Three women smashing sports’ glass ceiling are no wilting lilies.
Through hard work, relentless belief in themselves and a conviction that the world can indeed change, they have thrust themselves into the world of male hegemony that is professional sports.
With Becky Hammon’s recent hiring as an assistant coach for the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs, Sarah Thomas drafted to become the first-ever female game official in the NFL and Jen Welter recruited to coach linebackers for the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals, these three women are breaking traditional gender roles in sports. Prior to earning these positions, each also exceled at other chosen paths in athletics.
Hammon was a point guard for 15 years in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), Thomas is a veteran college football official, and Welter played linebacker for the Dallas Diamonds — a Women’s Football Alliance team — for 10 years. She also played running back in the indoor Arena Football League for a team in Texas.
Hammon is the first woman to ever become a full-time coach in the NBA. And though Welter will only be with the Cardinals in training camp and through the preseason, she is almost certainly the first woman to ever hold a coaching position of any kind in the NFL.
These two leagues — especially the NFL because of its white-male makeup in front offices, ownership and in head-coaching spots — are not known as very diverse or bastions of progressivism. The league’s employees are diverse because players are either good enough or not to get on the field, but even the NBA, which has people of color at important management positions, has just one majority owner who is black.
Since men have long coached women’s sports, why has it taken so long for the reverse to happen?
Luigi “Geno” Auriemma is the dynastically successful coach of the women’s basketball team at the University of Connecticut and former NBA player Bill Laimbeer won three WNBA titles as the coach of the Detroit Shock. But for some reason — unequal opportunity, boys’ club chauvinism and outright sexism — there are very few examples of women coaching male teams.
Maybe these recent steps will eventually lead to some watershed moments, but until then we can only hope that society continues to progress in the way in which we see certain jobs aren’t appropriate for women.
Hammon is sure to be successful while assisting five-time NBA title winner and coaching luminary Gregg Popovich. After a few seasons learning from a master on the bench, she will be ready for her own head-coaching job. And that will not only be a first, it will really make sports history.
Noah Zuss is a reporter for TheBlot Magazine.