Becky Hammon’s Latest Accolade: NBA Assistant Coach
In a historic move, the San Antonio Spurs hired the NBA’s first full-time female coach, Becky Hammon. In what seems like a weekly byline, the Spurs are one step ahead of the rest of the NBA, both on and off the court.
Of course, everyone’s making history these days. Just over a year ago, in April 2013, Jason Collins became the first still active athlete to come out as gay in a major American team sport (since the media wasn’t ready to recognize MLB player Glenn Burke in 1976). This past February, Michael Sam became the first openly gay football player in college, and when he was drafted in May, the first openly gay player in the NFL. In June, Amelie Mauresmo became Andy Murray’s coach, and thus the first woman to coach a top ten men’s tennis player. Now, there’s Becky Hammon.
Still, as tempting as it is to focus on headlines like “the first gay player in sports” and “the first female coach in the NBA,” the historical significance of those advents tend to cast a shadow over the actual person; by focusing the news on the NBA’s first full-time female coach, we ignore and neglect Becky Hammon, the person. If we aren’t careful with the language, we risk taking away her agency in the situation, making the Spurs the subject and Hammon the object.
This isn’t the Spurs’ benevolence; this is Hammon’s accomplishment.
It may seem like a detail, a nuance, but it’s important. And if there was any question of Hammon’s suitability for the position, take a look at her resume. She’s a six-time WNBA All-Star, and a 16 year veteran in the league. When Hammon expressed interest in coaching last year, Spurs Head Coach Greg Popovich was quick to invite her to sit in on team meetings and activities. Clearly, he liked what he saw: “Having observed her working with our team this past season, I’m confident her basketball IQ, work ethic and interpersonal skills will be a great benefit to the Spurs.” In a feature on “NBA Inside Stuff,” Popovich added,”She’s right in the middle and she knows how to do it and her players really respond to her. She’s just a natural.”
If an endorsement from a five-time NBA Championship-winning coach doesn’t convince you that Hammon deserves this, that she’s an equal on the coaching staff, I don’t know what will. Unfortunately, it’s not you she needs to convince–it’s the media. Sure, the sexism might not be overt, but she’ll have to deal with it. Picture this all-too familiar scenario in sports: A Spurs player is arrested for domestic violence. You know what comes next, even though it shouldn’t. Hammon will be singled out, targeted because she’s a woman. What does she think? How does this change her comfort level in the locker room? Will she discuss it with players? If it were to be a high-profle player, and media attention continued over a prolonged period of time, it’s easy to see how the media could eventually force Hammon out of her position. Her relationships with players tainted, her position as coach compromised, her identity as a woman damning and alienating. And all because of the media.
No question, Hammon will face obstacles. Luckily, she’s used to it: to get a job in her former career as WNBA player, Hammon had to prove herself as an undrafted free agent. It seems she’s up for this challenge.