Unsurprisingly, men’s professional sports have historically been a boy’s club. However, in a sweep of groundbreaking new hiring decisions, 2015 became the year all that began to change. As Elliott Almond outlined in the LA Daily News, Becky Hammon first opened the door in 2014 when she was hired as the first woman assistant coach in the NBA. Then, in the summer of 2015, the Sacramento Kings got female assistant coaches trending by hiring former WNBA coach and Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman. The NFL followed suit when Sarah Thomas became the first full-time female official and the Arizona Cardinals hired coaching intern Jen Welter for their training camp. Baseball also saw progress with Justine Siegal as a guest instructor for the Oakland A’s, making her the first female coach in MLB history, and Jessica Mendoza broke into the world of men’s sports commentary as an analyst for “Sunday Night Baseball” and then covered the ESPN College World Series from the booth.
In another positive move for women’s professional athletics, the National Women’s Hockey League became the first North American women’s hockey league to pay its players. And despite this important step forward, the experiences of the league since becoming professional serve as key examples of what still needs to be done to level the playing field for men and women’s athletics.
Most recently, on December 31, the NWHL’s Boston Pride and CWHL’s Montreal Canadiennes tied in the first Outdoor Women’s Classic. The event was the result of a partnership between the NWHL and the NHL’s Winter Classic, and while other of the Classic’s events received commercial media coverage and pregame festivities, the NWHL/CWHL game received no such spotlight. The players were given relatively little notice about the game and could only schedule one practice in preparation. In addition, the ice conditions were controversial, leading Boston forward Denna Laing to trip into the boards and later be taken to Massachusetts General Hospital. The players were thankful for the opportunity to be involved in the event and see it as an indicator of future advancements soon to come.