NBA Receives “A” for Diversity. Not Bullshit: A Counterpoint

In response to Kerem’s last post, NBA Receives “A” for Diversity. Bullshit., I pose the necessary counterpoint: NBA Receives “A” for Diversity. Not Bullshit: A Counterpoint.

“Better than the other major leagues does not mean the job is done.

Asked why there have been no other female referees hired since 1997, Palmer once joked, “I guess I set the bar pretty high.”

We really could set it a lot higher.”

I get it. You think there should be more women (and people of color) within the NBA.

While I acknowledge that this issue is clearly twofold – one of gender and one of race – let me focus on the former, especially since your lens is the harshest when it comes to the lack of females in the NBA.

But why should there be more females in the NBA? Why is it so wrong that they are relatively absent? Your thesis hinges on gender equality being a moral ideal, that women simply should be in the NBA. But several other huge truths are missing from this perspective.

PART I: Hardly Any Field Has a Proportionate Number of Females

One female ref. Zero sexy refs.

One female referee. Zero female coaches.

In theory, doesn’t that just seem so wrong? Shouldn’t our country have a professional league that matches the demographics of its population? Shouldn’t our country have an anything that resembles its population?

But really, what does?

You will find gross statistic anomalies in the demographics of nearly any career field. 89 out of 541 members (16%) of Congress are women. 41 members are black (8%). 8 members are Asian or Pacific Islander (.01%). And just for fun, just one (out of 541!) member identifies as an Atheist (.002%). (God bless you, Pete Stark.) Sorry to depress you, but these numbers trend similarly across an expanse of career fields. Christian white males disproportionately dominate positions of power.

This lack of ladies thing isn’t an NBA issue. This isn’t a sports issue. This is a nationwide issue that is so much bigger than there being one female ref in a male-dominated sport.

Your displeasure with the gender gap in the NBA takes place within the larger cultural vacuum of the gender gap in the United States, and if I could posit one thing: it seems like you are just disappointed with the whole thing.  And you’re projecting that disappointment onto the lowly sports organization that you dearly love.

But if there’s any career field whose gender inequity you should be criticizing, please don’t let it be professional basketball…

PART II: Why Aren’t There Any Female Coaches in a Male Sport?

Zero female NBA players.

Perhaps necessarily so, I introduce this painfully obvious statistic. The genetic differences between men and women have been chronicled for years. Simply put, males are athletically superior to females. There are reasons why men’s and women’s sports leagues exist distinctly from one another. Those reasons have nothing to do with politics, sexism, bias, or discrimination – it’s all and only about competition.

Sports (if I can ever really define it) is no more than a set of rules created to define the winner and loser of an athletic competition. It’s not a culture. It’s not an art. It’s not a philosophy. As much as I want it to be all of these things, it’s, at heart, an athletic competition – a gateway for people to achieve a sense of victory using their physical capabilities.

Once physical capabilities are added as a variable into any field of work, the number of females significantly decreases. Construction workers, cops, firefighters, auto mechanics, lumberjacks, soldiers. I don’t need statistics to tell you that males comprise at least 75% of these professions, and probably a lot more. With words like policemen, firemen, foreman, garbageman, and handyman lacking non-awkward female equivalents, it’s not wrong to attribute this linguistic phenomenon to the dearth of lady electricians and garbage collectors.

We’re lucky that words like baseballmen and hockeymen haven’t caught on, but it’s not hard to imagine a world where those designations would be commonplace. The difference in physical strength between the male and the female body has impacted the greater part of our humanity – from our days as hunter-gatherers, to the present day legislation of Title IX and the WNBA. Women and men are separated at birth, by our bodies alone, and we make every effort to meet again. Sex jokes aside, the reality is that – despite our best efforts – it is impossible to regain that equity on the football field and basketball court, where such cruel determiners like height and 40 times seal our fates.


As far as the scarcity of female referees, coaches, and general managers – I would explain this by simply referring to the lack of female NBA players. When you haven’t played the game, it’s increasingly more challenging to call the game, coach the game, and know the game. I tend to think of “NBA Basketball Player” as an entry-level position, one that breeds familiarity and understanding to excel at the top-level jobs.

It’s easy to look at the number of males coaches in the WNBA – 6 out of 12 teams are coached by a male – and think that kind of equality should translate to the NBA. However, even former WNBA President Val Ackerman concedes that coaches are hired based on merit, much of which comes from pro experience:

“It has always been to get the best people for the job. I think more people with NBA backgrounds are being considered than in the early years. Before, teams were looking for coaches with women’s basketball backgrounds. That led you to college. Now teams are looking for pro backgrounds and it has been a positive to have the infusion of experience from the NBA.”

NBA coaching experience, of course, stems directly from NBA playing experience…

If you’re going to pick any career field to criticize for gender discrimination (and there are a ton), professional basketball should be at the bottom of your list. If anything, this sport is doing something others rarely do – hire based on quality alone.


4 thoughts on “NBA Receives “A” for Diversity. Not Bullshit: A Counterpoint

  1. I reject the your contention that a coach needs to be athletically superior (or even on a par) to the athletes s/he coaches. In terms of strategy, leadership, vision, motivation, designing plays, and commanding respect, there is no reason why a seasoned lover of basketball could not do that job well, even if they could not compete as a professional athlete on the court. Any one writing for this blog, a lot of people reading this blog, and most people who watch any basketball game with a critical or analytical eye should have a reasonable shot coaching a team. If athletic ability were a requirement for coaching a men’s basketball team, then the coaches today would have to do more than yell on the sidelines to get puffy and red in the face, or break a sweat.

  2. Pingback: Sports blog debating the legitimacy of the NBA’s recent ”A” rating for diversity

  3. Pingback: NBA Receives “A” for Diversity. Bullshit. | hoops, I did it again

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