By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) Remember how bothered you were when you heard Becky Hammon was going to be the head coach of the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Summer League this year? Sitting on Greg Popovich’s bench during the regular season was one thing, but given top-dog status over players in one of the major sports in a different animal, once thought of as an uncomfortable sports thing.
Or how about the Arizona Cardinals’ hiring of Jen Welter this week as an intern on the coaching staff? She will coach linebackers during training camp and the preseason, not delicate, marginalized kickers off to the side of the violence. Nope, this is the football-iest of football positions. This is a thing we once never imagined would happen. What are your favorite sports coming to?
A good place, really. Because you didn’t react uncomfortably to the hires of Hammon or Welter — excuse me, Dr. Welter. There was no reflexive hand-wringing of how female coaches would ovulate all over the highest level of men’s pro sports. And if you’re in the media, you haven’t gone to the well of the Cro-Magnon and reached for all the worst-case scenarios and slippery slopes and disingenuous handshakes for the boogiewomen that are the PC Police and affirmative action axis of evil.
And that’s the best part of the Welter and Hammon hires and what will eventually be the hiring of a woman to coach in the NHL and MLB. They’re not divisive. They’re not worrisome. They’re not launching awkward think-pieces that go out of their way to say, “I’m not sexist… but what I’m going to say is in actuality sexist.”
The walls-coming-down aspect of these two coaches of course can’t be ignored. Women in positions of authority in men’s pro sports is important.
“I didn’t even dream that it was possible,” Welter said when asked about the obvious pioneering. “And I think the beauty of this is that though it’s a dream I never had, now it’s a dream that other girls can have. I guess if that makes me a trailblazer, then I’m honored.”
Trailblazing is super cool, but I’ve been waiting for the foot-in-mouth comments and columns. The NBA and NFL are the two North American professions featuring the largest, most intimidating participants. Their locker rooms ooze with machismo and grow stuffy with jockeying egos of incredibly high-paid celebrities. So there’s an inevitability to the “How will this negatively affect the delicate balance?” I’m-not-sayin’-I’m-just-sayin’ idiots whenever the hyper-masculine ecosystem is invaded.
“We don’t look at it as female or anything, (Hammon)’s the coach and we just listen,” Spurs forward Jarrell Eddie said.
And while one of those hot takes lurks around the corner somewhere, one hasn’t yet poked its head out from any significant name, place or outlet. That’s a really good place where we are as a sports culture today. Thank goodness.
It isn’t like it’s hard to rationalize. NBA and NFL coaches aren’t in the business of charity over looking out for their own butts. Movies scripts drip with the saccharine of some old white man bravely extending a hand to a minority or pariah against the wishes of the majority of characters, but Branch Rickey didn’t in reality bring in Jackie Robinson for anything but immediately making the Dodgers a more talented baseball team.
John Wooden wasn’t so much a Samaritan accommodating a politically active Muslim convert in college as he was smart enough to understand that Lew Alcindor’s dominance on the court was most important to the coach’s situation. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich would never risk one percentage point of a chance of winning for the sake of social barrier-breaking. While it may create more warm and fuzzies to think that someone was hired specifically because she’s a woman, every coach on every pro staff in the business that is their respective league is there because they’re believed to make the team better.
“The minute they can prove they can make a player better, they’ll be hired,” Arians said. “Coaching is nothing more than teaching.”
Welter was well aware of her situation not being one of token when she first spoke with Arians. It wasn’t a male coach talking to a female coach.
“The best way I could say it is he welcomed me with open arms from minute one,” Welter said. “We were talking real football stuff, talking to me like I’d known him my whole life. And I thought, I know why this man is coach of the year.”
Admittedly, I had some morbid fascination in anticipating of Popovich dressing down a reporter who dare question his personnel choice. I was disappointed, though he did respond appropriately.
“I don’t even look at it as, well, she’s the first female this and that and the other,” Popovich said. “She’s a coach, and she’s good at it. I think some people thought this was some kind of gimmick or we were just trying to be cool. I’m glad she’s there.”
Let’s not be naïve and think something has forever been defeated. There’s still a whole lot of anti-woman sports bigotry out there. Nothing crashes the hard drive in the sports brain of a dude severely secure in his masculinity like a chick who disagrees with him. Ask 670 The Score’s Julie DiCaro or any other female sports broadcaster or writer how often her opinion is met with super manly strong men riding their valiant keyboards, wielding their social media swords and telling her that her thoughts are invalid because they lack some all-important tiny testicles.
Those message board mosquitoes must certainly suck, but at the end of the day they are nameless, faceless Facebook insects under the delusional impression that anyone but their incestuous fellow commenters considers their opinions valid.
We’ve moved past them, though. Sports continues to move past them. And their tiny voices become more distant as they refuse to catch up.
Meanwhile, a woman coaching men on the biggest of stages isn’t a sideshow. It’s not a thing.
Which is a good thing.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.