Recently I learned about the Women’s Sports Foundation Annual Salute to Women in Sports, an event held in New York City in October which celebrated the extraordinary achievements of women athletes this year. As 2022 marks the 50th anniversary of Title IX, this year's WSF tribute must have been especially meaningful to those in attendance and all of us everywhere who reap the benefits of this landmark law.
"We didn't hire Becky to make history," Popovich said. "She earned it."
When Becky Hammon joined the San Antonio Spurs pro basketball team as an assistant coach in 2014—the first woman in NBA history to hold this position—Barack Obama congratulated her on Twitter. Then when the Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich was ejected from a game against the Los Angeles Lakers in December 2020, Hammon replaced him to become the first woman to act as head coach in a regular-season NBA game. Talk about change!
In the NFL, women are finally breaking through
In February of last year, there was an article in The New York Times entitled, “These Women Were N.F.L. ‘Firsts.’ They’re Eager for Company.” It discusses the many “firsts” in the NFL from team CEO (Amy Trask of the Oakland Raiders) to coaches (Maral Javadifar, an assistant strength and conditioning coach, and Lori Locust, a defensive-line assistant, both for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) to referee (Sarah Thomas who officiated the 2021 Super Bowl) to the front office (Callie Brownson, chief of staff for the Cleveland Browns).
In January of 2021, there was big news concerning the NFL’s Super Bowl. Sarah Thomas — the first woman to officiate a major college football game, the first to officiate a bowl game, the first to officiate in a Big Ten stadium, the first full-time female official in NFL history and the first to officiate an NFL playoff game — was named to the referee crew for the 2021 Super Bowl, having officiated NFL games since 2015.
Talk about a glass ceiling being smashed! This put a woman squarely in the arena of what has traditionally been a men-only sport.
In January of this year, my wife Andi Simon wrote a blog about a pioneering early entry in the women’s rights movement, Christine Grant, who took a leadership position during the early days of Title IX. In 1973, she became the athletic director of women’s sports at the University of Iowa, one of the first women in the country to hold this title. (In those days, there were two athletic directors: one for male athletes and one for female.)
In soccer. In football. In basketball. Now in ski patrols. More and more, women today are breaking barriers and smashing glass ceilings in fields that traditionally have been men-only, not just in sports but across all disciplines: business, politics, medicine, law, tech...the list goes on.
Are men changing as well as women?
Multiple news outlets, including the NY Times, published an announcement on July 7th, 2022 that the Las Vegas Raiders (sorry, I still think of them as the Oakland Raiders) hired Sandra Douglass Morgan as their President, the first African American woman to hold the role in N.F.L. history.
Why is this important for leadership?