Women in Professional Sports


Katie Popp

In 1869, the Cincinnati Red Stockings baseball team made history in the United States by becoming the first professional sport and creating the professional baseball club (later named Major League Baseball, or MLB). A few years later in 1901, the American League was established and held the first World Series in 1903. Inspired by the professional baseball teams, the Green Bay Acme Packers along with other smaller teams formed a professional football league in 1920, then followed by a national basket league in the summer of 1946. During the time our beloved sports teams were founded, sports were seen as a primarily male activity, therefore all professional sports were dominated by male athletes, coaches, and directors. This trend flowed into new decades, however, more and more women in today’s world are finding their place in professional sports.

The first woman to ever play in a professional sport was Manon Rheaume. In 1992, she broke the ice by playing for the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team against the St. Louis Blues. Following the game, she was offered a contract for the next two seasons, but only appeared in preseason exhibitions. Since then, no other woman has played in an NHL game, and few others held other full-time positions in other sports. 

In 2016, Kathryn Smith became the first female to hold a full-time position for the Buffalo Bills as an assistant coach. Previously, she worked 12 seasons as a personal assistant for players and 2 as an assistant to the coach. In an interview with Time magazine, she describes how at first she thought her position was no big deal until Kim Pegula, an owner of the Bills, messaged her with praise and motivation with the impact her new position would have on women across the world. Following those messages, Smith quotes the “attention was nonstop”, but in no way negative. To this day, she still receives messages thanking her for encouraging more women to get involved in the NFL and other pro sports; “just to see them excel and work hard and move on to the next level has been inspiring and it shows that the industry is willing to reward people for hard work- the best person for the job is the person who will be hired”. Similarly, in 2017 the 49ers hired assistant coach Katie Sowers after her career in the Women’s Football Alliance. She too has become a voice for women and quoted for Sports Illustrated that the reason she does what she does is for the love of the game, but also to be true to who you are.

Back in July, the MLB also hired their first female coach- Alyssa Nakken for the San Francisco Giants. Like Kathryn Smith, Nakken had no intention of making an impact until she brought new ideas for the team to keep training and practicing towards the beginning of the pandemic, as well as new coaching strategies to help improve the team morale. In a postgame interview with the other coaches and The Guardian, she quotes “people will be inspired by possibilities. It’s my responsibility to stay true to that.”  Most recently, the Miami Marlins’ hired Kim Ng as their new general manager (the most decisive role for a team, including player pay and oversee trades), another first for the MLB. The Washington Post summarized Ng as “no newcomer”, as she has worked for the industry for nearly 30 years. Starting as an intern for the Chicago White Sox, she built her way up the ladder. She stated that she had been interviewed by other teams for the same position, but none hired her. In response to her new position, coaches and fans hope she will bring some positive changes to the team for the 2021 season.

So much has changed within the past 100 years; especially in the world of sports. There are countless women who have made an impact on the world of professional sports and are still rising today.