Women are employed to coach men’s major sports at an alarmingly low rate. In a piece for SB Nation entitled “The Glass Sideline,” reporter Tim Struby notes that of the roughly 2,600 coaching positions in the NBA, NFL, NHL, MLS and MLB, a total of six are filled by women. That’s a whopping .23 percent.
The article details the many barriers women have to overcome to get the same opportunities as men, including experience, “the cred factor,” respect, and the more blatant forms of sexism.
Currently, five of the six active female coaches in men’s major sports work in the NBA or G-League. They include Spurs assistant Becky Hammon, Mavericks player development coach Jenny Boucek, Clippers assistant Natalie Nakase, Wizards assistant Kristi Toliver and Greensboro Swarm assistant Chastity Melvin. And while it may sound like men’s basketball is exceedingly progressive, that might not be the case.
The piece spotlighted two especially striking quotes from an anonymous source within the league:
“You can’t have a hot woman in the NBA,” one veteran NBA coach told Struby. “Guys will be trying to fuck her every day.”
“By and large the NBA is an incredibly sexist environment,” said the same NBA coach. “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.”
Hammon became the first woman to interview for an NBA head coaching job with the Bucks in May. It was a huge step forward for the league even if she didn’t ultimately get the position.
In the same piece, the former WNBA All-Star detailed how she worked her way into her current role in San Antonio.
“I know what it’s like to play a back-to-back, what it’s like to be tired and not want to come to work today,” Hammon told Struby. “I can relate to injuries, sitting on the bench or being an all-star and the captain. I can relate to it all because I’ve been in every situation.”
She also described how Popovich scouted her:
“This wasn’t just, ‘Hey we should do this,’” explained Hammon. “Long before Pop hired me he was watching me. He had his way and the Spurs way of doing his proper homework, researching, and asking people who knew me, ‘Would this work?’ That’s why he brought me in a year before he hired me. He wanted to see how the guys respond, how we interact.”
But the the Hammon-Popovich relationship is one of a sparse few in the world of men’s sports. Even if, at six female coaches out of 10 in history, this can be considered a type of “renaissance.”