Becky Hammon, Nancy Lieberman, Kathryn Smith and now, Katie Sowers have made their names known in a world dominated by men. These women have accomplished many “firsts” for women in leadership in professional sports, but for some, getting firsts isn’t enough anymore.
Lieberman was the first head coach in American professional basketball as she coached the NBA D-League Texas Defenders in 2009 and later became the second female assistant coach in the NBA in 2015. The first female assistant hired in the NBA was Becky Hammon, who was hired by the San Antonio Spurs in 2014. Smith was the first full-time assistant hired by the NFL four years ago and Sowers most recently made history as the first female NFL coach to make it to the Super Bowl.
Lisa Faulkner, the PLNU head women’s basketball coach, said, “Somebody’s got to be the first, but can we now start to see the equality behind it?” She said there needs to be a shift toward who is most qualified rather than focusing on gender.
Muffet McGraw, the Notre Dame head women’s basketball coach since 1987, voiced her thoughts on women in power and as leaders when speaking at a conference at last year’s Women’s Final Four.
“I’m getting tired of the novelty of the first female governor of this state, the first female African-American mayor of this city,” she said. “When is it going to become the norm instead of the exception?”
The number of women in roles of leadership is growing in the sports industry, but according to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), in 2016, women coaches only make up 40% of coaches for women’s teams―not including the lack of women coaches among men’s teams.
Title IX, according to the Education Amendments of 1972, states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
Faulkner said Title IX opened up the doors for women to participate in athletics, but it’s time to move into higher roles of leadership.
In reference to McGraw’s Final Four speech, Faulkner said people tend to hire people who look like them, so in an industry made up of mostly white males, others are hiring coaches who are also white males. For Faulkner, it should not be a matter of male or female but qualification for the job.
A sport is a sport, according to Faulkner. Men and women coaches offer different personality nuances to their players, but can also differ from player to player. Faulkner said coaches should be hired based on who has played and been around the sport, and who is willing to sacrifice to achieve the goals they set for their team. None of this has to be dependent on gender.
McGraw discussed how men have the power in the world, and the young women growing up in it are made to believe this is how society should be. She calls on women to be the role models to these young women and show it doesn’t have to be this way.
“And where better to do that than sports?” said McGraw.
But it isn’t just about women coaching, but women joining men to make the athletic industry stronger. Faulkner said her two male assistant coaches, JB Burden and Jesse Clark, bring a dynamic to their team that allows her to bring different parts of her personality into the mix.
Katie Sowers joined the San Francisco 49ers as an offensive assistant in 2017 alongside head coach Kyle Shananhan. She and the other 49ers coaches guided their team’s way to the 2020 Super Bowl against the Kansas City Chiefs, and each coach was instrumental to the team’s success.
San Francisco may have lost 31-20 on Feb. 2, but it was a win for female coaches in the world of professional sports.
Another first for female coaches will come as baseball season begins this spring. The San Francisco Giants hired the first female assistant coach in the MLB, Alyssa Nakken—another important step for women in the world of sports.
Written By: Abby Williams