The Revolution of Women and Sports

In the past month, the world of sports has seen a great change. But this is no ordinary shifting of free agency, players, and coaches. In early July, Carli Lloyd led the US Women’s National Soccer team to the first title in over a decade. Around that same time, ESPN bestowed it’s Arthur Ashe Courage Award to Caitlyn Jenner. Becky Hammon, former Women’s National Basketball League player, was named the head coach for the San Antonio Spur’s summer league team. Already, Hammon was an assistant coach for the team during regular season, but head coach Gregg Popovich, handed her the reins on the team. This officially makes her the first female to be employed to such a position.

Popovich came under fire due to accusations that the hiring of Hammon and the new position bestowed to her was nothing but a gimmick. However, after facing an injury, Hammon spent over a year at the Spur’s camp, training with them, giving her opinions, and sitting in on meetings. During this time, she was able to foster a great relationship with the team.

Popovich had this to say about these allegations:

“She’s got opinions and solid notions about basketball. Obviously, she was a great player. As a point guard, she’s a leader, she’s fiery, she’s got intelligence, and our guys just respected the heck out of her, so she’s coaching with us, she’s running drills. That’s why we made her a full-time coach and gave her the opportunity to coach at summer league.”

female sports
Photo via ESPN

Hammon recently cashed that check, coaching the Spurs to summer league victory in the championship, accomplishing another milestone. But she’s not the only woman making waves in the world of men’s sports.

Just a few days ago, the Arizona Cardinals announced the addition of Dr. Jen Welter, Ph.D, to their preseason coaching staff. Welter, a former collegiate rugby player, has also seen game time as a men’s and women’s professional football player. Now, she can add “First Female NFL Coach” to her already impressive resume. This isn’t the first gender barrier Welter has broken. She was the first woman to hold a non-kicking position when she played running back for the men’s indoor football team, the Texas Revolution.

women sports
Photo via Jen Welter

So what will Welter being doing with the team during training camp? She’s using her experience and expertise to work with the inside linebackers. Cardinal’s head coach, Bruce Arians, is confident about this move.”She came for an OTA and I met her, and I thought she was the type of person that could handle this in a very positive way for women and open that door” Arians says about the newest addition to his coaching staff.  “I really believe she’ll have a great opportunity with this internship through training camp to open some doors for her.”

So what does this mean for women in the world of sports? That the glass ceiling that kept women from holding coaching positions is being shattered by the efforts of Hammon, Welter, and those similar. They have proven that gender does not equate to someone’s ability to lead. If men aren’t even given a second look when they’re coaching a team of women, why should it be so outlandish that a woman lead a team of men?

This also provides a boost to sports – like basketball and soccer – that have women’s leagues that fall by the wayside. It puts a greater emphasis on the success of women in the all-encompassing world of sports, not just within their own league.

Yet, there’s always room to grow. Hammon says that she’s proud of her accomplishments, and she’s not done yet. She’s looking forward to the day people stop calling her a “female coach” and refer to her simply as “coach.”

“It’s always a fine line for me, because I don’t want to downplay the significance of it, because it is a big deal. But I also want it to be known that I was hired because I was qualified.”

When I was little, my dream was to be a baseball player. Derek Jeter was my idol, and I aspired to follow in his footsteps and play as a shortstop for the New York Yankees. I spent hours in my backyard replicating his swing, practicing his patented defensive skills. When I expressed that goal to people, I was met with responses of, “Girls can’t play baseball. Maybe you should take up softball,” and, “Aww, that’s cute. But what do you really want to be when you grow up?”. It is so discouraging as a child to hear that your dreams are not as valid as that of the twelve little boys on your team who put on the same uniform as you.

It’s time to stop patronizing women and little girls whose sports goals extend beyond the barrier that has been set for them. Whether that be a player or a coach, there is room at the top for those whose skills speak louder than their gender. Hammon and Welter are paving the way for women to make their marks on a territory of professional sports previously reserved for men.

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What do you think about the role of women as coaches in male dominated sports?

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