Women Who Will Change the Way Sports Are Played: Angela Ruggiero
Forty years after Title IX was passed, there are still ceilings to be broken, boundaries to be pushed and paths to be paved. espnW and ESPN The Magazine selected these game changers, women who will change the way sports are played:
The Activist: Angela Ruggiero
President-elect, Women’s Sports Foundation
In the dizzying days after she won gold at the 1998 Olympics, Angela Ruggiero plunked down $5 at a rink in St. Clair Shores, Mich., to play a little pickup hockey and was turned away — MEN ONLY. Ruggiero returned with an undercover news crew and wound up with a great story. Under the crush of bad publicity, the rink’s rules were changed to allow women.
“When something like that happens, you can’t sit by and say, ‘Well, that’s how it is,’” Ruggiero says. “If you have the power to get out and do something, why wouldn’t you?”
In her 32 years, Ruggiero has done plenty — cum laude degree from Harvard, four Olympic medals with the U.S. women’s ice hockey team, a book, a master’s degree and an eight-year term as an athlete representative to the International Olympic Committee. Next year, she will add president of the Women’s Sports Foundation to her list of accomplishments. Founded in 1974 by tennis legend Billie Jean King, the organization’s mission is to help women and girls through sports.
For Ruggiero, it’s the logical next job for an idealist who says she’s “never followed the money,” because the position doesn’t pay. “That’s OK,” says Ruggiero, who supports herself by doing summer hockey schools and camps and consulting for NBC Sports, “because having opportunities changed my life.”
Ruggiero grew up in Southern California, just about the last place you’d find a girl playing hockey in the 1980s but maybe the only place where her story could have happened. She was 7 years old. Her little brother’s hockey team was woefully shorthanded and begging for warm bodies to play, male or female. She accepted and would spend the next 24 years lugging a hockey bag around. She retired last December after surgery on her shoulder. She knew she could make a much bigger impact at the foundation, creating opportunities for girls and women in sports.
Thing is, she’s already been doing this for years. Around the same time she was exposing the wrongs of her local hockey rink, Ruggiero spoke to a group of elementary school children in Connecticut. When a 12-year-old superfan named Caitlin Cahow mustered the courage to say hi, Ruggiero told her to keep working and one day, maybe, they’d end up in the same jerseys. Eight years later, they were teammates in the 2006 Olympics.
“I have no idea what she can eventually be,” Cahow says. “I just know she’s going to help people. “The world hasn’t seen anything like Angela.”