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Progress is slow, but good for sports

Ryan Stieg

There’s a lot of truths that exists in sports and one of them is that progress comes slowly.

This is definitely true when it comes to women in sports. However, in just the past few weeks, women have accomplished three things that have escaped them for decades and that’s something that should be cheered.

The first recent event, and probably the most significant, is that Major League Baseball has its first female general manager. Kim Ng, who is also the first Asian-American GM, is the new boss of the Miami Marlins.

Naturally, there was some grumbling from men on social media about this. One of the frequent questions I hear from my gender whenever a woman gets a big promotion is this: “Is she the most qualified person?” That’s rarely asked if a white guy gets offered a job like that. However, if you look at her resume, it’s pretty obvious that Ng knows what she’s doing.

She started her career with the Chicago White Sox in 1990 before becoming the assistant GM for the New York Yankees in 1997. That was the Yanks’ most recent dynasty, a time they won three World Series.

Ng was later the assistant GM with the Los Angeles Dodgers and then she was the senior vice president of baseball operations in Major League Baseball’s commissioners office in 2011. Yeah, she’s more than qualified for the job.

Progress has also been made on the ice. Hockey has had a culture problem for a long time, but only in the last couple of years has it become blatantly obvious to the general public.

However, 10 days after Ng was named a baseball GM, the Chicago Blackhawks hired U.S. women’s national team captain Kendall Coyne Schofield as a player development coach, while promoting Meghan Hunter, the GM’s executive assistant, to director of hockey administration and an amateur scout with that NHL organization.

This isn’t the Blackhawks’ first move at including women in the front office as Mary DeBartolo was hired last year as a hockey analytics coordinator. There’s a couple more women in key positions in the NHL — Hayley Wickenheiser is a player development coach with the Toronto Maple Leafs and American hockey legend Cammi Granato became the league’s first female pro scout when she was hired by the expansion Seattle Kraken last season.

There was some minor grumbling online about Coyne Schofield getting her job, but it’s hard to argue that an Olympic star doesn’t understand player development.

Football seems to be the biggest mountain standing in the way of female progress in North American professional sports, though. But the climb has begun with two things happening last week.

One year after assistant coach Katie Sowers helped the San Francisco 49ers get to Super Bowl LIV, Callie Brownson became the first female interim position coach in the NFL. Appropriately due to her last name, Brownson coached the Cleveland Browns’ tight ends last Sunday when the current coach didn’t travel with the team after his wife gave birth to their first child.

One day before that, in a much more widely publicized event, Sarah Fuller, a goalie for the Vanderbilt University women’s soccer team, became the first woman to play for a Power-5 football team. She kicked off for the Commodores to start the second half of their game against Missouri.

Fuller is now the third woman to play in an FBS-level game after Katie Hnida and April Goss, and the seventh overall in college football. Unfortunately, Fuller didn’t get a chance to put any points on the scoreboard like Hnida and Goss as winless Vanderbilt was thumped 41-0.

Still, it was a huge moment in sports, even though, as always, some male keyboard warriors did what they could to ruin the occasion.

Fuller, who got her opportunity after the Commordores were down some kickers due to COVID-19 issues, was made fun of online with some guys saying that they could kick the ball further than she did.

First off, I highly doubt that, and two, Fuller was told to squib the kick and did it effectively as Missouri was unable to return the kickoff. She was mocked on social media for doing her job correctly, which might be the dumbest sports criticism I’ve seen on Twitter.

Jason Whitlock, who has made a solid living being one of the most clueless writers in my profession, wondered if any of Vanderbilt’s men’s soccer players were considered for the job. Vandy cut its men’s soccer program back in 2006. Seriously Jason, a quick online search could’ve answered your question. Google is your friend.

I’m not sure why my fellow men feel the need to throw a wet blanket on anything huge that a woman accomplishes, but it needs to stop. It goes without saying that women can do a lot of the same things that men can do, and believe it or not fellas, they like sports and know a lot about them.

But enough about the haters. All of these women did something big, whether it’s becoming a GM, coaching during a game or successfully performing a squib kick. They also showed girls all over the nation that they can accomplish things never done before.

Coyne Schofield told ESPN that “knowing there are going to be people watching me on the ice, and seeing a woman in a coaching role, just shows what’s possible for the next generation.” With a sticker on her helmet supporting the organization “Play Like a Girl,” Fuller wanted to encourage girls to play sports and gain access to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs and says she plans on continuing to suit up for the Vandy football team, which is probably a good thing since she gave a rousing halftime speech in the lockerroom that apparently was better than anything the coaching staff could come up with.

“All I want to do is be a good influence to the young girls out there because there were times I struggled in sports, but I’m so thankful that I stuck with it and it’s given me so many opportunities and I’ve met so many amazing people through sports. And I just want to say that literally you can do anything you set your mind to,” Fuller said in an ESPN interview.

That kind of message should be praised and encouraged. Whenever women succeed in sports, it shows we’re progressing as a country and progress is always a good thing. Even if it comes slowly.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.

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