With her powerful presence both on and off the court, Rebecca Lobo has transformed women’s basketball. In 1995, she led the UConn Women’s Basketball Team to its first-ever national championship, launching what has become a basketball dynasty. A scholar, an Olympic Gold Medalist, and now a respected sports broadcaster, Lobo has used her influence to promote health and wellness, with particular emphasis on breast cancer awareness.
Born in 1973 in Hartford, Conn., Lobo is the youngest of three children. Her father, Dennis Lobo, was a history teacher, and her mother, RuthAnn, was a school administrator and Title IX coordinator. Throughout Lobo’s childhood, her mother made sure she had every opportunity to pursue her passion for sports. When Rebecca was in third grade, for example, she signed up to play basketball through her hometown’s parks and recreation department. When notified that not enough girls had signed up for the team, RuthAnn Lobo simply informed the coach that that meant her daughter had to be allowed to play on the boys’ team instead. Rebecca did play—and outperformed her male teammates.
In high school, Lobo continued to excel in basketball and made the varsity team at Southwick-Tolland Regional High School in her freshman year. She scored 32 points in her very first game and continued to shine throughout her high school career. By the time she graduated as salutatorian in 1991, Lobo had become the top-scoring basketball player, male or female, in Massachusetts state history.
More than 100 colleges across the country tried to recruit her for their teams, but Lobo chose to attend the University of Connecticut because it was close to home and also because she wanted to play for head coach Geno Auriemma. Speaking of his efforts to bring Lobo to Storrs, Auriemma explained, “We were in a position at the time where we needed somebody like [Rebecca] to stand out…Nationally, everybody was aware of who Rebecca was, and to be able to get someone like that to come to the University of Connecticut…automatically put us in a different light.”
The 6’4” center did not disappoint. She quickly rose to the attention of Husky fans who nicknamed her “Lobo Cop” because of her dominance on the court. During her four years in Storrs, the popularity of women’s basketball grew exponentially with the team drawing record crowds. Rebecca Lobo continued to shine both on and off the court, twice being named Big East Player of the Year and Scholar-Athlete of the Year—the first Big East player ever to win both titles. But it was the success of her senior year that cemented Lobo as a UConn basketball legend.
In the 1994-1995 basketball season, Lobo led the Huskies to their first undefeated season, capping it off with the program’s first-ever national championship. She was named Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Championship, Associated Press Player of the Year, NCAA Woman of the Year, Naismith National Player of the Year, and the Women’s Sports Foundation Sportswoman of the Year. She also received the Wade Trophy for her leadership, the prestigious Honda-Broderick Cup presented to the athlete “most deserving of recognition as the Collegiate Woman Athlete of the Year,” and the ESPY Award. After graduating from UConn in 1995, Lobo joined the 1996 Olympic Basketball Team that won gold in Atlanta.
Immediately following the 1996 Olympics, Rebecca Lobo became one of three founding players of the WNBA, helping to inaugurate the first professional league for women’s basketball. She spent the next six years playing for the New York Liberty, the Houston Comets, the Springfield Spirit, and the Connecticut Sun—and helping to establish the WNBA as a mainstay of American sports. It was during her time in the WNBA that Lobo met her future husband, sportswriter Steve Rushin. The couple married in 2003, the same year that Rebecca retired from professional basketball to begin pursuing a career in sports broadcasting at ESPN.
Even as she garnered accolades on and off the court, Lobo dealt with personal tragedy. During Rebecca’s senior year of college, her mother RuthAnn was diagnosed with breast cancer. As they traveled together and spoke to the public, they discovered that many people were interested in hearing their story and that their journey could help inspire others. Deciding to give back to the community that had rallied around Rebecca, in 1996 they authored The Home Team and, in 2001, founded the RuthAnn & Rebecca Lobo Scholarship for Hispanic students in UConn’s School of Allied Health. RuthAnn passed away in 2011 and, two years later, Rebecca helped to found the RuthAnn Lobo Award in Social Work at the University of Connecticut, dedicated to honoring the important work of hospital-based social workers who assist cancer patients and their families.
Rebecca Lobo has served as a member of the UConn Board of Trustees since 2004 and was featured as the university’s commencement speaker in 2008. In 2010, she was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame—the first UConn player to be so honored—and, in 2015, was one of 25 included in the inaugural class of the Eastern College Athletic Conference Hall of Fame. Lobo currently lives in Granby, Conn., with her husband and four children and can be seen as a college basketball commentator on ESPN where she is known for her intelligent, insightful coverage of the sport she has helped to promote and define for more than two decades.
During This Time
1966 - Today: Struggle for Justice
Feminism in the late 1960s was aided by President Kennedy, who formed the President’s Commission on the Status of Women in 1961, and his successor, President Johnson, who backed passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibiting discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, or religion. Difficulties in implementing the law through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) led a group of women in 1966 to create the National Organization for Women (NOW), demanding “action to bring American women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now.”
A younger group called for a more radical approach to social change than simply considering what was possible to achieve politically. “Women’s liberation” demanded freedom without limitation. Some took part in consciousness-raising groups, others demonstrated against the Miss America pageant, and many discussed their expectations of mutual enjoyment of sex. They established rape crisis centers, domestic shelters, and women’s studies programs. Title IX of the federal Education Amendments Act also increased pressure on universities to hire more women faculty and expand the number of female college athletes. Activist protest among gays and lesbians, such as the Stonewall Riot, symbolized this group’s potential to resist oppression.
Under pressure, many states repealed legislation prohibiting abortion. In 1973, the Supreme Court legalized its availability to women in Roe v. Wade. Also in 1973, the Senate and the House of Representatives passed the ERA, and states began its ratification.
Yet, dissension arose in the ranks of the movement, as it had earlier after passage of the 19th amendment. Feminists disagreed as to whether pornography should be banned or protected as a form of free speech, and whether lesbian identities should be kept secret or disclosed. Black women were more concerned with poverty and welfare in their communities than with personal career advancement; for them, sterilization abuse was more important than abortion, and they were deeply insulted by attacks on the African American family as matriarchal and dysfunctional.
A backlash was growing in the 1970s, along with a New Right in politics. The ERA was defeated and opposition to abortion increased. Conflicts between pro-life and pro-choice candidates have impacted every presidential campaign since then.
Still, gains have been made in many areas. From 1960 to 2000, increasing numbers of women sought entry to higher education, and bachelor’s degrees awarded to them increased from forty to sixty percent. Definitions of marriage have changed, as when courts gave full rights and responsibilities and the name of marriage to same-sex civil unions in Connecticut in 2008. The Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings in 1991 highlighted concern about sexual harassment on the job, and the number of sexual harassment cases filed with the EEOC have increased, as have judgments in favor of the women. Finally, in 2009, women crossed the fifty percent threshold and became the majority of the American workforce. Once largely confined to repetitive manual jobs, now they are running organizations that once treated them as second-class citizens.
The Women’s Movement has changed women’s lives, influenced the economy, and made debate about their roles, family life, and sexual conventions central to national politics and American history.
Special thanks to Barbara E. Lacey, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of History, St. Joseph's College (Hartford, CT) for preparing these historical summaries.