On July 20, 2020, plenty of things were different as the San Francisco Giants rolled to a 6-2 win in an exhibition game against their Californian counterparts, the Oakland Athletics.
Players were donning masks and bumping elbows, cardboard cutouts of fans filled seats behind home plate and piped-in crowd noise rang throughout the ballpark.
Even with all of that going on, headlines were focused elsewhere after the game. Some news coverage focused on the fact that both Giants manager Gabe Kapler and some of his players took a knee during the National Anthem, while other stories pointed out another groundbreaking moment in the history of the Giants franchise.
During the seventh inning, Giants assistant Alyssa Nakken took over as the team’s first-base coach in the final few innings of the scrimmage. When the first full-time female coach in Major League Baseball history stepped into the box next to first base in the seventh inning, she added another title to her resume as the first woman to ever coach in an MLB game in an on-field capacity.
“I feel a great sense of responsibility,” Nakken said in an interview in February. “Coaching, I never saw it. This job has kind of been hidden for so long. I’m so excited to be in this role for the challenge and the opportunity to make an impact for this organization that I love. But also, I’m excited that now girls can see there is a job on the field in baseball. It’s really cool.”
While Nakken set the tone on the field for any younger women watching at home and looking at potential careers in the sports world, another female sports personality was raising the bar across the country near the nation’s capital.
Less than 24 hours after Nakken’s achievement, Julie Donaldson became the Washington NFL team’s highest-ranking female executive when it was announced she would be taking over as the franchise’s senior vice president of media and content.
In her role, Donaldson will be responsible for the oversight of the franchise’s broadcast operation, and will become the first woman in NFL history to be a regular on-air member of a team’s radio broadcast booth.
“It is with great humility and sincere appreciation that I accept the new position of the Washington Football Team’s Senior VP of Media and Content,” Donaldson wrote on Twitter. “This is a challenge I’ve been preparing and working toward for nearly 20 yrs in sports media, including the last decade in Washington.”
Donaldson also used her platform to discuss how she is “committed to be an advocate for positive change,” saying she wants to “support others in and around the organization, and across the community, to ensure their voices are heard and respected.”
“It’s also my ambition to encourage and set an example for those who want to follow my path, those who share this dream of mine,” Donaldson wrote. “I fully understand the demands of this role and significance of being the first female to hold this position in the NFL.”
While it is unfortunate how long it has taken for some of these accolades to be acquired, both Nakken’s and Donaldson’s achievements are a part of a long line of historic moments in recent memory as it relates to women in sports.
The Bay Area seems to be setting a trend when it comes to expanding their coaching horizons, as the San Francisco 49ers promoted former intern Katie Sowers to a role as an offensive assistant before the 2019 season. That year, the 49ers went on to win an NFC Championship, and the title helped make Sowers both the first female and first openly-gay coach in Super Bowl history.
Five years prior, in 2014, Becky Hammon was made an assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs, and created similar change as Nakken by becoming the first full-time female coach in NBA history.
“Basketball is a genderless sport. The ball has no difference whether a man’s holding it or a woman’s holding it,” said Becky Hammon in an espnW article in March 2020.
The names don’t stop there, and that same espnW article Hammon is quoted in references numerous other coaches across the NBA that are helping to change the game for women in sports. Washington Wizards assistant Kristi Toliver. Los Angeles Clippers assistant Natalie Nakase. The first female coach in Dallas Mavericks history, Jenny Boucek.
The list goes on and on, and hopefully will continue to grow. For now, however, there are plenty of reasons to celebrate as a sports fan, and Alyssa Nakken and Julie Donaldson’s earth-shattering moments should serve as just that.