One hundred years ago, women fought and earned the right to vote in the United States. Since then, women have become doctors, writers and even CEOs. But up until now, women have not been given the opportunity to leave their mark on the sporting world.
2019 was a monumental year for women in sports.
- Five teams in the National Basketball Association hired women as assistant coaches.
- Katie Sowers became the second female assistant coach in National Football League history and the first to coach in a Super Bowl after many years of playing and coaching football. In a Microsoft commercial, she expressed her desire to play professional football since childhood. An article written by Avery Yang for Sports Illustrated reports Sowers played as a quarterback and defensive back in the Women’s Football Alliance. While playing for the U.S. National Team, she won a gold medal at the Women’s World Championships in 2013. According to her biography on the 49ers website, Sowers began working with the San Francisco 49ers in 2017 after spending the 2016 season with the Atlanta Falcons as a scouting intern and wide receivers assistant. In her initial position with the 49ers, she served as a seasonal offensive assistant. She was officially hired as a full-time employee in 2019.
- Alyssa Nakken was hired as the first female assistant coach in Major League Baseball history, joining the San Francisco Giants’ coaching staff in January of 2020 under the new manager, Gabe Kapler. Before joining the Giants organization, she attended Sacramento State University where she played first base for the university’s softball team and was named the conference’s scholar-athlete of the year in 2012 breaking the school record in putouts with 1,265 during her career, according to HornetSports.com. She worked for the Giants in 2014 as a baseball operations intern. After graduating with a master’s degree in sports management in 2015, she served as the chief information officer for the University of San Francisco baseball team, according to Mary McInerney of USF News. At the beginning of this year, she was hired as an assistant coach for the Giants with the non-traditional task of overseeing each team member’s health and organizing wellness initiatives, as opposed to the typical role of working with efforts on the field.
“I’m never going to say anything is a slap in the face because it’s a foot in the door,” Laura Okmin said about Nakken’s non-traditional role.
Okmin is a sports broadcaster for NFL on FOX. According to a tweet shared by FOX Sports: NFL in November of 2018, she became the third-most broadcasted sideline reporter in history with her 164th network telecast appearance. Along the way, she founded a company called GALvanize that teaches young women how to handle themselves on and off camera while providing them the opportunity to work first hand with professional athletes, coaches and staff. Through GALvanize, Okmin has mentored young women entering the world of sports and, as listed on the GALvanize website, has covered more than 10 Super Bowls, three Olympic games, and multiple World Series, NBA and NHL championships.
Okmin believes the role of a nutrition and wellness coach is a good starting point for women as coaches. It is an opportunity for Nakken to gain the respect of her fellow coaches, athletes and the Giants club as a whole. In fact, Okmin believes this is a role more professional sports teams should incorporate onto their coaching staff.
Okmin also believes it will be the athletes who are most accepting of women in positions of power.
“Athletes are really easy to get in with as long as you know what you’re talking about,” Okmin said.
Ultimately, an athlete cares about getting better. If a coach, man or woman, can help them improve, they will support him or her in that role. The emergence of women in coaching positions is allowing more young women to find leadership roles in sports.
“It opens doors to worlds and minds for young girls and women realizing that coaching is a path they can explore,” Okmin said.
She feels that up until now, women have felt restricted to certain realms of the sporting world such as sideline reporting, cheerleading and hospitality. Now that more women are seen in more positions of power, women can take their careers in sports more seriously. Okmin believes the world of sports is heading in the right direction for women.
“I can’t wait until this story isn’t news anymore,” Okmin said. “But right now it is still news, and it’s still to be celebrated.”