Women impact the world of sports as more than just athletes, but they face turmoil
The battle for workforce equality is ongoing. With different industries come different trials and tribulations. In the realm of sports, the conversation is often focused on the issue of equal opportunity for athletes, but rarely on female administration in the organization.
The National Basketball Association (NBA) in some form, has been leading the way for female team members as more than just athletes.The championship-winning Toronto Raptors brought on Brittini Donaldson as an assistant coach just before the 2019 season, making her the 10th woman in NBA history to get such a job.
In 2014, the San Antonio Spurs hired Becky Hammon as the first full-time female assistant coach. The following summer, Hammon was promoted to head coach, becoming the first female head coach, but only for the duration of the summer league. The summer league is not part of the NBA’s regular season and essentially just a showcase for the team’s newest draftees. Hammon led the Spurs summer league team to a championship title, becoming the first-ever female coach to do that.
On Nov. 16, 2019, Spurs head coach Greg Popovich was ejected from a game against the Portland Trail Blazers. In his absence, the assistant coaches jumped into action. This included Hammon, her fellow four-year assistant coach Will Hardy, and newly hired assistant coach and former face of the franchise as a player, Tim Duncan.
After the game, when Popovich was asked who the head coach was while he was gone, he said: “Timmy was.”
When asked if he had considered that allowing Hammon to be head coach would have been a historic moment, he replied, “I’m not here to make history.”
Another famous case in the NBA of female management is Jeanie Buss. Buss is currently the controlling owner for arguably the most iconic basketball franchise, the Los Angeles Lakers. Buss didn’t necessarily climb her way up this ladder, however, as she acquired her share of the Lakers after her father, longtime team owner, Jerry Buss, died in 2013. She did go on to secure herself as controlling owner shortly thereafter.
Buss isn’t lacking in experience. She is a partial owner of the Women of Wrestling promotion, she owned the Los Angeles Blades hockey team before it folded and she was involved in other sporting operations, including the Los Angeles Strings, a tennis team from the early 1990s.
In a 1998 Sports Illustrated feature written about her, titled She’s Got Balls, Buss talked about being the general manager for the Strings at just 19 years old. She was quoted as saying “Basically, my dad bought me the team, it was a very empowering experience.”
Though Buss was credited for helping to bring basketball star Lebron James to the Lakers from his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, she was also heavily criticized when former Laker star Magic Johnson abruptly stepped down from the appointed position of president of basketball operations for the team.
Other major leagues across North America, such as the NFL and the NHL, are noticeably late to catch on to hiring female administration for teams.
Although 2015 saw the Arizona Cardinals hiring Jennifer Welter onto their coaching staff, she was only hired as an intern. The NFL’s first full-time female coach was Kathryn Smith, hired by the Buffalo Bills in 2016. She was the only woman to hold a full-time coaching position in the NFL until the San Francisco 49ers hired Katie Sowers in 2017.
The NHL is the last of the major sports leagues to catch on. Dawn Braid was hired by the Arizona Coyotes as a skating coach in August of 2019, making her the first female to hold a full-time coaching position in the NHL.
As the conversation shifts from women as athletes to women as coaches and administrators in sports, alleged biases, such as in the case of Hammon or Buss, are rather apparent. Either not enough credit is given, or too much is given, respectively.
Reasons for this bias aren’t exactly clear, with the supposed main idea boiling down to male athletes not wanting to be coached by female coaches that they believe may be inexperienced. But as womens’ participation in sports increases as athletes, perhaps the time to open more opportunities in coaching and administration is here as well.
In her 2016 research report, Women Are Missing in Sport Leadership, and it’s time that Changed, Johanna Adriaanse, a professor at the University of Technology Sydney, quantified the number of female chairs in international sports federations in 2016 at just seven per cent. She also highlighted that women are typically given these positions for sports that have relatively small viewership and participation rates compared to most major sports.
Adriaanse explained the greater issue with the help of the critical mass theory.
“When the size of a group reaches a certain threshold or critical mass, that group gains trust and influence,” she said.
Adriaanse added that not only is a lack of women in leadership positions unethical as a business practice but it also likely compromises performance for sports organizations, due to a lack of diverse perspectives.
Ultimately, a lack of women in sports management means a lack of opportunity for companies to connect with a broader audience and an inability to distil the often masculinely painted world of consumer sports. If companies are unable to reach a larger audience, that reduces the opportunity of market growth not only for mainstream sports but also for female athletes, and administration spots in those leagues.
It is already notably difficult for women to get hired, but not hiring women in sports administrations seems unethical, and to the genuine sports fan, it deprives them of the opportunity to enjoy and discover more sports, regardless of gender.