An in-depth investigative report from SB Nation’s Tim Struby on female coaches in American pro sports entitled, “The Glass Sideline,” uncovered some alarming (if not expected) facts and findings.
Unsurprisingly, five of the six women currently filling the estimated 2,600 coaching positions in professional basketball, football, baseball, hockey and soccer are employed by the NBA or its G League, which is still a minuscule percentage in a sport that is played by women at every level.
What’s more, according to one veteran NBA coach who spoke with Struby:
“By and large the NBA is an incredibly sexist environment. I listen to players talk about women. I have a daughter and it’s sometimes disturbing. But it’s nothing new. It hasn’t gotten worse over the years. In our society there are men uncomfortable working under women and a handful of our players would have a problem with it.”
The hiring of women in the NBA has been met with little to no public resistance from players. Quite the opposite in San Antonio, where Gregg Popovich has fostered an environment where Becky Hammon has risen from the first full-time female assistant coach in major American professional sports to the first woman ever to interview for an NBA head coaching position in a span of four years.
As Spurs big man and future Hall of Famer Pau Gasol wrote in a Players’ Tribune essay over the summer, “Arguing on Coach Hammon’s behalf would feel patronizing. To me, it would be strange if NBA teams were not interested in her as a head coach.” Public arguments to the contrary have come not from athletes but media members, most notably WFAN’s Mike Francesa (“It’s not even something that would make sense to aspire to“) and ESPN’s Amin Elhassan (who does not equate the fundamental knowledge of NBA and WNBA players when it comes to his pre-qualifications for NBA coaching gigs.)
So, it is disappointing to hear that what the Spurs are touting may not be true everywhere in the NBA, and may not be on most teams. (And, to be fair, may not even be true for everyone in San Antonio.) It is disappointing, but perhaps not startling, since the past year has taught us there are vast chasms that must be bridged to establish equality in any workplace environment, especially one where more than 99 percent of employees are male and machismo is practically a prerequisite for the job.
The sexual harassment scandal within the Dallas Mavericks is a prime example of how far even the most progressive of professional sports leagues has to go with regard to gender equality. To their credit, the NBA included an increase in the number of women on staff and in leadership positions among its recommendations for the Mavericks following an investigation into workplace misconduct. That recommendation was extended to all 30 teams in a strongly worded memo in September.
There is little doubt the NBA has been a leader among sports leagues in the slow-developing march towards gender equality. In addition to the five aforementioned female coaches, there are two high-ranking women in the NBA’s basketball operations department — Kim Bohuny and Michelle Johnson, the senior vice presidents of international basketball and referee ops — 13 women in front-office roles for various teams and 20 former WNBA with roles in the NBA. Smart percentages still, but a start.
Most alarming, however, is that even the anonymous veteran NBA coach and father who is concerned about the league’s “incredibly sexist environment” was wildly misogynistic in his remarks to Struby:
“You can’t have a hot woman in the NBA,” the coach told SB Nation under the guise of anonymity. “Guys will be trying to f— her every day.”
That is wrong on so many levels, most notably that this coach is suggesting female coaches should be evaluated on their outward performance, and should be blackballed from the NBA because men cannot contain themselves and are incapable of handling a situation in which their male coworkers are attracted to them. All of that is more offensive than the suggestion (and perhaps partial truth) that male athletes might not actually be capable of acting in a professional manner toward women.
If this is the NBA’s whistleblower, imagine how much worse the commentary must be from those who this coach believes to be sexist. Then, you might have the same fraction of an idea about the uphill battle that female coaches face, especially when compared to the minuscule number of them in professional sports currently.
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