For much of our lifetimes, women had little to no role in men’s pro sports. It was a male-dominated industry, and to get into coaching or broadcasting as a woman was pretty much impossible. But over the last decade especially, the doors have opened – and every year open a little wider.
We are now reaching a point when you are checking the schedule or going to bet a game at vegasbetting.com, you may know at least one woman is involved in the upcoming game in some capacity. Below are the many ways women have a growing role in North American men’s pro sports.
“Becky Hammon” by Eric Gay, STF/AP is licensed under CC BY 3.0
Women in Coaching and Management Roles
It was early in the 2020-21 NBA season, but San Antonio Spurs head coach Greg Popovich was already frustrated enough with the officiating to warrant two technical fouls and an ejection from the game. With Popovich in the locker room for the remainder of the game, someone on the Spurs sideline needed to take over head coaching duties. Stepping into that role – Becky Hammon.
Hammon filled in excellently, coaching the outmatched Spurs against the reigning champions. Despite the game ending in a loss, Hammon received rave reviews from Popovich and other coaches while also making history as the first woman to head coach one of the teams from the four major North American sports leagues.
Hammon is not the only woman making a name for herself in the big four. Katie Sowers was a member of the San Francisco 49ers coaching staff in 2019, helping the team reach the Super Bowl and becoming the first female coach to coach in one.
When looking at management roles – Hayley Wickenheiser is a name that quickly comes to mind. After one of the most successful hockey careers for any player – Hayley Wickenheiser took an interest in development and management, and Toronto Maple Leafs took an interest in her. A few months after serving as an honorary guest coach for the Maples Leafs, the team hired her as the Assistant Director of Player Development – an important role for arguably the NHL’s biggest and most important market.
The Rise of Women in Commentating
If you grew up watching sports, all you ever heard was the voices of mid-Western commentators and former players – all of whom were men. But over the last decades – especially the last few years, sports of all sorts have diversified their commentating teams. And the results have been great!
Just take the 2021 Masters as an example. Bill Simmons – a well-known sports personality – raved about Dottie Pepper, exclaiming she won the broadcast over the field of veterans she was joined by, including Jim Nantz. But her performance at the Masters is not the most significant thing to happen this year.
TSN (the Canadian equivalent of ESPN) became the first network in North America to run an all-female broadcast (commentators, analysts, and producers) doing so during the 2020-21 NBA during a Toronto Raptors game against the Denver Nuggets.
While it remains a male-dominated industry, it is moving in the right direction, and we only expect more women to be involved in commentating on the biggest sporting events in the coming years.
“Hayley Wickenheiser” by Getty is licensed under CC BY 3.0
In Other Areas of the Sports
One area where women are gaining a more prominent role is refereeing. Both the NBA and NFL consistently have female referees during games. The NBA especially seems where the referees are having the greatest success – with players and refs enjoying some silly banter after fouls (like they have in the past with the best male referees). The Canadian Football League plans to be the first league to have a Black female referee (assuming their 2021 season is actually happening).
There are some women in ownership – but most would consider that much different from having involvement in coach, broadcasting, or refereeing as most of it is based on who inherits the team or takes over after someone passes away.
Overall, it is baby steps in the right direction – and until someone becomes a head coach or a network’s top commentator, there is still growth to strive for.