Last week, Mike Francesa expressed his belief that a woman coaching in a major male sport would be “impossible.” Responding to criticism, he doubled down on that premise today. Per Francesa, a woman being hired “would be nothing more than a publicity stunt and it wouldn’t last very long.”
Francesa’s argument, besides pointing out the absence of women’s coaches in men’s college basketball, was basically two-fold. He believes a female coach would come under overwhelming scrutiny.
“You want to thrust a woman into that kind of vacuum where she’s going to have to deal with that kind of scrutiny? How is she going to stand up to that? How would you find a résumé to stand up to that.”
He also argued that women would not be able to control players because even men have trouble controlling players.
“It would be so difficult to run that room. It’s difficult for men to run these rooms now.”
A few points… No one is saying this would not be difficult. An NBA team that hired a female head coach would be running up against institutional and societal inertia. It would be a risk. That’s acknowledged.
Couching women not being able to do things such as controlling men as “practical,” “reasonable,” and “common sense” wisdom is a ploy to not have to dive into the assumptions that underly them, which probably sound pretty sexist if uttered. Pat Summitt probably could have controlled men.
A playing background in professional sports helps open the door. It’s hardly essential for success a coach. Gregg Popovich had no professional basketball background before rising through the assistant ranks. Ditto for Bill Belichick.
Lack of a professional playing background has been no impediment to getting front office roles in the analytics era. Theo Epstein got a job in a baseball front office out of college. NBA teams have handed control to stats-minded MBA’s. Women can look at spreadsheets, obtain business degrees, and write letters to professional teams to get themselves noticed.
There are very few women in leadership positions in men’s professional sports. There isn’t a real objective reason for that. If a team thinks Becky Hammon, Nancy Lieberman, or someone else who comes along would make a great head coach, they should hire them. That hire, as with any other, would come under scrutiny and be judged by subsequent performance.