As shocking as it may be, it is entirely possible that there could be a woman running the entire United States from the White House before a woman becomes a head coach or a general manager of one of the teams in the MLB, NBA, NFL or NHL. These positions do not have the same taxing physical requirements as on-field participation, and yet in some ways seem to have limited women even more. As of December 13th, there were 23 Fortune 500 companies with female CEOs (a woefully low number out of 500, but still progress), including GM, Hewlett-Packard, Pepsi, Lockheed Martin, DuPont and Yahoo. Several major countries, including Germany, Brazil and Argentina, are currently ruled by female presidents or prime ministers, and dozens of others have in the past, including Margaret Thatcher in Great Britain, Indira Gandhi in India and Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan. Women have continued to break through glass ceilings in all walks of life, and use their intelligence, talents, powers and abilities to advocate for complete gender equality in the workplace. Nevertheless, there are no female head coaches or general managers on teams in any of the four major North American professional sports leagues, nor have there ever been.
In future decades or centuries, when women have taken an equal place in the coaching and management hierarchies, these ten women will be seen as pioneers who were able to use their knowledge and experience to rise to positions of prominence to set an example for other women to follow their example and surpass them. Until then, however, we can only celebrate the women who have made the first inroads into sports coaching and management in male-dominated worlds and hope they are but the tip of the iceberg, foreshadowing a much larger group to come.
10 Virginia Halas McCaskey, Owner of the Chicago Bears
9 Rita Benson LeBlanc, Vice Chairman of the Board, New Orleans Saints
8 Jean Afterman, Senior VP and Assistant GM, New York Yankees
7 Barbara Underhill, Toronto Maple Leafs Skating Coach
As a World Champion pairs figure skater in 1984 and five-time Canadian champion from 1979-1983, Underhill did not originally consider professional team sports as a career. In 2006, however, the coach of the OHL’s Guelph Storm, a junior hockey team co-owned by her husband Rick Gaetz, asked her to work with the team on their skating abilities, commencing a career that has only grown since. Underhill then went on to work for the Anaheim Ducks, New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning on a contract basis, and in 2011 was named by The Hockey News as one of the 100 most influential people in hockey, demonstrating the respect she had gained around the league for her efforts.
6 Nancy Lieberman, NBA D-League Coach and Assistant GM
5 Heidi Ueberroth, Former NBA President of Global Marketing Partnerships and International Business Operations
4 Kim Ng, Former MLB Assistant GM and Current MLB Senior Vice-President for Baseball Operations
3 Amy Trask, Former CEO of the Oakland Raiders
With a political science degree from Berkeley, Trask started at the USC Gould School of Law in 1982 and started her career with the Raiders as a legal intern in 1983. She re-joined the franchise in 1987, and moved up to become the CEO of the franchise, serving as Al Davis’ protégé and essentially running the entire team herself in his last years. Trask repeatedly spoke glowingly of Davis for his dedication to promoting equal rights and for the trust with which he had entrusted her.
After Davis’ passing in 2011, however, team ownership passed to his son Mark, who desired to re-organize the team and place Trask in a position of less power than she had enjoyed previously under his father. Unwilling to compromise, Trask resigned from the team in 2013, after over 25 years with the team. While it is likely that Trask remains with a private law firm, rather than seeking a return to the NFL, her legacy continues through the example of those who have followed her, like Jeanne Bonk, the executive vice-president and CFO of the San Diego Chargers, and Katie Blackburn, the executive vice-president of the Cincinnati Bengals.
2 Donna Goldsmith, Former WWE Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice-President
1 Lesa France Kennedy, CEO of International Speedway Corporation, Member of NASCAR Board of Directors
Part of the powerful NASCAR France family (her grandfather co-founded NASCAR, her father was the head of the organization for almost 30 years, her brother is the current CEO and chairman and her son is a current driver), Kennedy wields tremendous power within the sport. A member of NASCAR’s Board of Directors, she is also the former president and current CEO of the International Speedway Corporation, which owns 13 tracks that hold a combined 19 of the 36 races on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Schedule, including Daytona, Darlington, Talladega and Watkins Glen. While much of her power originated from her family background, she is nevertheless an extraordinarily powerful businessperson and sports figure who fully deserves a high spot on this list.
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