player made headlines last October as the first broadcaster of a nationally televised postseason game when she called the wild card contest between the Yankees and Astros.

Although athletics are anything but fully integrated, there are fewer and fewer glass ceilings left to be broken as pioneers like Mendoza get their due. Take a look at a few historic female firsts across the sporting spectrum.

1. HELENE HATHAWAY ROBISON BRITTON // FIRST FEMALE MLB TEAM OWNER

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In 1912, Britton inherited a controlling interest in the St. Louis Cardinals from her uncle, who, along with her father, was responsible for the St. Louis Browns becoming the Cardinals. She took on the role of team president, as well, after divorcing the previous president, Schuyler P. Britton, in 1917. She is credited with being one of the first owners to host “Ladies Days” at the ballparks, but there is little record of how involved she was with the day-to-day operations of the franchise.

“Being a woman owner of a baseball club was difficult at first,” she is quoted as having said [PDF]. “It was also new to me, even though I had heard and talked baseball all my life. I loved it, though." Britton also said she regretted selling the team in 1918.

2. JOAN WHITNEY PAYSON // FIRST WOMAN TO FOUND AN MLB TEAM

With all due respect to Mrs. Britton, this is not quite as minor a distinction as it may seem. Payson's lifelong involvement in the game was personally motivated (even if funded by her family’s considerable wealth). In the 1950s, she started buying shares of the New York Giants. When the owners were debating on whether to move the team west in 1957, she and her ally M. Donald Grant led the charge to keep them in New York. After the Giants relocated to California, she was approached about purchasing a team for a possible third baseball league. Ultimately the proposed Continental League fizzled, but when New York was offered a National League expansion team, Payson ended up owning 80 percent of the stake.

The shareholders all gathered in her Manhattan apartment to name the team. And although Payson herself preferred the “Meadowlarks,” it was at this meeting that the Mets were born. For the rest of her life, Payson was both an active owner and a dedicated fan of the team. When she couldn’t be at games—which she watched from a box just behind first base—she carried a portable radio with her, even hiding it in her purse at high society events. She kept score so meticulously that she taught her chauffeur her specific technique so that he could fill out scorecards and airmail them to her when she couldn’t be at the game. Players loved her, especially when the Mets grew from the laughingstock of the NL in the early ‘60s to World Champions in ’69. And, just a few years before her death, she succeeded in bringing her favorite player from the Giants's New York era—Willie Mays—back to the city in a Mets uniform.

3. NANCY LIEBERMAN // FIRST WOMAN TO COACH A MEN'S PRO BASKETBALL TEAM

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Lieberman has earned a lot of “firsts” in her long and illustrious basketball career. She was on the U.S. team for the Olympics’ first-ever Women's Basketball tournament at the 1976 Montreal games (for which she and the team took home silver medals). She became the first woman to play pro basketball with men when she joined the now-defunct United States Basketball League in 1986. And when she was hired as the head coach of the Dallas Mavericks’ D-League affiliate, the Texas Legends, in 2009, she not only became the first woman head coach of a men’s pro basketball team, she became the first woman to coach a men’s pro team in any sport.

"In 1986, my goal was not to be a girl playing in a men's league, it was to be a player in a men's league," she said at the time. "In 2010, I don't want to be a woman who is coaching men, I want to be a coach who is coaching."

From head coach she transitioned to assistant GM of the Texas Legends. Just this past summer, she broke into the NBA as the assistant coach for the Sacramento Kings—the second woman to serve as a full-time assistant coach in the league, after Becky Hammon broke through in 2014. 

4. SARAH THOMAS // FIRST FULL-TIME FEMALE NFL REFEREE

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Thomas, who was hired as part of referee Pete Morelli’s crew at the start of this season, has to have an asterisk next to her “first.” In 2012, Shannon Eastin became the first woman to officiate an NFL game—but her opportunity came when a failure to reach a collective bargaining agreement forced a lockout of the league’s regular referees and she was ousted from her role once the strike was over. Thomas, on the other hand, was discovered by an NFL scout after 16 years of officiating grade school, high school, and college football games.

"When I got started in this 17 years ago, I had no idea that there weren't any females officiating," Thomas said in 2013 when she was still among the 21 finalists in the NFL officiating development program. "I never set out to become the first female official in the NFL."

5. MICHELE ROBERTS // FIRST WOMAN TO LEAD A MAJOR PROFESSIONAL-SPORTS UNION

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The former public defender and Washington D.C. litigator was elected executive director of the National Basketball Players Association in 2014 almost unanimously. And almost immediately, she began making waves for her frank criticisms of league business staples like the salary cap—which she calls “un-American.”

She’s loved basketball since her humble beginnings in a South Bronx housing project. But it’s her legal expertise that got her the job—Washingtonian magazine called her the “finest pure trial lawyer in Washington”—and the 400-plus players she represents are hoping she’ll be able to broker a deal more favorable to their interests than the one her predecessor struck to end the 2011 lockout. She’ll get a chance to prove herself when the current labor agreement expires in 2017, but until then, she’s making a name for herself as an outspoken trailblazer. When presenting her candidacy to the NBA players, she assured them that her "past is littered with the bones of men who were foolish enough to think I was someone they could sleep on.”

6. GAYLE SIERENS // FIRST WOMAN TO CALL PLAY-BY-PLAY IN THE NFL

In 1987, NBC executive Michael Weisman offered Sierens, an anchor for the Tampa NBC affiliate, the chance to make history as the first woman to call play-by-play for an NFL game. It was pretty clearly a publicity stunt—Weisman had also experimented with an announcer-less game a few years prior, though he denied this move was for publicity, citing the timing didn't make sense for that—but Sierens rose to the challenge. She spent months training during the preseason with legendary broadcaster Marty Glickman in preparation for the big game, and although the December 27 showdown between the Seahawks and Chiefs was unmemorable on the field, Sierens excelled on the broadcast. Her performance earned an invite back to call six games the following season in 1988. But the same year as the big game, Sierens had gotten married and gotten pregnant. Plus, her Tampa day job didn’t appreciate major sporting assignments calling her away. So Sierens had to choose whether to stay on with Channel 8 in Florida or else pursue broadcasting with the NFL. She turned down the chance to do more play-by-play and went on to have a long career in Tampa and almost no regrets.

"What I do have," she said after retiring, "are what-ifs." Since that game in 1987, no other woman had called play-by-play for the NFL until a preseason game in 2015, but before Beth Mowins became the second female announcer, Sierens worried that she missed her chance to break open that barrier.

"I don't know why a woman hasn't been able to break into that. It’s sad for me. It's sad that it didn't happen sooner. I hope that my performance was good enough that it merited other women being given the chance. But maybe it wasn't. Maybe everybody thought it was fun and cute and a great idea, but that's not really how we want to hear our games. I don't know. I may never know the answer to that. But I surely hope that someone soon gets an opportunity."

7. MANON RHÉAUME // FIRST WOMAN TO PLAY IN AN NHL EXHIBITION GAME

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Then-20-year-old Rhéaume didn’t care that her invite to an NHL training camp in 1992 was largely a publicity stunt to aid the brand new Tampa Bay Lightning. As the first woman to play for a Junior A men’s hockey game in Canada the year before, she knew she had real talent, and was eager for any opportunity to play at a higher level.

“A lot of people said that was just a publicity thing,” Rhéaume recalled last year. "But I had to wake up and face those shots every single day."

On September 23 she played one period as goalie in a preseason game against the St. Louis Blues, allowing two goals on nine shots. The following year, Tampa Bay invited her back for another exhibition game, this time against the Boston Bruins, in which she once again allowed two goals over one period.

She parlayed that experience into five years in the now-defunct International Hockey League, becoming the first woman to play in a regular season professional game along the way. These days, she’s consulting on a biopic about her career.

8. ROBIN HERMAN // FIRST FEMALE SPORTS REPORTER IN A LOCKER ROOM

The debate about women in male locker rooms still rages on to this day. But it all started 40 years ago when Robin Herman, a 23-year-old reporter for The New York Times who had already been part of women’s history as a graduate of Princeton’s first female class, finally convinced the NHL to let her and other female reporters into the locker room for post-game interviews. The first concessions came at the 1975 All-Star Game in Montreal. Herman and Montreal radio reporter Marcel St. Cyr stole the show when they entered the locker room following the game.

"I kept saying, 'I’m not the story; the game is the story,'" Herman recalled in 2010. "But of course that wasn’t the case. The game was boring. A girl in the locker room was a story."

The All-Star Game didn’t change Herman’s experience on the hockey beat overnight. Later that same season, she wrote an article for the Times [PDF] reflecting on having been turned away for interviews, even in the wake of that historic entry. Even the Rangers—one of the teams she’d interviewed in their locker rooms following the All-Star Game—had put the issue to a vote at the demand of the athletes' wives. They voted against female reporters in the locker room.

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20 Things You Might Not Know About Mr. Show
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You never need an excuse to look back at Mr. Show with Bob and David, but given that today is co-creator Bob Odenkirk's 55th birthday, now seems to be as good a time as any.

1. BOB ODENKIRK AND DAVID CROSS’S FIRST MEETING DID NOT GO VERY WELL.

Following four years of writing on Saturday Night Live, Odenkirk was in Los Angeles in 1992 as a writer for the Chris Elliott Fox cult classic Get a Life. David Cross was a comedian in L.A. after performing for years in Boston. One boring afternoon, Cross asked friend and fellow stand-up Janeane Garofalo if she knew anybody that played basketball. The two went to Odenkirk’s house, and Garofalo introduced David to Bob and then asked if he wanted to play basketball. He said no.

2. ODENKIRK AND CROSS FIRST WORKED TOGETHER ON THE BEN STILLER SHOW.

Despite their inauspicious beginning, the two ended up having numerous fruitful collaborations, starting with their work on The Ben Stiller Show. Odenkirk was a writer/performer on the short-lived but Emmy award-winning sketch show with Garofalo, Stiller, and Andy Dick. Cross was brought in in the middle of the show’s 13-episode run as a writer.

3. THE CO-STARS FIRST PERFORMED ON STAGE TOGETHER AS "THE THREE GOOFBALLZ."

Odenkirk and Cross performed sketch comedy together at the Diamond Club in Los Angeles, with a third improviser that, the joke went, would either be deceased or out elsewhere getting high.

4. "THE THREE GOOFBALLZ' WAS ALMOST THE TITLE OF MR. SHOW

Odenkirk also pitched the title Grand National Championships, but David Cross was never a fan of it.

5. JACK BLACK, SARAH SILVERMAN, AND OTHER FUTURE STARS APPEARED ON THE SHOW BEFORE THEY WERE FAMOUS.

Black was in four episodes of Mr. Show, starring in the classic Jesus Christ Superstar parody “Jeepers Creepers.” Silverman was a performer in 10 episodes. Mary Lynn Rajskub, best known as Chloe on 24, was a featured actress in the first two years. Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants, was a series regular for a majority of the run. Scott Adsit, a.k.a. 30 Rock’s Pete Hornberger, was in six episodes.

6. PATTON OSWALT WARMED UP THE MR. SHOW CROWD.

In addition to performing stand-up before tapings and keeping the studio audience interested in between scenes, Oswalt played Famous Mortimer in the episode “Operation: Hell on Earth” (but was credited as “Patton Oswald.”)

7. HOMELESS PEOPLE WERE NOT KIND TO THE ORIGINAL SETS.

Because the pilot episode was shot at a “down and dirty,” small Central Hollywood club, the sets had to be placed outside, where homeless people defecated on them.

8. YOU MIGHT ALSO RECOGNIZE SOME OF THE WRITING STAFF.

Dino Stamatopoulos was already on the original writing staff of Late Night with Conan O’Brien and had written for David Letterman before writing for Cross and Odenkirk. He would later create three shows and play Starburns on Community. Writer/performer Scott Aukerman co-created and executive produces Between Two Ferns, and created and stars on Comedy Bang! Bang!. Writer/performer Paul F. Tompkins hosted VH-1’s Best Week Ever! and currently hosts the satirical debate show No, You Shut Up!, where he moderates discussions by a panel full of puppets. Bob Odenkirk’s brother Bill has written ten episodes of The Simpsons.

9. THE DIRECTORS OF LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE LEARNED HOW TO DIRECT COMEDY FROM MR. SHOW.

Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton were known for directing music videos like The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight” and Jane’s Addiction’s “Been Caught Stealing,” and decided to direct two Mr. Show episodes to expand their filming vocabulary. The husband and wife team were behind the camera for the classic sketch “Monk Academy.”

10. ONE SKETCH WAS INFLUENCED BY LOUIS C.K.

One of the first sketches in the show’s history involved Odenkirk playing a priest forced to do rather unpleasant and un-priestly things. The idea sprang from a conversation David Cross had with fellow young Boston comic Louis C.K., where Louis talked about annoying people that try to claim a prize on a bet that their friends never agreed to in the first place.

11. HBO ONLY CENSORED THE SHOW ONCE.

Throughout four years and 30 episodes, the lone note Odenkirk and Cross got from HBO was to get rid of a line where one character tells another to have sex with a baby. Odenkirk admitted that being told to edit it out “wasn’t too much to ask.”

12. THEY ONLY RECEIVED ONE VIEWER COMPLAINT.

The only angry letter that Odenkirk and Cross were ever made aware of was from a military veteran who was offended by the sketch in “Who Let You In?” where Cross’s performance artist character attempts to defecate on the American flag. The two stars actually called the viewer and discovered that he didn’t watch the entire sketch, and therefore never realized that Cross’ character was never able to actually go through with it.

13. ONE SKETCH WAS CUT FROM THE SHOW SIX TIMES AND NEVER MADE IT TO AIR.

A sketch called “Party Car,” a joke on old, low-quality shows filled with '70s celebrities was cut from half a dozen scripts and never filmed. It would have featured Nipsey Russell, Zsa Zsa Gabor, (or reasonable facsimiles), and a baby in a balloon-filled car.

14. BOB ODENKIRK GOT IN TROUBLE FOR USING A PICTURE OF HIS DEAD GRANDFATHER.

Because the sketch “Old Man In House” needed a photo of an old man, and the elderly gentleman was not the butt of the joke, Odenkirk thought it would be fine. Instead, some Odenkirks were “very upset.”

15. CROSS WAS PAYING OFF HIS STUDENT LOAN DEBTS THROUGHOUT MOST OF THE SERIES.

David Cross and Amber Tamblyn
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Despite executive producing and co-creating a series on television, Cross had trouble paying off his student loan debts from his time at Emerson College. Figuring that the person calling from the bill collection agency wouldn’t believe that he couldn’t pay if he knew his job status, Cross pretended that he worked at Mr. Show as a messenger.

16. ONE PERSON WAS GIVEN A "SPECIAL THANKS" IN THE CLOSING CREDITS OF EVERY EPISODE AS A JOKE.

As Cross once explained, Rick Dees was thanked in the credits of the pilot episode, even though he was “certainly nobody we would ever thank, or be in a position to thank.” Some personalities that were thanked for no discernable reason were Greg Maddux, Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, Gabe Kaplan, and Howard Zinn.

17. HBO CHANGED THE TIME SLOT FOR ITS FINAL SEASON, AND IT WAS "DEMORALIZING."

After airing Fridays at midnight for the first three seasons, HBO moved the show to Mondays at the same time, confusing some loyal viewers, and the ratings decreased as a result. Bob Odenkirk told a reporter that, after 30 episodes, HBO was still treating the cast and crew as “second-class citizens,” and that they were “demoralized” by the slot shift.

18. BOB AND DAVID TOLD A STUDIO AUDIENCE THAT THEY HAD JUST WITNESSED THE FINAL EPISODE, AND THEY WEREN'T JOKING.

“Patriotism, Pepper, and Professionalism,” the 40th and final episode of Mr. Show, was taped on November 21, 1998. After the final sketch was filmed, Odenkirk and Cross made their announcement, although the show’s cancellation wasn’t made official for another few months.

19. THERE WAS A MR. SHOW MOVIE THAT WENT STRAIGHT TO VIDEO.

Run Ronnie Run focused on David Cross’s redneck criminal character Ronnie Dobbs. It was filmed in 2001, but never made it to theaters. Bob Odenkirk admitted that the movie wasn’t perfect, but he blamed the poor quality on director Troy Miller, for not allowing himself and Cross to edit the movie.

20. THE TWO HAVE REUNITED A FEW OTHER TIMES.

David Cross and Bob Odenkirk star in 'W/ Bob and David'
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In 2002, Bob, David, and Mr. Show writer/performers Brian Posehn, John Ennis, and Stephanie Courtney (Flo in the Progressive commercials) toured the country to perform some of the show’s sketches and material from their unproduced screenplay Mr. Show: Hooray For America! The next year, Odenkirk guest starred as Dr. Phil Gunty on a season one episode of Arrested Development, alongside Cross’ character Tobias Fünke.

In 2012, Odenkirk, Cross, and Posehn went on a six-city tour to promote their book filled with more unproduced material. Bob and David appeared briefly together the next year on an episode of Aukerman’s Comedy Bang! Bang! In 2015, 20 years after Mr. Show's debut, Netflix premiered W/ Bob and David, a five-episode sketch comedy show created by and starring the duo.

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30 Memorable Quotes from Carrie Fisher
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Just days after suffering a heart attack aboard a flight en route to Los Angeles, beloved actress, author, and screenwriter Carrie Fisher passed away at the age of 60 on December 27, 2016. Though she’ll always be most closely associated with her role as Princess Leia in Star Wars, Fisher’s life was like something out of its own Hollywood movie. Born in Beverly Hills on this day in 1956, Fisher was born into show business royalty as the daughter of singer Eddie Fisher and actress Debbie Reynolds.

In addition to her work in front of the camera, Fisher built up an impressive resume behind the scenes, too, most notably as a writer; in addition to several memoirs and semi-autobiographical novels, including Wishful Drinking, Surrender the Pink, Delusions of Grandma, The Best Awful, Postcards from the Edge, and The Princess Diarist (which was released last month), she was also an in-demand script doctor who counted Sister Act, Hook, Lethal Weapon 3, and The Wedding Singer among her credits.

Though she struggled with alcoholism, drug addiction, and mental illness, Fisher always maintained a sense of humor—as evidenced by the 30 memorable quotes below.

ON GROWING UP IN HOLLYWOOD

“I am truly a product of Hollywood in-breeding. When two celebrities mate, someone like me is the result.”

“I was born into big celebrity. It could only diminish.”

“At a certain point in my early twenties, my mother started to become worried about my obviously ever-increasing drug ingestion. So she ended up doing what any concerned parent would do. She called Cary Grant.”

“I was street smart, but unfortunately the street was Rodeo Drive.”

“If anything, my mother taught me how to sur-thrive. That's my word for it.”

ON AGING

“As you get older, the pickings get slimmer, but the people don't.”

ON INSTANT GRATIFICATION

“Instant gratification takes too long.”

ON THE LEGACY OF STAR WARS

“People are still asking me if I knew Star Wars was going to be that big of a hit. Yes, we all knew. The only one who didn't know was George.”

“Leia follows me like a vague smell.”

“I signed my likeness away. Every time I look in the mirror, I have to send Lucas a couple of bucks.”

“People see me and they squeal like tropical birds or seals stranded on the beach.”

“You're not really famous until you’re a Pez dispenser.”

ON THE FLEETING NATURE OF SUCCESS

“There is no point at which you can say, 'Well, I'm successful now. I might as well take a nap.'”

ON DEALING WITH MENTAL ILLNESS

“I'm very sane about how crazy I am.”

ON RESENTMENT

“Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die."

ON LOVE

“Someone has to stand still for you to love them. My choices are always on the run.”

“I've got to stop getting obsessed with human beings and fall in love with a chair. Chairs have everything human beings have to offer, and less, which is obviously what I need. Less emotional feedback, less warmth, less approval, less patience, and less response. The less the merrier. Chairs it is. I must furnish my heart with feelings for furniture.”

“I don’t hate hardly ever, and when I love, I love for miles and miles. A love so big it should either be outlawed or it should have a capital and its own currency.”

ON EMOTIONS

“The only thing worse than being hurt is everyone knowing that you're hurt.”

ON RELATIONSHIPS

“I envy people who have the capacity to sit with another human being and find them endlessly interesting, I would rather watch TV. Of course this becomes eventually known to the other person.”

ON HOLLYWOOD

“Acting engenders and harbors qualities that are best left way behind in adolescence.”

“You can't find any true closeness in Hollywood, because everybody does the fake closeness so well.”

“It's a man's world and show business is a man's meal, with women generously sprinkled through it like overqualified spice.”

ON FEAR

“Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.”

ON LIFE

“I don’t want life to imitate art. I want life to be art.”

“No motive is pure. No one is good or bad-but a hearty mix of both. And sometimes life actually gives to you by taking away.”

“If my life wasn't funny it would just be true, and that is unacceptable.”

“I shot through my twenties like a luminous thread through a dark needle, blazing toward my destination: Nowhere.”

“My life is like a lone, forgotten Q-Tip in the second-to-last drawer.”

ON DEATH

“You know what's funny about death? I mean other than absolutely nothing at all? You'd think we could remember finding out we weren't immortal. Sometimes I see children sobbing at airports and I think, 'Aww. They've just been told.'”

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