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Why are men running the show in women’s fastpitch softball?

November 17, 2009 – 9:34 AM

megan

By Megan Wood

I’ve played softball for 15 years, and for nearly my entire career I have been coached by men. Sure, a few female pitching coaches helped on the side, but T-ball through high school, all of my head and assistant coaches were guys.

Even when I reflected on the umpires, tournament directors, athletic trainers, equipment vendors, and league leadership the people I have seen running my sport have all been of the same sex: Men, men, men and – yes – more men.

My sport may be dominated by female athletes, but males are running softball.

I wondered: How can this be? Women’s softball has gained in popularity, particularly over the last ten years, so surely there must be women at the highest levels administrating this sport? One has only to look into the governance of softball to see the male dominance.

Consider:

—   On the Amateur Softball Association of America (ASA) website, the 1,000-word chronicle of the game’s history dutifully describes the men who helped mold the sport BUT never mention the impact of women (beyond the fact that the sport was divided into three divisions: fastpicth, slowpitch, and women).
—  Only three of fourteen ASA Board of Directors members are women and no female has ever served as President since the organization’s founding in 1933.
— Of 25 national umpire staff members, only four are women. And while the ASA supports the International Softball Federation’s (ISF) umpire certification program (which allows umpires to officiate World Championships or international games), the ISF has certified 972 male umpires – and only 103 female umpires – since beginning in 1952.
—  Fewer women now coach softball than in 1977, down from 83.5 percent that year to 64.7 in 2008, according to the Acosta and Carpenter study on women in collegiate athletics.

We spend a lot of time in women’s sports talking about “progress” and the quest for equity. In softball at least, it looks like we are moving backwards.

Megan Wood is a senior at Wellesley College who is majoring in Peace and Justice Studies. She is a pitcher and left fielder on the varsity softball team.

  1. 4 Responses to “Why are men running the show in women’s fastpitch softball?”

  2. Thank you for highlighting the irony that is clearly evident in softball. It’s unfortunate that the sport is still being dominated by men and hopefully more women will read this and be proactive and involve themselves in the administration of the sport.

    By Marina on Nov 17, 2009

  3. This is an important issue to raise and I am glad someone is doing so. I have felt for years that discrimination existed on the coaching side of softball. I was fortunate to have all female coaches while growing up (in the 70’s) and have been alarmed at how women are currently being marginalized in the sport. Unfortunately, as soon as something gains prominence, money or power, males try to run the show. The need for power and control by men is very evident. I also think that you can look beyond to other Women’s Sports, particularly those sports that have more $ involved or are growing in popularity. Thank you, Megan, for bringing this to the forefront.

    By Gail on Nov 17, 2009

  4. Megan, this is a clear and insightful thesis, meticulously researched and articulately stated, about an issue that impacts both men and women.

    I’m a baseball umpire of thirty years’ experience and because I’m baseball-trained, I seldom work softball. However, this fall I had the pleasure of umpiring a couple of girls’ fast pitch softball games in Manhattan, and really enjoyed the competitive spirit and camaraderie among the players. I was surprised by the level of skill and competition; the girls pitched, hit, and fielded with an intensity equal to that of any men’s game I’ve ever worked, and the pitching was truly eye-opening. One pitcher was throwing so hard, an errant fastball hit my shinguard and it hurt like hell!

    After finishing up the first game, I was off by myself changing out of my plate gear when a couple of the young ladies wandered by and thanked me for my efforts. Then, much to my shock, they told me I’m the first woman umpire they’d ever seen! I was devastated, having lulled myself into believing that because so many girls and young women are now playing softball, that women umpiring would naturally follow. That this is not true is a puzzle, and a disheartening one, and the paucity of women in so many coaching, administrative, and executive positions within the softball industry is equally mystifying.

    An issue can’t be addressed until it’s identified, so thank you for shining a light on these unhappy statistics. Until young women are drawn into the culture of the sports they play at as young an age as the boys are into theirs, the pipeline leading to jobs in front office and support positions, as well as in umpiring and coaching, will continue to be a deep, dark void. Women must mentor and support other women, and we need to cultivate the support of the men in positions to change things, in order to crack open the stained grass window that baseball and softball still keep shut tight whenever we show up, and opportunities in those arenas presented as career and recreation choices for us, something we would be challenged by and excel at, rather than as the almost exclusive province of men.

    You’re absolutely right to point out that things have regressed during the last several decades. When I started umpiring in 1981, there was one woman umpire in all of professional baseball, Pam Postema, and she was never given the opportunity to umpire a regular season major league game. Almost thirty years later, there are none. Zero, at any level of minor or major league baseball. Now I find out there are way fewer even in softball than I previously believed. A very sad state of affairs indeed, not just because we’re consequently missing out on careers and avocations that are rewarding on so many different levels, but because of what it says about the way we are valued as athletes and administrators.

    Perhaps your generation will be the one to change things for the better, Megan. After reading your thoughtful and thought-provoking piece, I have high hopes it will be!

    By Perry on Nov 17, 2009

  5. I played fastpitch in the late ’50’s and early 60’s. We had with the Irv Lind Florists a women (Lois Williams) coach and a man (Irv Lind). Most of the other teams also had women and men coaches. Sponsors created the problem with no women coaches, again men thought women couldn’t coach.

    By teri conover on Feb 27, 2011

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