Fingers across the laces… pull it back… strike three… The MLB has hit us with a real slow ball on this one. I dare you to watch a baseball game, or a hundred, and try and point out one woman on the field, or on the bench.
There isn’t one. That’s because since the founding of the sport in 1869, baseball hasn’t fit into American gender roles. American girls are socialised to sit on the side-lines or become cheerleaders. America still thinks boys don’t make passes at girls that throw passes. But things might have changed last week when American sports limped to first base with the appointment of Kim Ng as the first female general manager of a US Sports team.
“I got voicemails from front office executives just so happy for me… but really more for the sport, and what it meant for us as a society”, said Ng as she stoically gave her first press conference.
The cultural traditions of front offices in sports need a major overhaul. The GM role in particular is synonymous with gender inequality. There has been a long line of terrible male GMs that have been hired simply because ‘he used to play’. Take Alan Tramell, he managed the Detroit Tigers to a record-breaking 119 losses in 2003. Somehow, he was re-hired for the 2004 season. If that isn’t privilege, then I don’t know what is.
Kim is used to breaking glass ceilings. She started out thirty years ago as an intern of 21. At 29 she was appointed as assistant general manager of the New York Yankees. The youngest general manager to ever be appointed and just the fourth woman to hold this position. Sports Illustrated placed Kim Ng 38th on a list of 101 most influential minority figures in sports, ahead of major celebrities like Magic Johnson. They finished the column with: “Write it down: Ng may become baseball’s first female GM.” This was in 2003. It was prophetic of Kim’s future success, but change was painfully slow to come.
In 2005 Kim interviewed for GM positions with five MLB teams. Each time the role went to a white male. I assure you that Ng was qualified for those roles and it doesn’t take much of a stretch to imagine that many others have been too intimidated by the prevailing culture to even apply.
Not only has Kim Ng overcome sexism, but also racism. A Harvard Business review stated that in 2018, Asian Americans were the least likely demographic to be promoted to management. You may not be surprised to hear that the MLB, up until this point, was hardly blazing the diversity trail. It is poignant that Kamala Harris became the first female vice-president elect, and the first vice-president elect of colour, the same week as Ng’s appointment.
Sports management is still a long way from closing the gender gap. Jen Wolf, the Life Skills Coordinator for the Indians’ team said: “It’s not just about this new generation of people that are coming into baseball. It’s also about the women that are in the game right now and ready to step up.”
Let’s hope Kim Ng is the first of many. Perhaps having more influential women in the sport will make the next innings less predictable.