I can barely catch my breath as the incredible sports firsts for women keep rolling along. I was ecstatic with the US Women's soccer team's 2015 FIFA championship, (the game was the most watched soccer game ever in US TV History), and the first women's sports ticker tape parade in New York ever, in honor of their championship. What an incredible moment in history! Before I could sit still, more incredible woman firsts happened. In July, Becky Hammon, (the first woman ever hired as an NBA assistant coach) became the first female in history to serve as a head coach and win a NBA Summer League with the San Antonio Spurs. It's enough right?
Nope - Here comes Jennifer Welter, just hired by the Arizona Cardinals as a training camp pre-season intern coach and the first female coach in NFL history. She is joined by Sarah Thomas who made history in March as the first full-time female official (or referee) in the NFL. The final icing on the party cake came when Nancy Lieberman was hired by the Sacramento Kings as an assistant coach at the end of July. These are incredible moments in our quest for equality that we must savor and applaud. We can take time to be joyful about another huge fracture in the glass ceiling.
Not meaning to lessen the fabulousness of these incredible achievements, but I have to wonder why it took so long? When you look at the credentials of these women, the highest level of professional sports is where they belong. Part of the problem may be found in the way professional sports coaches are recruited. If coaches from collegiate sports are promoted to professional sport coaches and the majority of coaches for collegiate Basketball, Football, Baseball and Hockey are male, there won't be much, if any, opportunity for women to be hired.
Every one of these groundbreaking women came out of collegiate sports - Players and/or coaches.
Thirty-three years ago Title IX was created requiring parity for women's and men's programming and activities receiving Federal funding. A study by Dr. R. Vivian Acosta and Dr. Linda Jean Carpenter, JD looked at women in intercollegiate sports over 37 years from 1977 to 2014. http://www.acostacarpenter.org/ The study is extremely interesting. What the study found was when Title IX was passed, 90 percent of women's teams were coached by women; in 2014 that number was 43.4 %. They also noted that male collegiate sports directors tend to hire male coaches for men's and women's sports. This doesn't leave much room for women to advance through the collegiate coaching pipeline.
Given that the door to the professional coaching pipeline is barely open for women, these women have achieved so much more than their pioneering jobs. They have managed to really kick the door open for other women. It is no longer a "possibility" of women coaching men's professional sports; it is now a reality.
The initial excitement has almost worn off for women basketball coaching - and the recent win by the Spurs shows that it's business as usual, male or female. I am sure that there will be the usual negative chatter about how women don't belong in professional sports, but that argument is so outdated. The 2015 US women's soccer team euthanized that idea.
Some people will probably say that female coaches are a distraction and complain about how and why these women were hired. Here is what I say - these women are extremely well-qualified. They have to be - too many people will be waiting for them to fail. And here is my bet - they won't fail - at least not any more than any male coach. Each one is a great addition to the sport in which they are participating. What's happening is the fulfillment of the promise of Title IX sports equality.
Let's make sure that the money is there too!