Women Now Taking Active Roles In Professional Men Sports


Hammon Lieberman Thomas Welter Are Female Trailblazers

By John Ventola

An early ‘70s song by Helen Reddy, “I Am Woman”, served as a female liberation anthem. The enactment of Title IX  (Women’s Sports), an Educational Amendment that made it unlawful to exclude students based on sex from participation at a university that received Federal financial assistance, came months later. It basically opened up collegiate athletics for female participants.

The last four decades have seen women showcase their abilities, and as Reddy sang, “roar” while doing it. The level of understanding and expertise shown by females in two of sports’ top games, basketball and football, has four of them now coaching and refereeing professional games—–played by men.

Becky Hammon, 38, a star for sixteen years in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) was hired as an assistant coach by the then world champion San

basketball player

Hammon Was First Now Lieberman Follows

Antonio Spurs last summer. A six-time league All-Star who finished her career ranked fourth in assists and seventh in scoring, Hammon apparently did very well as an assistant coach during the recent 2014-15 season for the Spurs.

Demanding Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, a stickler on fundamentals, and a five-time world champion, handed over the reins for the team’s summer league team to Hammon. The Spurs won the Las Vegas Summer League championship with the one-time Colorado State star handling bench duties.

Hammon’s success has laid the groundwork for more consideration for females in the men’s game. Friday, Nancy Lieberman, 57, who starred herself in college and professional basketball, was hired as an assistant coach by the Sacramento Kings.

Lieberman, a New York native, made little known Old Dominion a power in the late’70s before going on to an impressive professional career. A true student of the game, Lieberman has worked as a television basketball analyst in recent years. She is an excellent tactician and communicator of the nuances of basketball.

Sarah Thomas, originally from Pascagoula, Mississippi, and still a resident of the Magnolia State, started officiating n 1997. After paying her dues, learning the game of football and its rules, she has worked herself up to become the first full-time National


Thomas First Full-Time Female Official

Football League (NFL) female referee. Thomas refereed in various college conferences (CUSA), and pro and semi-pro leagues, working her way up to a complete 11-game season a few year ago.

She was one of 21 women who began an intensive NFL referee development program, often calling New Orleans Saints scrimmages. Thomas, 42, who played basketball at the University of Mobile, has been assigned as a full time line judge to the 2015 referee crew led by Pete Morelli. She officiated one NFL exhibition game before the 2014 season. (Note: Shannon Eastin was the first female league official as she was hired to work games as a replacement referee in 2012 during the lockout of regular NFL officials).

Jennifer Welter is currently working as a training camp/preseason intern for the NFL Arizona Cardinals. Welter will instruct and monitor inside linebackers during camp and preseason action, and is the first female coach to be signed by an NFL team. Welter,


Welter First Female NFL Coach

37, a Boston College graduate, has played with various women’s teams, but became the second female, other than placekickers, to play professional football on a men’s team. The 5-2, 130 pound Welter was the first female to ever play running back on a pro men’s team, playing for the Texas Revolution in the Indoor Football League. Previously Welter served as the Revolution’s inside linebacker coach.

Hammon, Lieberman, Thomas, and Welter are going where no women have been before. Their success—as in Hammon’s case, and the subsequent hiring by another NBA team of Lieberman–will determine if further coaching, or officiating jobs in men’s sports will be readily available to women.

About the time Reddy was getting women ready with her empowering lyrics, Bobby Riggs, a top male tennis players in the ‘40s, challenged Margaret Court to a tennis match in 1973. The 55-year-old Riggs defeated 30-year-old Court easily in two sets, but soon sought to play Billie Jean King. King, then 29, defeated Riggs, and struck a major blow for the feminist movement in the well-publicized “Battle of The Sexes”.

While mostly theatre, the King-Riggs matchup showed that society was interested in seeing competition between male and female on a certain level, especially if the

sports balls

Game Knowledge And Communication Skills Key

decided strength advantage could be leveled. In coaching and officiating, knowledge is the major factor in determining success.

Looking back you have to say women have come a long way in the past forty years. Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton were recently our government’s Secretaries of State, while others took over top positions at large companies (Carly Fiorina, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard) , and moved up to major management positions in corporations all over the country. Today, Clinton and Fiorina find themselves seeking their political parties’ nomination for the 2016 Presidential Election.

In sports, with Title IX fueling increased interest and participation in youth programs, females began to hone their skills for competition on the collegiate level. Instead of dropping their love of certain sports because there was no stage on which to perform, they were training and putting in the work to become competitive collegiate and professional athletes. The result, talented and dedicated athletes competing in basketball, softball, gymnastics, soccer, field hockey, rowing, track, cross country, and other sports.

The four women in this blog have worked hard to reach their coaching and lifetime goals, but there were many female coaching pioneers in sports played by both men and


Women Have Made Major Sport Inroads Last 40 Years

women. Some should have been considered for men’s coaching positions before now. Pat Head Summit made women’s basketball in general, and Tennessee’s game in particular, a pleasure to watch, and epitomized team work, precision, and dedication. Stanford’s Trish VanDerver, Baylor’s Kim Mulkey, Rutgers Vivian Stringer, and Summit each could have handled the X and O’s of the men’s game.

Women have shown they can compete, and fight (Ronda Rousey is quite special). Their talent, their skill sets, and athletic acumens are being recognized now more than ever. They heard Reddy’s song, and took to heart the “invincible” line. Apparently Aretha Franklin’s oldie but goody, and Christina Aguilera’s recent hit, struck cords also. They now have everyone’s “Respect”, and have given notice as to their future mindset, “Can’t Hold Us Down”.

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