Simone Manuel & Nancy Hogshead-Makar Honored by Sports Illustrated’s “Unrelenting Women in Sports” List

Simone Manuel. Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

The last two American women to win the 100 freestyle at the Olympic Games, Simone Manuel & Nancy Hogshead-Makar, have been recognized by Sports Illustrated for being two of “the most powerful, most influential and most outstanding women in sports right now.”

Manuel was recognized for using her platform to speak up about the racial injustice ongoing in the United States and encouraging more diversity in the sport of swimming.

Hogshead-Makar has devoted her life to addressing sexual abuse in sports and fighting for gender equality. Now 58, she has established herself as a leading civil rights lawyer for young athletes involved with sex-abuse lawsuits.


Simone Manuel. Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

Simone Manuel, who became the first black woman to win a gold medal in swimming by virtue of her 100 freestyle at the 2016 Olympics, as well as winner of the last two world titles in the 100 free, has been outspoken in 2020 for the need to end racism in the United States after the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor as well as the need to have more diversity in the sport of swimming that has for so long been a predominantly white sport.

Because of her platform on the sport’s biggest stage, Simone Manuel has opened up swimming to the African-American community on a level never before seen in the United States. Manuel cannot forget the many instances of parents approaching her to say that their son or daughter wanted to join swim lessons because they watched Manuel in the Olympics, and there were even instances of older people joining swim lessons because she had inspired them.

“I think it’s really cool that me swimming up the pool just a couple of times on TV can inspire people to get in the pool and learn how to swim or dream about things that they never thought they possibly could achieve,” she said.

Manuel grew up in a world where African-American swimmers were the exception, and above all else, that’s the change she wants to see in swimming.

“When I was 12 years old, I came home from swim practice, and I asked my mom why there weren’t many people that looked like me in the sport of swimming,” Manuel said. “We did some research, and we looked up African-American swimmers. Obviously, I knew of Cullen Jones and Maritza Correia, but I learned about Sabir Muhammad and Tanica Jamison and so many others who didn’t quite get the recognition that they deserved in the sport.”

Regarding the killing of George Floyd in late May that caused outrage around much of the United States, she wrote on social media:

“The words ‘freedom,’ ‘justice,’ and ‘equality’ are uttered by many, BUT do we really experience it? No! We have yet to experience it collectively as a nation, and we won’t until we all come together and fight for it … until we’re ‘all in this together.’

“If this makes you uncomfortable, check your privilege. Think of those who lack comfort EVERY SINGLE DAY.”

She told Sports Illustrated earlier this summer:

“I’ve gotten a lot of [direct messages] of support,” Manuel said. “But also DMs from people saying they don’t care what I think. There are people who want you to shut up and swim.”

“You can’t constantly be worried about who is mad at you,” her mother, Sharron Manuel, said to SI.

Nancy Hogshead (right) at the 1984 Olympics – Photo Courtesy – Swimming World Magazine

Nancy Hogshead-Makar, who won the 100 freestyle and two relays at the 1984 Olympics, as well as a silver in the 200 IM, has long addressed the need to end sexual abuse in sports and make it safer for young athletes. According to Sports Illustrated, Hogshead-Makar founded Champion Women, a nonprofit that provides legal support for women and girls in sports, in areas such as sexual harassment, abuse and assault.

For decades, Hogshead-Makar did not talk publicly about the traumatic events that occurred in the autumn of 1981 when she was 19.

While out jogging outside the campus of Duke University in North Carolina, she was raped by a stranger.

“I felt profoundly broken. I felt forsaken by God. I was scared all the time,” said Hogshead-Makar, who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder for months after the attack.

“I thought that I could overcome it by willing it away.”

She has dedicated her life to gender equality while fighting sexual abuse in sport. She says:

“I didn’t talk about it for 20 years because I would have started to cry; I wasn’t quite healed enough.”

Eventually, a friend and mentor, the human rights activist Richard Lapchick, suggested that talking publicly about her experience as a rape survivor could be a way to help others. she recalls:

“He said, ‘You really need to start talking about your own experience’. And he was right. It made me a better advocate. My hope is that other, older women with great lives will disclose this part of their story.”

Other women that made Sports Illustrated’s list of most unrelenting women in sports included:

  • Billie Jean King
  • Naomi Osaka
  • Maya Moore
  • Michele Roberts
  • Simone Biles
  • Megan Rapinoe
  • Doris Burke
  • Serena Williams

The full list can be seen here.