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More Women Work In Male-Dominated Pro Sports But There's A Long Way To Go


And a point of clarification, listeners this morning have rightly pointed out that other women have called major league baseball playoff games. Mendoza is the first to call a nationally televised playoff game. And now let's go to NPR's Tom Goldman to hear about some other women who have broken barriers in male-dominated pro sports.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: There have been several breakthroughs over the past 14 months, but they'd been brewing since 1972, says professor Sarah Hillyer. That's when Title IX passed, guaranteeing equal sports opportunities for women and girls.

SARAH HILLYER: Women have had long enough to really grow into amazing athletes, amazing coaches, amazing educators.

GOLDMAN: Hillyer teaches sports sociology at the University of Tennessee.

HILLYER: And that we're just now realizing the value of that and that society's finally at least willing to explore what it looks like to have women in what has traditionally been male spaces.

GOLDMAN: In August of last year, the San Antonio Spurs made Becky Hammon the first paid full-time female assistant coach in NBA history. Two weeks ago, baseball got in on the act.

JUSTINE SIEGAL: There you go.

GOLDMAN: That's Justine Siegal watching batting practice in Mesa, Ariz. The Oakland A's hired her to coach in the fall instructional league, making Siegal the first female coach for a major league team.

SIEGAL: It's phenomenal to be here. It's a dream come true but not just for me but all the girls and women who have wanted to be here.

GOLDMAN: Sandwiched between those hires, the NFL. As far as male spaces go, it doesn't get much more traditional. Some say the league has been hostile to women in light of last year's domestic violence scandal. But in April of this year, the NFL hired Sarah Thomas, the first full-time female official in league history. Then in July, the Arizona Cardinals hired Jen Welter, who became the first female coach in the NFL. Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians pushed for the hire.

BRUCE ARIANS: Our players only want to be taught how to be better. They really don't care who teaches it to them. She obviously has the background and experience that we're looking for.

GOLDMAN: Welter previously coached and played football. She has a Ph.D. in psychology. But her job, assistant coaching intern for training camp and the preseason, ended. The NFL no longer has a female coach. Shira Springer writes the "Fair Play" column about women in sports for The Boston Globe.

SHIRA SPRINGER: This is a woman who seemed almost overqualified to be a coaching intern, and there was just one. And you wonder, where does the next female NFL coach come from?

GOLDMAN: Springer says it's most important what happens after these groundbreaking hires.

SPRINGER: You know, part of having that sustained momentum is developing pipelines in all of these sports.

GOLDMAN: Pro basketball has done a good job, says Springer, in part because of ties between the NBA and WNBA. An example, Lindsey Harding, she's been a top WNBA player. According to Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle, Harding started asking around about coaching opportunities, which led her to Carlisle, who's also head of the NBA Coaches Association.

RICK CARLISLE: Year and a half later, she's been to a couple of our clinics. This past summer, she worked with the Toronto Raptors. And again, she's another woman that has experience playing, has great people skills, and, you know, is eventually going to be one of the ladies who's going to be a factor in this business.

GOLDMAN: Meanwhile, the Pro Football Hall of Fame recently put on display a coaching shirt worn by Jen Welter and a card signed by both Welter and official Sarah Thomas. The question is will the items become relics or a sign of things to come. Tom Goldman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.