Today, the Miami Marlins named Kim Ng their new General Manager. She is the first female GM of any of the major professional sports leagues in the U.S. (baseball, basketball, football, and hockey), and she is the first Asian-American GM of Major League Baseball.
I’ve been a fan of hers since she joined my Dodgers as an assistant GM in 2001. It’s a historic moment for sure, and it’s also shameful that it took this long for her to get a GM job. Her credentials are impeccable. She’s been in baseball for 30 years, and she has three championship rings. By all accounts, she’s an incredible negotiator, talent evaluator, and manager, and she is highly respected by some of the biggest names in baseball. It seemed like a sure thing for her to get a GM job in the first decade of this century, and she got plenty of interviews. But it never happened, and in 2011, she took a job with Major League Baseball.
Progress has to start somewhere, and this is definitely something to celebrate. However, all too often, people point to barriers like these being broken and think that the work is done. The work is not done. If we live in a world where only exceptional folks like Ng get opportunities, then we will have failed.
A truly equitable world would be one where all professional sports leagues were full of mediocre GMs of all genders and races.
I didn’t fully understand this until I learned about Janice Madden’s groundbreaking study of Black coaches in the NFL. She found that, from 1990-2002, Black coaches far outperformed white coaches. Her research led to the Rooney Rule in 2003, which required that teams interview at least one minority candidate for coaching positions.
Here’s the kicker. Success isn’t just more Black coaches in the NFL. Success is more mediocre Black coaches in the NFL. As Madden explained:
If African-American coaches don’t fail, it means that those with equal talents to the failing white coaches are not even getting the chance to be a coach. Seeing African-American coaches fail means that they, like white coaches, no longer have to be superstars to get coaching jobs.
We should absolutely celebrate when we see superstars in any field who are women, Black, transgender, etc. Representation matters. But we should be even happier when we see fields full of mediocre women and other underrepresented folks, because that is a true indicator of equal opportunity.
I hope Ng succeeds, but in a weird way, I’ll be just as happy if she’s mediocre.