For the first time ever, women outnumbered men on the U.S. Olympic team. Women earned more gold medals than men, especially in team sports. It was the seventh consecutive gold for the U.S. women’s basketball team and the first time since 1996 that the gold medal game aired on NBC in prime time. U.S. women’s water polo defended its gold medal, it was the first gold for women’s indoor volleyball and U.S. women’s beach volleyball returned to the top of the podium.

Dr. Ketra Armstrong, professor of sport management and director of the Center for Race and Ethnicity in Sport at the University of Michigan, said these women’s teams shattered traditional gender ideology that has permeated what sports women are expected to participate and excel in.

“Sports like basketball, soccer and softball require different types of skills that people didn’t traditionally associate with femininity,” said Armstrong. “What we’ve seen over the years is a change in the gender ideology associated with sports.

“More and more, we’re seeing gender empowerment in team sports,” she added. “We’re seeing a different perspective of which sports it’s OK for women to participate in. Women are saying, ‘We can do it all!’

“There’s a sisterhood and bond where they realize they’re part of something larger than them, but they know that what they’re doing benefits them all. … The sisterhood has been emboldened.”

U.S. women dazzled in track and field, winning gold in the 400-meter hurdles, 800 meters, 4×400 relay and the pole vault. Athletes like Ashleigh Johnson, goalie for the U.S. women’s water polo team, wrestler Tamyra Mensah-Stock and Foluke Gunderson in volleyball also showed that Black women can excel in predominantly white sports.

U.S. women also claimed gold in 3×3 basketball. The head coaches of both basketball teams are Black women. Armstrong said representation matters.

“It matters; I cannot say that enough,” said Armstrong. “It disturbs me that people want to see race in a deficit view when they want to, but they don’t see race and celebrate it when they need to. To look at these Black women and say, ‘They’re just winners,’ and not see their Blackness is doing them a great disservice.

“For so long we’ve been celebrating the strength and the talent of Black women as producers of this game that we love,” she continued. “Now we can celebrate Black women as the leaders of this enterprise. We’re seeing Black excellence when given a chance. All the little girls who have aspirations to be coaches, seeing Dawn Staley and Kara Lawson gives them hope.”