Tag Archives: NBA

Why a Woman Coach in the NBA Matters

Becky Hammon, Assistant Coach San Antonio Spurs
Becky Hammon, Assistant Coach San Antonio Spurs

This summer an NBA team was in the news… for hiring a woman to the coaching staff.

During the first week of August 2014, the San Antonio Spurs made history when they hired 16-year WNBA San Antonio Stars veteran Becky Hammon as a full-time assistant coach for the 2014-15 season.

While there are women coaches of men, the Hammon hire matters for a number of reasons:

1.The percent of women coaches at every level of competition has declined since the passage of Title IX in 1972…despite a record number of female sport participants. Based on the data, 20% of all college athletes–male and female–are coached by women and 43.4% of females have a woman head coach. If women are not seen in a position of power or a certain career, it is less likely other females will view that job as a viable and realistic career pathway. Seeing Hammon on the Spurs sideline matters because it communicates that women can (and do!) coach men at the highest level. It communicates a career possibility, and a lucrative one at that.

2. The best team in the NBA, the 2014 Champions San Antonio Spurs and the best coach in the NBA, 2014 NBA Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich, hired a woman coach. What winners do in the most visible and popular sports matters, because winning is valued in sport culture and society. Winners get to communicate what is valued, important and relevant. Popovich’s confidence in Hammon will help quell the gurgle of naysayers who believe women can’t coach men or help “mold boys into successful men” (as was stated by a current male head college coach in a Slate.com piece). If you believe this statement, then by the same logic, men should not coach females because they have no place in molding girls into women. Therefore, all athletes should be coached by the same sex. Obviously this is false logic as we know many male coaches help their female athletes grow and develop personally and athletically, and women coaches provide the same guidance, mentoring and coaching for males. Women can coach males at any level, but are rarely given the opportunity to do so.

Scholars argue the lack of opportunity for women to coach males at the highest level is about preserving and maintaining power. If women are given the opportunity to coach men in pro sports or D-I high-profile college mens’ teams, and succeed, who benefits and who doesn’t? If women are denied the opportunity to coach males–who benefits and who doesn’t?  If women are revealed as competent coaches in a domain historically and currently dominated by males–coaching males, and recently coaching all athletes–then the existing order of power may shift, and this makes some men who benefit from that power and privilege uneasy. All athletes can benefit from a gender-balanced and diverse work force–meaning they are coached by both men and women.

3. Hammon was hired because she is qualified and competent. It wasn’t a publicity stunt. Spurs head coach, Gregg Popovich stated in a release that Hammon will be an asset to his championship team. Competence matters and Popovich believes that Hammon’s knowledge and experience as a long-time veteran player and Spurs insider, will provide value to him, the coaching staff and the players. In her NBA press conference Hammon claimed she was hired because of her background, personal skills, capabilities and basketball IQ. She owned her competence.

Kudos to Becky Hammon, a coaching pioneer, as her presence at the highest level of a major men’s sport will hopefully start a national dialogue about why women coaches matter.

Related to the issue of women coaches of male athletes…

In July 2014 Doc Rivers, head coach of the NBA Los Angeles Clippers, asked Natalie Nakase to be an assistant coach for the team’s short summer league and announced she will return as the Clipper’s assistant video coordinator, a position she held last season. Nakase made her debut coaching males when she became the first female head coach in Japanese men’s professional basketball. Nakase’s goal is to be a head coach in the NBA.

In the MLB, Kim Ng is motivated, competent, experienced and poised to become a general manager. She is currently working with Joe Torre again in the MLB executive offices as Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations.

In professional men’s tennis, early in the summer of 2014 Amelie Mauresmo (2-time Grand Slam women’s tennis champion) was signed by ATP Top 10 player Andy Murray, which is in the works to become a long term arrangement.

There are other women like Hammon, Nakase, Ng and Mauresmo who want to and are competent to coach men and I hope 2014 will be the start of a trend…that competent and eager women will be considered, given a real opportunity, and hired for coaching positions, regardless of the sex of the athlete or level of competition.

To learn more about the Alliance of Women Coaches, a group dedicated to growing the number of women in the coaching profession click here.

Comparisons between male and female athletes

While talking with a reporter today about WNBA Champions the Minnesota Lynx, I had a realization…it most likely isn’t new, but I’d never thought about selective comparisons between male and female athletes in quite this way before.

Comparisons between male and female athletes in the same sport and in general are commonplace. Today I realized that most comparisons are used to marginalize female athletes, while sustaining and promoting male athletes as the normative best.

When people want to trivialize or put down female basketball players or the WNBA for instance, the comparison goes something like this…. “Women’s basketball is boring. They don’t play above the rim, jump as high, or dunk like the men. No woman could ever play in the NBA.”

The reporter said she had written a piece which suggested that WNBA players are great athletes but more sportsmanlike, team oriented, and accessible than NBA players, which makes them appealing to watch….and she got a lot of push back and negative feedback to the effect of  “Why do you always have to compare the leagues and players?”

This got me thinking that some people use comparisons selectively to promote men’s sport and relegate women’s sport. When comparisons are used to highlight to the good or better elements of women’s sport or female athletes compared to their male counterparts, backlash usually ensues. Why? Because the upsides might make people realize that perhaps the better value and product lies in consuming women’s, not men’s, sport.

The similarity lies in the fact females are great athletes!

The difference lies in many factors, some of which I mentioned above.

Both similarities and differences can be used effectively to promote and sustain interest in and for women’s sport.

After the espnW Summit I’ve been thinking about how “we” need to reclaim some of what was lost when the AIAW was taken over by the NCAA in the early ’80’s, as well as take what is working in the current business model of sport (the traditional male model) to help promote and achieve sustainability for women’s sport. Women’s sport doesn’t have to follow or emulate what men’s college and professional sport teams are doing (i.e., conference realignments, rule violations, player strikes and lockouts, egregious behaviors, entitlement, arms race…and so on).

With the 40th anniversary of Title IX upon us soon, it is a great time to reflect on where we are, where we need to go, and how to get there.

The NBA’s First (and only) Female Scout

Bonnie Jill Laflin

Okay…here you go readers….

A graduate student sent me breaking news this morning (thanks EH!) about a picture and article of the first and only female NBA scout. She is pictured here in a PETA ad.

I’m not 100% certain, but I’m guessing PETA has not featured any naked male NBA scouts.

I have many questions….Why would Ms. Laflin choose to let herself be portrayed like this?  What is her motivation to pose or be featured in this particular way? Why be naked? Can she get her message across with more clothes on? Why do we really need a sexualized image of a female to encourage people to become a vegetarian? Do we need to objectify women to recruit vegetarians? This is definitely an example of how sex can “sell” just about ANYTHING!!!….or at least we perceive it does. The double meanings behind the text and image are rich.

Other questions to consider. Does being featured like this as the ONLY female scout for the NBA pave the way for future female scouts to be perceived as knowledgeable and legitimate? Did Laflin think about how this picture might undermine her credibility as an NBA scout? Will this encourage little girls to want to go into professional sport scouting as a career? So many questions….

The NBA.com Dance Bracket?

When a student (nice find EH!) sent me this blog post “She Got Game Too: Is the NBA Dance Bracket’s Time Up?” by Sarah Tolcser (@ticktock6).  At first glance I thought the blog was about  “The Dance”…like as in, NCAA March Madness. I was mistaken.

This blog post is about the NBA.com Dance Bracket 2010, which I had no idea even existed…did you? If you click on a Dance Team logo, for example the Luvabulls (yes…roll eyes at the name) you will see pictures of the dancers so that you can appropriately vote. I couldn’t find any criteria for what I’m supposed to be voting for, so I’m guessing it is a vote for the best dancers?

Tolcser makes some GREAT points about the NBA’s confusion about how to market to female fans. She writes, “The answer is not more pink jerseys. Things like, as a member of a growing class of unmarried women ages 25-44,”family friendly” promotions and cute distractions on court during the game entice me no more than they entice male fans. Things like, some of the advertising spots from your own sponsors have sexist overtones that make me uncomfortable. Things like, when I go to your official website and see scantily-clad girls on the front page, I can’t help feeling that the NBA is not meant to be “for me.” WELL SAID!

Females comprise a growing, and predominately untapped, market of sport fans. In a previous blog about female sport fans, I summarized the statistics about the percentage of women that attend professional sport events.

I’m joining Tolcser (@ticktock6) in challenging the NBA and other professional sports to ask their female fans–what can we do for you?!  Who’s in?

3/25/10 addition: Tolscer just added another great blog on the “Body Shot” contest the Memphis Grizzlies are currently running pertaining to their dancers The Grizz Girls and their “preparation” for the NBA.com Dance Bracket. It just keeps getting better…it certainly is MARCH MADNESS!!

Things That Make You Go Hmmmm…More on Social Media & Women's Sport

Following the  Tucker Center lecture and new blog about the impact of social media and women’s sport, it didn’t take too long for me to be in the middle of a real life example. Life works in ironic ways sometimes, doesn’t it? This example is meant to continue the conversation about this emerging and important topic.

9uwom0322w.lOn Tuesday I was at my computer and looked over the TweetDeck and saw that WNBA player Janel McCarville was live on her UStream channel JMACTV. I’d heard about Candace Parker using UStream but hadn’t checked it out yet, so clicked on the link and….ta dah!…there was Janel. As a Minnesotan, two-time Gopher Alum and now Gopher faculty, huge fan of women’s basketball, and advocate/scholar of women’s sport, I’ve been a long time fan of Janel McCarville (no hate Janel, only love!). Who can forget the Whalen/McCarville dynasty in The Barn!

Janel !I thought, “This is really cool… instant access to an elite female athlete“, as I watched her looking at and responding to the comments and questions from the 60+ fans watching her. I shouted through my office door to my two graduate students to “check this out”. Then I took a harder look and wrinkled my brow, “Is she in the bathroom?” I asked them, “and is she really cutting her own hair?” (see screen shot)  Somehow I was a bit disturbed by this. I immediately wasn’t so sure this was cool anymore—or good for women’s sports. So given this subject has been top of mind, I tweeted about it—twice (see screen shot below).mccarville tweets

I continued to watch for about 10mns, and then shut down for the day. I continued to think about it over the next day or so.  In the course of “doing my warm up activities” for the day (aka surfing), I looked at my @ replies on Twitter and saw that my tweets had incited quite a bit of outrage, and a direct response from Janel herself! (see screen shot right, it will enlarge if you click on it).mccarville tweet responses The tone of the responses was “lighten up, this is just silly and fun and everyone but YOU thinks this is great”. Fair enough. I responded to Janel via Twitter:  “@JanelMcCarville No anger, just continuing conversation re: women’s sport & social media, both pro/con. See http://bit.ly/352s8T“. But I felt badly for criticizing her and it bothered me.

I learned a few valuable lessons which may be instructive as we all move forward and think about how to use social media effectively to positively promote women’s sports.

First, if social media is truly a two-way conversation, then I should of phrased my tweet “What is your opinion about @JanelMcCarville’s UStream videocast?”

Second, attacking people on Twitter is just in poor taste and not classy. My apologies Janel. This has played out for KC Chiefs NFL player Larry Johnson this week, as he is paying the price literally and in the media and  for using a homophobic slur. It will continue to occur with increased frequency as social media becomes part of the way we communicate.

Third, shortly thereafter I read a great piece by Q McCall of www.swishappeal.com on Feministing.com titled,  Is there a “feminist responsibility” to support women’s sports? It put into context some of the guilt I felt. Why was I attacking a female athlete?  I’m supposed to support women’s sport. But on the other hand, as a feminist, scholar, and advocate of women’s sport  I often feel I have the responsibility to wave the red flag and point out when I see something that may not be a “good thing”.  Perhaps my role is to raise the issue, provide an alternative viewpoint, and promote respectful discussion.

It also got me thinking about where female athletes and women’s sport might be headed in terms of social media. If everyone  “loves it” (all 66 viewers)—is this our new model of promoting women’s sport? Is that what fans really want to see? Is this how fans want to interact with athletes? Where is the line between “good access” and access that, to borrow from C + C Music Factory,  “Makes You go Hmmmm”? As was pointed out to me,  Ron Artest of the LA Lakers, got his hair cut that same day…which garnered media attention. But if the men do it, should the women follow? Should we always be trying to emulate our male counterparts? (I’m not suggesting that is why Janel chose to UStream, she’d have to tell us the inspiration). Is it possible male athletes use social media differently because of disparate patterns of traditional media coverage? What are the similar and different ways elite male and female athletes use social media? How can female athletes take control and use social media in positive ways to combat sexism, inequalities, and disparities that are well documented in sport contexts? Is this a responsibility they should bear? In conclusion, I highlight Janel not to criticize or judge, but to provide an exemplar real-life issue to promote discussion about social media and women’s sports.

I don’t have the answer, only a lot of questions. What do you think?

FINALLY! A Worthy Comparison

wnbaOn the eve of the final WNBA playoff game, I just watched a fantastic video made by a WNBA Intern, that I saw due to a Tweet by Minnesota Lynx player Candice Wiggins (@candicwiggins). In the video, clips featuring similar plays from the NBA and WNBA are shown back-to-back or simultaneously.  What this sets up is that WNBA players are as athletic as, and do exactly the same exciting plays as their NBA counterparts. Female athletes are depicted in action, on the court, in uniform doing what they do best (in contrast to passive, off the court, and NOT in *cough* uniform Serena Williams). Brilliant! Usually when female athletes are compared to male athletes, the male version of the game is constructed as “better than”, more exciting, or the real version. Not in this video!

Advice to the WNBA: HIRE THIS INTERN. Whomever you are Intern, NICE WORK! This is exactly the kind of marketing and fresh thinking the WNBA needs to sustain the league.

Update: I’ve been advised that credit may be due to more than one intern. In that case, hire them all!

A Sign of Things to Come?: Recent Departures in Women's Basketball

I’ve read about three recent occurrences that have me thinking. While two may be related, all three may be a sign of things to come. departuresI’m talking about the recent departures of two male WNBA Head Coaches “to pursue possibilities in the NBA” and the second-ever early departure of Rutger’s Epiphanny Prince to “play basketball professionally in Europe before entering the 2010 W.N.B.A. draft” (Schuye LaRue was the first-ever woman to leave early from Virginia after her sophomore year in 2001 to go play abroad before getting drafted in the second round by the Los Angeles Sparks in 2003…thanks @hoopfeed!)

Successful Bill Laimbeer left the Detroit Shock after three games, and the not so successful Don Zierden left the Minnesota Lynx three days before their home opener to return to coaching in the NBA. While WNBA league officials and the departing coaches were assuring fans their departures were not a sign of trouble for the league, I’m not so convinced. I hope I’m wrong. What it does signal is that despite your success as a male coach in the WNBA, you can still get “called up” or return to the NBA. Would a successful—or better yet an unsuccessful—female coach ever get the same call? (maybe if your name is Pat Summitt, but I’m pretty sure that one’s gender is not a predictor of effective coaching so in theory many women should get said call)

As for Prince forgoing her senior year of ball at Rutgers to play professionally…One one hand, why not go and start making money immediately?—males have been doing it for years as has been pointed out. Prince states she “plans to buy her mother a house and support an A.A.U. team in Brooklyn”, so the move seems to be primarily financially motivated. On the other hand now that the seal is broken, will droves of other young women follow suit maybe never to return to finish their degrees? (and I’m not saying Prince won’t finish, but highlighting the possibility). Is this a trend we want female athletes to perpetuate? In essence, Prince’s move is no different than those of Laimbeer or Zierden….all three are leaving one basketball team, to pursue what is perceived as a better, bigger, and more lucrative opportunity with another team.

I’m not sure if this collective trend signals a sign of the times or is a sign of things to come….or both. And if it is of things to come….what “things” are we really talking about?

Update: To read more about various perspectives about Laimbeer click here or here.

To read more about what Gina Auriemma says about Prince’s departure, click here or read Altavilla’s blog. The NY Times also weighs in with an article titled “She’s Turning Pro, but Is It Progress?”

The invisibility of female professional sports

This might seem insignificant to some, but it is another example of how female professional sports are erased. Last night I was at the Sugarland concert at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Near the end of the concert Sugarland played a cover of the Bon Jovi song “Who Says You Can’t Go Home” that Jennifer Nettles and Bon Jovi recorded together.

During this song on the giant screen behind the band they showed logos of all the local professional sport teams in Minnesota….except one. Any guesses which one was left out? If you guessed the WNBA franchise Minnesota Lynx—you would be correct. The Twins, Vikings, Wild, and Timberwolves were included and when each logo appeared, fans in the audience cheered loudly for their favorite team. What made this omission even more ironic was the fact the Sugarland concert was held in the Target Center where the Lynx (and Timberwolves) play!

lynx
I’m sure Sugarland and their producers didn’t intentionally leave out the Lynx, but it is an example of how womens’ sports get erased—telling the public what is valued and important, and what is not.

Marketing Sports: "Wine & Pampering" v. "Beer & Back Waxing"

So after posting my last blog “Are Women Sport Fans?” I had a couple conversations with colleagues about female sport fans and how we “market” sport to women which spurred some additional thoughts. As I mentioned previously, females comprise 53% of WNBA and one-third or more of all MLB, NBA, and NHL fans.

Have you ever wondered about the typical ways women are “enticed” to attend professional men’s sports(i.e., “wine & pamper yourself events” that also teach women the rules of the game? This assumes that women don’t attend sports purely because they love the game, know the rules, follow the stats, or are passionate about their favorite team and player(s). Women ARE sport fans…but we so seldom see them in the sport media it is assumed they don’t exist. It also assumes that women don’t know the rules of the game and therefore don’t attend for that reason. If women just KNEW the rules it would increase their likelihood of attending! Women have to be lured to attend sports through things society tells them that women like…manicures, being pampered, wine tasting, and hanging out with the girls.

So let’s apply similar logic to attracting male fans (the coveted sport demographic) to women’s professional leagues, for example the WPS or WNBA. Are parallel events like “beer & back waxing” days offered for men? Or days that teach men the rules of the game? No? If not, then it must be assumed that all men are already sport fans and KNOW the rules the game. But this hasn’t translated into increasing numbers of male fans….yet. What do you think is the most effective way to increase the number of male sport fans at womens’ sports?

[polldaddy poll=1541855]

Key point: one-third or more of sport fans are comprised of females….men’s and women’s sports NEED female fans to survive! What if that one-third of the female fan base stopped attending men’s sports? To ensure the survival of women’s pro leagues that many of us are passionate about, is not the sole responsibility of female fans. Men’s pro sports rely on both male and female sport fans for sustainability, the same applies for women’s pro sports.

I still believe we haven’t gotten it right….yet. What does effective sport marketing to females look like? What does effective marketing of women’s sport look like? To get us started in answering these questions I think back to the May 26, 2006 and an October 9, 2006 Sport Business Journal articles written by a former colleague.