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ESPN Counts Down Top 40 Female Athletes As Part of Title IX Initiative

ESPN, as part of its three-month, multiplatform initiative, "The Power of IX," celebrating the 40th anniversary of Title IX, will reveal the top 40 female athletes of the past 40 years.
Beginning on April 30, the weekday 10 a.m. editions of SportsCenter, in conjunction with espnW, the worldwide leader's distaff digital destination, will begin counting down the "Top 40 Female Athletes of Past 40 Years," as determined by a panel of experts. Introduced by SportsCenter anchor Hannah Storm, the vignettes comprise footage and/or still-action photos, along with video, from past or present coaches, teammates or a respected authority from within the women's sports world.

SportsCenter will unveil each female athlete during the 10 a.m. weekday edition for the first six weeks, before the top 10 will be revealed during the 11 p.m. weeknight airing of the network's flagship show from June 11-22.

Title IX is shorthand for the 1972 legislation that mandated gender equity in any educational program (not only, but including, sports) that receive federal funding.
The countdown is just one execution of "The Power of IX" game plan that encompasses an array of ESPN vehicles, and culminates on the June 23 anniversary date, when ESPN, ESPN2, ABC, ESPNU, ESPN Classic and broadband service ESPN3 will showcase a variety of live event and women's archival programming (see schedule below).
"The impact of Title IX legislation on girls, women and society is irrefutable," said Laura Gentile, vice president, espnW. "You can tell by just the sheer number of participants in high school and college. This milestone is a big event in the sporting world. Who better to tell the story than ESPN?"
Indeed, only one of 25 girls, some 294,000, played high school sports in 1972. Last year, the ratio was one in three for a total of 3.17 million. That tally doesn't speak to the scholastic, familial and community support around those participants, the increased number of distaff athletes at the collegiate level and how, in many cases, the transformative legislation has resulted in the rollback or elimination of men's teams. Of course, many athletes who benefited from Title IX and its effects have graduated into professional ranks.

Gentile said that in the planning for espnW, which officially launched at on April 26, 2011, the upcoming milestone was clearly in mind.

"As we evolved espnW, we knew going in that the 40th anniversary of Title IX would be an important component for us. Then we had meetings last September and October with [ESPN president] John Skipper who said we should really get behind this as a company. "
In addition to the vignettes, March 26 saw the launch of, a dedicated microsite housing content across multiple platforms with a mix of in-depth feature stories, first-person athlete perspectives, as well as a series of fun/ informative lists of nine and more. One of the June issues of ESPN The Magazine will take a deep dive into the future of women's sports, while a social media program is engaged in assembling the largest collection of user-submitted female athlete photos of all time into a gigantic mosaic. In the spring and summer of 2013, ESPN Films will launch, "9 for IX," a series of documentaries, executive-produced Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts and Tribeca Productions co-founder Jane Rosenthal.

Storytelling is a key informer for all of these projects. "We want to let the current generation know about these athletes, some of whom they might not know anything about," said Gentile pointing to first-person recollections on the "Proof Positive" area of the microsite and Anne Meyers' tale.

The current general manager of the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury, Meyers attempted to become a member of the NBA's Indiana Pacers in 1979. "It was a three-day tryout. She gave up a shot at the 1980 Olympic team," said Gentile. "She really thought she was going to make the team."
As to the "Top 40 Female Athletes of Past 40 Years" countdown, Gentile said the panel of 24 experts, including sportswriter Christine Brennan, ESPN basketball analyst Doris Burke and Donna Lopiano, the former longtime CEO of The Women's Sports Foundation, spent the better course of a month vetting the distaff athletic horizon over the past two generations.

"We thought they would get it done in a week, but the group was really thorough. They studied the backgrounds, they really did their homework," said Gentile of the process in which the group tallied their ballots separately. "It speaks to the caliber of the athletes that Mary Lou Retton, Diana Taurasi and Abby Wambach are only in the 31-40 group." (see this list below)

Gentile said that while the top 40 women list is "U.S.-centric, it's a pretty good mix. I can tell you one foreign athlete is in the top 10."
The Monday countdown reveals are being sponsored by Honda, which is a supporting partner of the Power of IX, a package that also includes ads on the microsite and the first ever airing of the Honda Sports Awards on ESPNU from the programmer's Los Angeles production facility. The automaker is the longtime sponsor the awards, which honor individual athletes in 12 sports, as well as a top performer among a group of finalists - Maya Moore won last year and Mia Hamm and Misty May are among past recipients. A section devoted to the awards will rise on in May.
"This will raise the profile of the Honda Sports Awards. It ties in nicely with the Title IX initiative," said Gentile.

"Top 40 Female Athletes of Past 40 Years" (Nos. 31-40 in alphabetic order)
• Joan Benoit (track) - first women's Olympic marathon champion
• Cammi Granato (ice hockey) - 1998 Olympic Gold Medalist / 2002 Olympic Silver Medalist
• Flo Hyman (volleyball) - USA Volleyball MVP 1978 - 2002; 1984 Olympic Silver Medalist
• Julie Krone (horse racing) - first female jockey to win a Triple Crown race
• Kristine Lilly (soccer) - three-time Olympian with two gold medals (1996, 2004)
• Mary Meagher (swimming) - two gold medals in 1984 Olympics
• Fu Mingxia (diving) - quadruple Olympic-diving champion and world champion
• Mary Lou Retton (gymnastics) - won the Olympic all-around title (1984), scoring perfect 10s on floor exercise and vault
• Diana Taurasi (basketball) - Three-time collegiate national and two-time WNBA champion
• Abby Wambach (soccer) - 2004 Olympic Gold Medalist; three-time All-American

ESPN's Title IX - June 23 Programming (subject to change)
Time (ET)ShowNetwork
11 a.m.SportsCenterESPN
11:30 a.m.Women's Athletic Programming ESPN Classic
NoonSporting ChanceESPN
12:30 p.m.WNBA Game: Chicago Sky at Minnesota LynxESPN
1 p.m.E:60 Women's SpecialESPN2
National Pro Fastpitch: Florida at Carolina (Charlotte)ESPN3
2 p.m.SEC Storied: Lolo JonesESPNU
3 p.m.NASCAR CountdownESPN
Honda Sports Awards (ESPN's Los Angeles Production Center)ESPNU
3:30 p.m.NASCAR Nationwide: Road America 200 (Elkhart Lake, Wis.)ESPN
4 p.m.SEC Storied: Lolo JonesABC
NCAA Women's Championships ProgrammingESPNU
National Pro Fastpitch: Florida at Carolina (Charlotte)ESPN3
5 p.m.Sports Saturday: Week in ReviewABC
U.S. Women Soccer National Team DocumentaryESPN2
7 p.m.USA National Softball vs. Canada (Oklahoma City)ESPN
SEC Storied: Lolo JonesESPNU
8 p.m.Sporting ChanceESPNU
9 p.m.WNBA Game: Los Angeles Sparks at Phoenix Mercury ESPN
NCAA Women's Championships ProgrammingESPNU
Women's Athletic Programming ESPN Classic