World's Greatest Female Athletes

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Shared March 24, 2017

There was a time when sports was considered a man's world—but that's ancient history now. Whether it's breaking records, influencing thinking, making money or striving past what were once thought to be the limits of human ability, these women represent the best in the game—whatever that game happens to be. Tennis ace Serena Williams is synonymous with winning, the NFL's Dawn Hudson has helped her league persevere through some of its darkest days, and Hannah Storm has set gold-medal standards for TV sports journalism. A handful of our selections in Adweek's inaugural 30 Most Powerful Women in Sports have been Adweek Brand Geniuses of years past. It's the first of hopefully many more years of showcasing the best of the best, as the playing field fills up with more success stories every year. Congratulations to this year's winners, who will be celebrated during the Clio Sports gala in New York on July 7.
Basketball is in Val Ackerman's blood. The commissioner of the revamped hoops-centric Big East since its inception in 2013, Ackerman was a four-year starter at Virginia and one-year pro in France. A lawyer, she joined the NBA and worked as special assistant to then-commissioner David Stern, who named her founding president of the WNBA where she served for eight seasons. She was the first female president of USA Basketball and has served as the U.S. representative for men's and women's hoops on the central board of the International Basketball Federation. Over the course of her career, she led NCAA research about the status of the women's game on the court and in business. Her bona fides make her a go-to interview for journalists on many topics, including whether college players should be paid. Her voice is even more in demand now—she sits atop a league with the defending men's national champions, the Villanova Wildcats.If it's a big-time sports event, chances are Andrews is going to be near the action. As one of the most recognizable faces in sports journalism, Andrews has been on the sidelines for college football bowl games, the Daytona 500, and multiple Super Bowls and World Series. What's more, she has accomplished something few others have. After leaving the comforts of ESPN, she has flourished, becoming one of the most visible personalities on Fox Sports and its ESPN-challenger Fox Sports 1, as well as part of the network's lead NFL broadcast team.While the team is technically owned by the late Dr. Jerry Buss' six kids via a family trust, make no mistake about it: Jeanie Buss is the NBA franchise's most powerful executive. As team president, Buss leads business operations and oversees the basketball side of things. It's also Jeanie, not the presumed successor (her brother Jimmy), who represents the team at the league's board of governors meetings. With Kobe Bryant retired and the once-proud franchise stuck in the unfamiliar position of ranking as the second-best team in L.A. (behind the Clippers), it will be Jeanie that gets the assist (and credit) if and when the Lakers return to prominence.The face of women's swimming in 2012, then 17-year-old Missy Franklin captured five Olympic medals, including four of the gilded variety. As part of her life plan, Franklin (who retained her amateur status for the London Games) subsequently swam at UC Berkeley for two years, before turning pro and concentrating on getting ready for Rio. Having inked endorsement deals with Speedo, United Airlines, Minute Maid, Visa, GoPro, Wheaties and Topps, Franklin can also be seen in promos on NBCU properties and at theaters where she is featured in Fandango's "I Love Movies: Rio Olympic Edition" content. She'll have her work cut out to retain golden-girl status in Brazil. Katie Ledecky's ascendance is threatening to unseat Franklin as the strongest U.S. distance swimmer at the advanced age of 21. As Olympic generations turn over with every quadrennial, it underscores Franklin's noble medal quest.
Coming off their 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup triumph in Canada, Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan are looking to give the U.S. a third consecutive gold medal in soccer this summer. Currently recovering from a knee injury sustained while playing for the National Women's Soccer League's Houston Dash, Lloyd netted the gold-medal winning goals in Beijing and London in 2008 and 2012, respectively. She took things up a notch last July when she scored a hat trick against Japan to give the U.S. its first World Cup since 1999—it not only earned her top tournament honors but also FIFA Women's Player of the Year. She currently has endorsement deals with Nike, Visa, Whole Foods and Heineken.
The daughter of a BBC commentator, Rebecca Lowe crossed the pond for the 2013-14 Premier League season after covering football for BBC, Setanta Sports and ESPN UK. Her enthusiastic, authoritative voice as the lead host of NBC Sports Group's expansive league coverage has provided an assist in the programmer's 134 percent jump in audience.