Lou Henry Hoover & Women in Sports

My father would be delighted to know that I’ve started paying closer attention to professional basketball and football. I’ve been a baseball fan for years (I’ve temporarily transferred my loyalties to the Mets since the Cubs beat my Pirates the other night), but I never really got the hang of football. A lot of that was because I could never track the ball. One minute, it’s in the quarterback’s hand. Next thing you know, 2,000+ lbs. of flesh, helmets, and shoulder pads are covering up the pigskin. Then, of course, there’s the NBA. Now, I live in North Carolina, home of four ACC teams. That’s enough in-state competition to keep even the most lackadaisical of basketball fans interested from November through March. And as my husband says, when you’ve got that kind of college ball to watch, who wants to look at a bunch of millionaires running around on the court in their underwear?

Well, that may change. And it’s all because women are getting some roles in the game. Becky Hammon joined the San Antonio Spurs as a coach in 2014, and this year Nancy Lieberman has been added to the Sacramento Kings’ coaching roster. Both women had long, successful careers as professional basketball players. And then, this summer, Jen Welter landed a gig as a coaching intern for the Arizona Cardinals. And word has it that some players would have loved it if this seasoned football player had been given a full-time contract.

Now, when it comes to sports, history is usually only important when it’s time to pull out some record-breaking or comparative stats. But I’ll throw a little first lady history in here. Lou Henry Hoover, who was the nation’s first lady from 1929-1933, was an early and vocal advocate for women and sports. She absolutely adored physical activity. As a high school student, and then in her days in teacher training school, her best times were doing gymnastic and dance routines in the gym. She loved it when she was called upon to lead the PE class when the teacher was absent.

In the years when she was a Cabinet wife, she was a vice-president, and the only woman on the board, of the National Amateur Athletic Federation. Her advocacy for women’s activities in sports was centered around the health benefits, the self-assurance it offered women, and the overall improvement in academic performance. In each of these things, Lou was well ahead of her time.

Truth be told, she might have some issues regarding women in professional sports – not because she was against women’s equality (far from it!). But she had strong concerns about the connection between gambling and sports and believed (rightly so) that it adversely affected the fair conduct of the game. She would, no doubt, be greatly upset over Draft Kings and Fantasy Football.

But when it comes to rooting for women, I strongly suspect that if she were still alive today and still living in her beloved Palo Alto, she’d have season’s tickets to the Kings’ home games and would have already become close friends with Nancy Lieberman.