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Friday, April 12, 2024

The evolution of male-dominated sports

Opportunities in male-dominated sports continue to expand — but there is a lot more work to be done

By KATHERIN RAYGOZA – sports@theaggie.org 

The ability to drive gender equality can lead to defying gender stereotypes and social norms. As of recently, women have made great strides in male-dominated athletics. They are allowed to referee professional male sports even in other countries, they are getting interviewed for general manager positions for the National Football League (NFL) and are progressively reaching higher positions.

On Jan.18, Rwandan referee Salima Mukansanga became the first woman referee to officiate an Africa Cup of Nations game for men in the game between Zimbabwe and Guinea. This was a monumental step, one that inspired and even had some members of Rwanda’s Kigali women’s soccer team in Rwanda gathered around to watch as Mukansanga made history. 

Being a referee has historically been a male-dominate position, and there has been sexism in regards to a lack of opportunities for female referees. Spectators have negative stereotypes of these referees and there are many other obstacles that create a hostile environment for any woman trying to become a referee.

Mukansanga has also officiated at the Olympics, Women’s World Cup, Africa Women Cup of Nations and the CAF Women’s Champions League. She is more than qualified for this position and her latest achievement of becoming a referee in one of Africa’s most prestigious soccer tournaments is a milestone for women refereeing globally.

“It’s a privilege. It’s a pleasure to me, to the rest of African women referees,” Mukansanga said at a press conference by the Confederation of African Football (CAF). “It’s [an] opportunity to open the door and to show that all African [women] are capable. They can reach that stage.”

More transgender referees are becoming prevalent in men’s sports as well. Sapir Berman, 26, in 2021, became the first transgender referee to officiate a men’s soccer match in Israel. Many of the fans that attended supported Berman.

“Finally, I decided to come out, to show [the world] who I am,” Berman said to the New York Daily News. “First for myself, for my own well-being, but also for my loved ones, so they wouldn’t see me suffering.” 

Before Berman, in 2018, Lucy Clark became the first ever transgender referee in all of profesional soccer history. She faced some verbal abuse from fans and other sport authorities and although she described some as intimidating, those instances have been minimal.

“There’s been the off time that people have got my gender wrong and things like that, but I can understand that and I’m not someone who will be precocious about it as no-one has done it maliciously,” Clark said. “But once the game is on, there have been no issues from any of the fans, managers or players apart from the normal stuff that you get as a referee which I’ve had for the last 20 years.”

Given the environment that both Berman and Clark have been in, these are noteworthy achievements that are important to recognize as other countries might begin to do the same thing.

On April 29, 2021, the Denver Broncos hired Kelly Kleine as their executive director of football operations, and special advisor to the general manager. Ten days later, the Philadelphia Eagles promoted Catherine Raîche to be vice president of football operations, making her the highest-ranking woman to ever work in an NFL front office. Then, in mid Jan. 2022, the Vikings asked Raîche to interview for their General Manager position after firing Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer. 

“We’re at the 50-yard line,” Marnie Schneider, daughter of Susan Tose Spencer, the first female general manager in the history of the NFL, said. “It’s up to the new generation of owners to embrace women in football. If they don’t — it’s going to be a rough road ahead. We need to keep riding the history of amazing women in football and the amazing things they’ve done, so we need to continue to move the ball down the field. We’re only halfway there.” 

The National Basketball Association (NBA) has never had a female head coach. The league has come a long way since Lisa Boyer became the first-ever female assistant coach for the 2001-02 season. After her single-season with the Cleveland Cavaliers, no women were hired as assistant coaches in the NBA for over a decade. Heading into the 2021-22 NBA season, there are seven women on the coaching staff. Becky Hammon, Jenny Boucek, Kristi Toliver, Lindsey Harding, Teresa Weatherspoon, Sonia Raman, Edniesha Curry.

Women are one step away from becoming a head coach in the NBA. Rumors long swirled about Becky Hammon, the San Antonio Spurs assistant, being a potential candidate for the head coach position because she had spent the last seven seasons serving as an assistant to Gregg Popovich, one of the greatest coaches in NBA history. Popovich believes that Hammon has the skill and dedication of something special and is constantly praising her.

Back in 2020, when the Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich was ejected after arguing with a referee in the second quarter of a game with the Los Angeles Lakers in San Antonio, he turned to Becky Hammon, one of his assistant coaches, and indicated that she should take over the team. This was the first time in NBA history that a woman was leading a team.

“He officially pointed at me,” Hammon said. “That was it. Said, ‘You’ve got them.’ Obviously, it’s a big deal. It’s a substantial moment.”

Although Hammon recently took a head coaching job with the Las Vegas Aces of the WNBA, her resume and experience speaks for herself and with more women assistants in the NBA, it feels like only a matter of time before someone gets a head coaching job.

When someone plays a major role in male dominant sports, they are teaching others around the world that it is possible to be affiliated in men’s professional sports. With these opportunities continuing to become available to women and transgender individuals, the hope is that everyone will soon have the equal opportunity to collaborate with new ideas that can lead to winning big games. 

Written by: Katherin Raygoza — sports@theaggie.org

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