Dr. Jen Welter. Becky Hammon. Justine Siegal.
If you consider yourself an avid sports fan, these are three names you should know. Never heard of them? Google them, I’ll wait....
Great, now you’re caught up. In the span of less than a year, these three women have infiltrated three of the most powerful professional sports leagues in the world—the National Football League, the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball— each becoming the first female member of a coaching staff in their respective league.
In a time where women’s sports are looked at as “less than” or “more boring than” their male counterparts, these three women have proven they can do anything their male counterparts can do—and sometimes better.
Take Hammon for example—after serving as an assistant coach for the heralded San Antonio Spurs last season, the six-time WNBA All-Star was named the head coach of the Spurs’ summer league team. Not only did Hammon earn the loyalty and respect of the team, she coached them to a Summer League championship. With her victory, Hammon proved a male team coached by a woman could be not only successful, but the very best.
Welter and Siegal are pioneers in their sports as well. Welter—who previously played in women’s football leagues and served as a coach for a male professional indoor football team— was a preseason intern for the Arizona Cardinals. There, Welter worked with the squad’s linebackers and received public praise from other members of the coaching staff as well as the athletes.
Siegal had already become the first female to throw Major League Baseball batting practice in 2011. Last month, the Oakland Athletics asked her to serve as a guest coach for the team’s 2015 Instructional League.
Although their sports may be completely different, these three women share characteristics that extend beyond the game they play. They have each stepped up to the role they have earned and silenced the critics who would claim there is no place for women in men’s athletics.
For once, it seems the professional leagues have gotten it right. My challenge is to college institutions that are far behind in this regard. The collegiate level is a place where athletes and coaches alike hone their skills— oftentimes in order to work their way up to the “big leagues.” But in the case of female coaches, it seems many are not getting an equal chance.
Take Duke for example. The University currently fields teams in 26 varsity sports and employs 23 head coaches, with softball set to become the 27th sport in 2018. Of these 23, seven are female. None of the 13 male teams have female head coaches. If female coaches are skilled enough for professional athletes, why not collegians?
Don’t get me wrong, Duke should be praised for entrusting women like former rowing head coach Robyn Horner, current women’s lacrosse head coach Kerstin Kimel and new softball coach Marissa Young to build competitive programs from the ground up. But women are capable of leading and developing programs regardless of the gender in uniform.
The addition of softball in a time when many athletic programs are downsizing demonstrates the University’s dedication to athletics. I certainly am not trying to take away from the skills and achievements of the men who deserve the head coaching positions they possess, but I challenge Duke and other universities to break the mold. Title IX protects women while they are in the classroom and on the field, but what happens when they graduate?
Women like Becky Hammon, Jen Welter and Justine Siegal should not be anomalies.