Commentary: Women in Sports
Sarah Thomas being the first hired female NFL official is one small step in a very long road for women and sports.
While I can applaud the NFL in “finally” accepting that women can be officials after her initial trial run as a replacement official, there should already be more Sarah Thomases, more Violet Palmers in the NBA and more Bernice Geras in MLB.
Why hasn’t it been the case? The foundation of the glass ceiling of the major sports not only is preventing them from officiating, but also having their own professional leagues. Title IX is a mere tiny crack in that two-inch thick glass ceiling.
The NBA is the only one of the four major sports to have a dedicated women’s league it’s currently bankrolling. The WNBA’s been successful in its own right.
Why have MLB, NFL and NHL not have female versions of the leagues? Women make a great deal for fanbases across all the major sports, yet they’re regulated to Olympic and amateur leagues?
While people can argue that the WNBA is proof that female professional leagues aren’t as successful, you have to ask how long have they been around to prove it can work? How many generations did it take the men to make the quality product it is today? Does anyone think of the greater importance of social acceptance of having women being able to do the same things men can? The San Antonio Spurs have a former WNBA player already as a full-time assistant coach in Becky Hammon.
Before the WNBA came into existence, what did female college basketball athletes have as an option to further pursue their playing career to be a role model for other young girls and doing what they love to do?
When it comes to football, a relative handful of women have been playing youth, high school and college, generally on all-male teams. Beyond college, the former Lingerie Football League, now Legends Football League, is a 7-on-7 game played predominantly in the United States with a reach of eight additional countries participating around the globe. The current American league has six teams.
Problems with the LFL stem from the fact that like other NFL alternatives is lack of stable financing and sustainability. Over half the franchises in existence have folded including the Florida franchises like Jacksonville Breeze (formerly Tampa), Miami Caliente, and Orlando Fantasy.
The National Women’s Hockey League has two incarnations, one league ran from 1999-2007 which spanned up to 17 franchises primarily operating in Canada with one U.S. team and the other starting in 2015, unrelated to the other league, has four teams predominantly based in the northeast United States.
Alison Moran of Chicago Now had a few ideas on how to expand women’s professional hockey given the success of the U.S. Women’s Olympic Hockey team.
Baseball is truly perplexing to me. Women have been allowed play baseball as old as the game is itself. The most successful women’s baseball league was the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which most baseball fans are more familiar given the success of the 1992 film, “A League of Their Own.” Founded by Philip K. Wrigley, who had deep roots already in MLB with the Chicago Cubs, the league would run for 11 seasons and became popular due to the support of baseball executives keeping the game in the public eye having women play while the men were off to fight World War II. While the game started off as a hybrid of baseball and softball, the game gradually adopted more baseball regulations.
While softball remains popular today, I never quite understood why there hasn’t been more of an effort to get women to play in their own professional baseball league bankrolled by MLB. Talents like Mo’ne Davis shouldn’t just be confined to Little League and be regulated to a novelty. A professional league can nurture her talents and be a force and a further inspiration for female athletes everywhere.
If we’re truly to be equals, women should play be able to play within the same rules and regulations as the men. The established leagues have a social responsibility with their billions of dollars to nurture all their fans to embrace the game every which way possible. If parents can raise their boys to be future star athletes of the game, why not girls as well?
Does it bother anyone that Pat Summitt is the winningest coach in NCAA history? How about the fact that she is the first NCAA coach to achieve 1,000 victories? What about the popularity of female tennis compared to the men?
Women officials and coaches are common when it comes to female team sports, yet the leagues are barely accepting the idea of women getting involved more in the mainstream outside of cheerleading and journalism.
If anything, the participation of female journalists in sports prove that a woman can be passionate as any man is in sports. Women like Hannah Storm, Linda Cohn, Suzy Kobler, and Gayle Sierens (who was the first woman to do play-by-play for an NFL game) are pioneers in their field rather than novelties.
Having an equal society means anyone can do anything they want to do. If Ronda Rousey can put female MMA on her back and made UFC owner Dana White a believer, then anything’s possible.