Padecky: Alyssa Nakken’s example outshines the tired gripes about women in pro sports
Cam Newton embarrassed himself last week and it took just two days for Alyssa Nakken to reveal the obvious — that Nakken is the future, Newton is the dinosaur. Newton made it clear. He is indeed on the wrong side of history.
The San Francisco Giants’ Nakken, 31, became the first woman to take the field as a coach in an MLB game, a sport that began in 1876.
Newton, 32, a free-agent NFL quarterback, channeled his inner John Wayne when he said in a podcast a week ago: “Now a woman for me is handling your own (life) but knowing how to cater to a man’s needs, right? You can’t cook. You don’t know how to be quiet. You don’t know how to allow a man to lead.”
Newton is ignorant of or doesn’t care about the developing influence women are having on professional sport, which once was an exclusive boys club.
Six women are NBA officials. Seven women are on NBA coaching staffs. A stunning 42% of all referees in the NBA’s developmental G League are women.
Ten women are on-field baseball coaches in either the majors or the minors.
Two women are NFL officials, including one (Sarah Thomas) who has officiated a Super Bowl.
Yes, you read the three preceding sentences correctly: Women across the three major sports have now earned the right to be placed squarely and respectfully in any conversation, with eight of them given the authority to judge men on their behavior, including leveling the most severe judgment — kicking an athlete out of a game for inappropriate actions.
The time, clearly, has come to finally send adrift and never hear again of the demeaning words that were offered as criticism of allowing women into the mainline sports. The bitter words feel as if they came from another century. And they have.
Oh come on, so went the tripe. Women can’t play in the NFL. They never dunked on Michael Jordan. They could never hit Nolan Ryan. What do they know? We’ll show them how petty we are. We’ll send them a rat.
That’s what Dave Kingman did in 1986. Kingman, then an outfielder with the Oakland Athletics, sent a live rat to a female sportswriter in the press box. Kingman thought it funny. Nothing personal, really. Nothing intelligent, either.
There is not one male sportswriter, one male coach, one male player who has had ever to put up with such nonsense, such degrading displays, such infantile and immature attempts at humor. We’ve heard about “white privilege.” In sports there is “male privilege.” I’m not proud to admit that.
One of my college journalism professors asked me, years after I graduated, what I thought of women in the press box.
“Thank God,” I said. “The conversation is much more civil and professional. Doesn’t sound any more like the boys’ locker room in high school.”
My professor remained silent, studying my words. It didn’t compliment my profession. He heard a sadness in my voice. The man had taught journalism to media legend Dan Rather and “male privilege” was not what he taught.
All of which makes Alyssa Nakken’s journey all that more remarkable. Nakken knows the conservative nature of baseball, the long-held traditions that sometimes appear to be shackled in chains. The most embarrassing example: Professional baseball had been played for more than 70 years before a Black player was allowed on the field.
Yet Nakken was not intimidated. She studied the landscape and applied her intelligence. She has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a master’s degree in sports management. She was a three-time All-Star softball player at Sacramento State.
The Giants rewarded her work ethic, intelligence and ability not to be intimidated by a male-dominated profession. Nakken will reward the Giants by providing the template for those girls who also are dreaming big as Nakken once did. Consider Nakken a ray of sun, shining to places unknown to her.
The epic timeline now has been drawn from Bernice Gera to Nakken. In 1972, Gera became the first woman umpire in baseball, working the New York-Penn League. Gera quit because of the harassment and isolation she felt from fellow umpires.
Nakken will tell that story because anything else would be hiding from the truth. Work at it, Nakken will tell the young kids. This is a gift left for you under the Christmas tree; it’s up to you to open it and use it.
As a speaker, Nakken will be in demand. Most assuredly. You already know some of her answers. Shrug off the chuckleheads like Cam Newton and Dave Kingman. Learn your sport, for that’s how you become a referee. Become a teacher, for that’s how you become a coach. Learn how to become a round peg in a round hole. Use your voice but no need to shout.
Heck, you might even wind up in someone’s Hall of Fame. That’s what happened to Gera and Nakken. Both are honored in baseball’s Hall of Fame. Nakken’s helmet is now at Cooperstown as the result of her on-field appearance last week.
Years ago, when she began playing softball, did Nakken think she’d wind up in the Hall of Fame? Of course not.
She just wanted to do something she loved. Wasn’t complicated. Of such innocence courage is drawn.
Cam Newton should understand courage. He had it every time he dropped back to pass. He should remember what it’s like to succeed when so many want him to fail. To stand there and take the heat. Newton has more in common with Nakken than he probably wants to admit.
That’s a compliment, Cam, if you can bring yourself to recognize it.
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