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For women in sports, ‘inclusion is the name of the game’

The San Antonio Spurs made history last season when they named retired WNBA player Becky Hammon to their coaching staff, making her the NBA’s first full-time female assistant coach.

Hammon made history again last week. Serving as the Spurs’ head coach in the NBA Las Vegas Summer League, she became the first woman to lead a team to the league title.

For Justine Siegal, the director of sports partnerships at Northeastern’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society, there is no question that Hammon and countless other women have the skills to coach men’s professional sports teams. They just need the opportunity.

Siegal can say that from experience—she is the nation’s first woman to coach a professional baseball team.

“You can have all the skill in the world but without the opportunity there is nothing to showcase,” Siegal said. “Jackie Robinson is not who he is today without Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey, and Becky wouldn’t be where she is today without Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich.”

Siegal is no stranger to coaching men’s teams. She served as an assistant coach for the Springfield College baseball team and first base coach for the Brockton Rox of the Independent Canadian American Association of Professional Baseball. She is also the first woman to throw batting practice to major league players.

In past interviews, Siegal has noted that a few Rox players treated her with much disrespect and petitioned to kick her off the team. But the respect she received from Springfield players, she said, and the respect that Hammon has garnered from the Spurs’ players, is thanks in part to support at the leadership level.

“I think the acceptance of women in male-dominated sports is dependent on the leadership,” Siegal said. “The Spurs’ leadership was completely on board with Hammon coaching, and when you have that you don’t have room for dissent.”

Northeastern has long been a leading advocate f female inclusion in sports, both at the center and in the athletic department. One example is Catherine Erickson, who has served as the director of the Northeastern men’s and women’s track and field and cross-country programs since 2012. Earlier this year the men’s track and field team won its first-ever CAA Championship and Erickson was named the CAA Men’s Track and Field Coach of the Year.

This fall, the center will launch a new training and education program for parents, coaches, organizations, and athletes that will focus on best practices for supporting girls’ participation in sports.

“There is nothing out there that says, ‘I am a female athlete, respect me, and here is how to do that,’” Siegal noted. “When girls are believed in, they can see what is possible—and I think that is really important. Inclusion is the name of the game.

“We, at the Center, are developing a comprehensive sport based youth development model that is both thoughtful and intentional specific to defining, promoting and credentialing positive youth coaching best practices,” Siegal added. “This initiative focuses on those very issues but even more specific to gender equity through sport and to increasing access, participation and life skills of young girls.”

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