Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Celebrate Kim Ng becoming first female MLB GM, but remember it’s opportunity, not qualifications, holding women back

Kim Ng is the first woman to become GM of a major league team.
Kim Ng is the first woman to become GM of a major league team.
Image: (Getty Images)

Kim Ng is going to be the face of the Marlins as the team’s new GM. She will be the point person for the club with agents, players, the media, other general managers and owners. With each interaction, she will be a reminder that excellence isn’t tied to gender.

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Ng got the nod within the same week that we knew with certainty that a woman of Black and Indian heritage would become the Vice President of the United States.

Like Kamala Harris, Ng is qualified for the role. Ng has been in baseball for 30 years having worked in the front office of the White Sox, Dodgers and Yankees, before spending the last nine years in the commissioner’s office.

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There are going to be a lot of people talking about how important it is for a woman, and a person of color, to have a platform like that in baseball. And every bit of it is true.

However, it is 2020 y’all. We are still forced to celebrate the incremental success of women in this industry like it’s a birthday party.

This is how good our pro leagues are at keeping in place structures that have only stingily allowed women and people of color the opportunities that white men take as a given. So when one of us is able to get through all the gatekeepers, it’s like winning an Olympic medal rather than a searing indictment of those barriers.

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Professional sports leagues have robbed women of decades of opportunities in teams and front offices. Even now, we see where women have been allowed — on sidelines, as hosts, in public relations and in community service — and where they have not.

And even then, inclusion can be so tentative. Ng’s hiring comes in the same week that the Texans fired Public Relations VP Amy Palcic for not fitting into “team culture.” She was the only woman to hold that role in the NFL – and PR is one of the things we’ve been allowed to do.

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I want to be bored with these milestones, but there is so much time between them. Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes in 1973. Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore became the first women to become members at Augusta National in 2012. Jen Welter became the first woman to coach in the NFL during a 2015 summer internship.

There is nothing about gender that would keep any woman from any of those roles. You don’t need incredible upper body strength to be a coach, play golf or be a general manager, which Yankees GM Brian Cashman makes obvious every time he addresses the media.

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What holds women back in sports isn’t ability or qualifications, it’s that hiring women bothers some percentage of people already in sports, who see maleness as an inherent qualification.

When Ng gets this role, on the one hand it’s very reassuring that these unwritten rules continue to bend, but also a reminder that for 50 years, women have been kept out of roles they deserved, so that men didn’t have to feel, for a moment, that a woman might belong in sports more than they did.

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I think about Connie Carberg, who was a Jets scout in the 1970s until a new owner, Leon Hess, decided he didn’t want a woman representing the team on the road. Carberg remains a devoted Jets fan, and one of the most knowledgeable ones I met when covering the team.

For every Ng, there are 100 Carbergs watching from the sidelines, or who moved on to other fields that rewarded hard work and excellence. Samantha Power got her start in sports writing, but moved to diplomacy and became the 28th U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

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In sports, if she’d worked very hard and continued to look cute, maybe she could host a halftime show.

Women do well in leadership roles. Look at the way Jacinda Ardern has been able to mitigate the coronavirus in New Zealand, and Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan or even Angela Merkel’s steady hand for Germany and the European Union. As leaders, women are often able to put civic interests above their own and build coalitions around policy.

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So yes, by all means let’s celebrate Ng, who was able to wait out all the forces that would hold her back and who can’t, with her new job, publicly acknowledge any of the bullshit she likely faced along the way lest she make people uncomfortable.

But let’s not pretend women have finally figured out how to reach the pinnacle of the professions.

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It’s way too late for that.

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