Glass ceilings, grass fields
For many sports fans, nothing beats baseball’s spring training, now underway in Florida and Arizona: the whiff of hopefulness with each crack of the bat, each eager rookie, each player autograph snared.
This year, the game has something new: a woman in the general manager’s box.
A first for baseball
Kim Ng is leading the World Series runner-up Tampa Bay Rays as the first female general manager of a major league baseball team.
Ng is also the first woman to serve as general manager of a team in the Big Four leagues in North America (baseball, basketball, hockey, football) and the first person of East Asian descent to serve in that position.
Her executive leadership of a major league sports team, in her first spring training, aligns perfectly with the ideas and examples we see throughout Women’s History Month.
At the Women’s Campaign Fund, we help break glass ceilings to meet our goal of #5050x2028 — roughly half women and half men in elected offices nationwide by 2028. You might say we have many fields to take.
Ng’s path to a grass-taking breakthrough came the “old-fashioned way” — except the old-fashioned way rarely if ever let females get to the top rung.
A graduate of the University of Chicago, Ng played college softball. She then worked her way up in the front office of several Major League Baseball teams and became a vice president of the league. She was named the Marlins’ general manager in 2020.
As the New York Times opined when Ng was named to post, “A first, at last.”
Baseball, as with all the Big Four sports, makes no distinction among the gender of fans. Now, those sports and others are slowly beginning to reflect the faces of their fans among decision-makers on teams and in the structure of the sports.
Or maybe it’s the Tampa Bay touch.
A first for football
In this year’s Super Bowl on February 7 — played in Tampa Bay and won by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — one member of the officiating quad was Sarah Thomas, the NFL’s only female official.
Thomas, who’s been on the job in the NFL since 2015, thereby became the first woman to officiate a Super Bowl. Like Ng, she started at the bottom and worked her way up: officiating at the high school and local college levels, joining Conference USA in 2007, and working in college football until her hiring by the NFL.
“It’s just so meaningful,” Thomas said in a news interview. “I never set out to be the first in any of this, but knowing the impact that I’m having on not just my daughter but young girls everywhere, women everywhere, when I get on that field, and I take it all in, I know that I’m probably gonna get a little teary eyed. It’s just remarkable, and I’m truly honored and humbled to be a part of this year’s Super Bowl crew.”
Hoops and race cars
Other professional teams are building more diversity in their total operations, including clinicians, sports nutrition, suite sales, and ownership. Jeanie Marie Buss is the controlling owner and president of the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association, guiding her team to an NBA championship in 2020. Lesa France Kennedy is the chief executive officer of International Speedway Corporation and vice chairperson of the board of directors of NASCAR.
Despite the progress, women coach less than half of female teams and hold less than a quarter of management positions in professional sports.
When America is represented by 100% of our country’s talent — not only in government, industry, and other institutions, but in sports — we will all be winners. We’re in spring training now for Team 50/50. Our World Series is coming.
©2021 Women’s Campaign Fund