In a League of their own: Sexual Discrimination in Professional Sports

By Joshua Wolinsky

As Michael Lewis’s acclaimed book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game has pointed out, baseball is a market like any other that suffers from inefficiencies.  Lewis chronicled the Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane, ultimately asking how can a small market team with such a low payroll still compete with the likes of the sports payroll gluttons?[1] The answer was profoundly simply.  The organization was able to buck the trend of “old time” baseball scouts and put into action statistical evaluation that was extremely unconventional among baseball executives.  Billy Beane’s entire repertoire was applying the limited resources he had, in unconventional ways, in order to reap the benefits of inefficiencies within Major League Baseball.  The tactics, methodology, and culture found within the Oakland executive office, has now spread throughout baseball and even other professional sports.  However, what if the question of inefficiencies is not with the team on the field, but with management?

Although underrepresented in collegiate sports management (only 9.5% of Division I schools had a female athletic director as of 2010), women are employed as Athletic Directors holding executive positions.[2] Professional sports, however, has a culture dominated by men.  In the major American team professional sports (Baseball, Football, Basketball) currently all head coaches and general managers are men.  While professional sports franchises have been so adamant about finding new ways to win searching for a new style of executives, it is inexcusable that women have not even been invited to interview for executive positions within team’s management.

Baseball has Theo Epstein the General Manager of the Boston Redsox, and Basketball has Daryl Morey the General Manager of the Houston Rockets.  These two GMs represent the shift in methodology, and owners looking at highly educated statistical executives to run the franchise.  Furthermore, Andrew Friedman was awarded The Sporting News Executive of the Year for 2008, for his work with the Tampa Bay Rays.[3] Friedman was heralded for bringing his Wall Street insight to the franchise, and in transforming the Rays into a title contender over the past few seasons.[4] With owners looking for new executive personnel and treating their teams like the businesses they are, women would be more then capable of handling the executive positions.

There are those who doubt if women can be effective on the field leaders as coaches, or even as the face of an organization as general manager.  Women are most often critiqued as possible head coaches for not having professional playing experience in the league they are coaching in.  This supposedly will cause a disconnect with players, and will not garner the player’s respect.  This argument, however, supposes that all head coaches in men’s professional sports have played professionally in the league they are coaching.  The fact is that there are currently head coaches who have never played in the league they are coaching in and yet are extremely successful.  Most notably in the NBA Gregg Popovich has won four NBA Championships with the San Antonio Spurs, Stan Van Gundy has reached the finals with the Orlando Magic, and Lawrence Frank has one of the most exciting young teams in the Oklahoma City Thunder, yet all three never played a minute in the NBA.[5] Even some of the most successful NFL teams are led by head coaches who never played professionally (Jim Caldwell of Indianapolis, Bill Bellichick of New England and Tom Coughlin of the New York Football Giants).[6] Although a seemingly insurmountable task for women to acclimate themselves with male professional athletes, theses concerns have been handled and conquered by other coaches who never played professionally in the sport they are coaching.

As far as concerns with women being the face of an organization as a general manager, critics do not need to look much further then America’s most successful businesses.  Pepsi, Kraft Foods, Sunoco, Dupont, Rite Aid, Xerox, and most notably Yahoo! are all Fortune 500 companies headed by woman CEO’s.[7] These women have undoubtedly handled complex businesses and should be considered candidates for professional sports franchises.  Corporate executives often deal with larger operating budgets, more employees, and higher demands from their shareholders.  In short, there are plenty of qualified women who are capable of running a business, including a sports franchise.

Title VII protects females not only from direct employment discrimination but also from discrimination based on stereotypes or assumptions about the abilities, traits, or performance of an individual in a protected class.[8] If professional sports teams neglect to interview women for executive positions, this author doubts it is sheer coincidence.  Owners’ failure to consider qualified women candidates on its face smells of discrimination.  Hopefully franchises will realize that by neglecting to even consider hiring highly qualified women to run their organizations, the true inefficiency is not on the field of play but in the owners’ luxury suite.


[1] See generally Michael Lewis, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game  (W. W. Norton & Company 2004).

[2] Travis Lazarczyk, Women Athletic Directors Thriving in Maine, Morning Sentinel, May. 9, 2010, available at http://www.onlinesentinel.com/sports/women-ad-thriving-in-maine_2010-05-08.html.

[3] See Jacob Wheatley-Schaller, Andrew Friedman Wins Executive of the Year, Fanhouse, Nov. 4, 2008, http://mlb.fanhouse.com/2008/11/04/andrew-friedman-wins-executive-of-the-year.

[4] See John Romano, Wall Street Philosophy Transforms Rays, St. Petersburg Times, July 13, 2008, available at http://www.tampabay.com/sports/baseball/rays/article696277.ece.

[5] Daniel Marks, Do Former NBA Players Make Better Coaches, Dime, May. 21, 2010, available at http://dimemag.com/2010/05/do-former-nba-players-make-better-coaches/.

[6] Joe Posnanski, NFL Coaches as Players, SI.com, Oct. 16, 2010, available at http://joeposnanski.si.com/2010/10/16/top-32-nfl-coaches-as-players/?eref=sihp.

[7] Megan Angelo, Fortune 500 Women CEOs, CNNMoney.com, Apr. 22, 2010, http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2010/fortune/1004/gallery.fortune500_women_ceos.fortune.

[8] See Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228, 255-58 (1989).

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