Star player to star coach
There seems to be a reoccurring theme in the popular North American sports leagues this year regarding gender. The highly publicised domestic violence issues of the NFL have acted as a catalyst for more complicated questions regarding the presence of women in male professional sports.
As Fox digital correspondent Katie Nolan states, “it’s time for women to have a seat at the big boy table, and not where their presence is a gimmick or a concept, just a person – who happens to have boobs – offering their opinion on the sports they love and the topics they know.”
If Nolan’s statement is any indication, the conversations regarding gender have been critical of the sports world for a lack of equality. If Nolan’s wish is to have women that are more credible in significant sports roles, however, she might think about swapping to the NBA where a credible woman is, in fact, sitting at the “big boy table” this season, offering her opinions on the sport she loves. This season, the San Antonio Spurs welcomed retired basketball player Rebecca (Becky) Hammon as their new full-time assistant coach.
Hammon accepted the position from coach Gregg Popovich late this summer and is not only acting as the first full-time female assistant coach in the NBA, but also the only full-time female assistant coach in all of the four major sports leagues (NHL, NFL, MLB). For Hammon, however, gender has never been one of the hurdles she needed to overcome.
That’s not to say she didn’t overcome major hurdles, though. The position Hammon sits in today is no accident. Hammon has spent her entire career levelling the playing field through passion, knowledge and hard work. Her short 5’6’’ build combined with her remote location in Rapid City, South Dakota made every goal seem out of reach.
Colorado State coach Kari Gallegos-Doering speaks about how overlooked she was saying, “Everybody’s sitting in that gym, and saw her do what she did and they missed on her…because of her color, because of her size, because yeah, she comes from South Dakota and she’s not a big name, not from a big AAU team. They missed on her.”
Hammon was not looked at by the Division I schools, was not drafted into the WNBA directly after college, and was not invited to try out for the U.S. Olympic Team. Hammon had to gain credibility as a player in her own right, consistently proving the doubters wrong and consistently putting up impressive stats. And she did. Hammon played 16 years in the WMBA and was named one of the top 15 players of all time in 2011.
Hammon’s new position as a female in the NBA is noteworthy (she did make history, after all), but let’s be careful not to do exactly what we are trying not to do and define her by gender. If gender equality in credible sports positions is the goal, we should not be focusing on Hammon’s additional chromosome. Instead, we should be highlighting and evaluating her ability as a coach.
To focus so much just on Hammon’s gender is unfair to Hammon. She is a qualified, experienced addition to the Spurs and will continue to find common ground though her basketball IQ and love of the game.