*Most of the time sports are just about having fun. On any random Saturday there are a million basketball games, baseball games, soccer matches, races, etc. between friends and acquaintances that contribute absolutely nothing to society.
But sometimes sports mean everything. Sometimes sports are an ethnic group being allowed to participate at the professional level after a half century of exclusion; sometimes sports are the working class breaking the capital class’ stranglehold on wage negotiation; sometimes sports are a nation of people having a collective consciousness regarding a match seen as a proxy battle between nations. This season for the NBA sports become the stage upon which women will take another stride forward in American society as Becky Hammon coaches professional male basketball players.
On the one hand the San Antonio Spurs have a reputation as one of the smartest franchises in professional basketball. They have been on the forefront of advanced analytics; they have more international players on their roster than any other team; their coach has pioneered minutes limits for the main players. So their hiring of a female assistant coach could seem like just another smart move on their part and be brushed under the rug.
On the other hand it is a fact that Hammon will be the first female coach in major professional American sports. So her mere presence is noteworthy enough to warrant extra attention. Her ability to complete the tasks assigned to her will help determine if she keeps this job, but given the franchise’s track record it would seem talent evaluation in non-traditional forms is their specialty.
Hammon’s assistant coaching career could be the match that sparks the next wave of innovation and hirings throughout the league. Plenty of former NBA players coach in the WNBA because of their qualifications as astute basketball tacticians and winning pedigree. Hammon possesses the potential to flip the narrative in the other direction. This is not to say that women should be given jobs simply because they are women (although I wouldn’t be surprised if this does happen), but it is to say that men should stop getting these jobs simply because they are men. Too many coaches (assistant and head) in the NBA are recycled even when there is no history of winning or innovation.
Professional sports are probably the last section of society in which it is rare to see women leading men. Hammon is the first step to changing that fact.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.