It's one step forward, one step back for the white, male world of American pro sports

Cecil Harris
·7 min read

This has been quite a month for women who shatter glass ceilings.

On Nov. 7, Sen. Kamala Harris of California broke race and gender barriers on the way to becoming the vice president-elect.

And Friday, the Miami Marlins hired Kim Ng as the first female and first East Asian general manager in major-league baseball history. Ng, who is 52, has spent 30 years in baseball, including 21 years of front-office experience with the New York Yankees, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox.

The hiring is being applauded by those who champion diversity. It is also being described by those in baseball as long overdue.

"If you look at her résumé, she should have been on the fast track to becoming an MLB general manager," MLB Network broadcaster Ron Darling said. "She was on the slow track, quite frankly, because she was an Asian woman."

Ng has given those who have been traditionally overlooked — particularly women and girls — someone to admire and emulate. She achieved this by showing resilience and never losing her passion for becoming a leader despite one fruitless interview after another.

It would have been easy for Ng to become disillusioned and leave baseball. But she persisted.

Persistence and determination undoubtedly helped Amy Palcic break new ground in 2013, when she became the first female vice president of communications for an NFL team with the Houston Texans. Despite Palcic's success in the role, her story took an unexpected turn when the Texans fired her this month.

Ng will hopefully avoid a similar fate. Her decadeslong friendship with Marlins CEO Derek Jeter should help. The Hall of Fame shortstop was still in his prime when Ng became the Yankees' assistant general manager in 1998. She held that post until 2001. During that time, the Yankees won three World Series titles.

Before becoming the Marlins' general manager, Ng, who started as a White Sox intern in 1990, had almost become used to being passed over. Many professionals who are women or people of color know the feeling.

"Yeah, there were times where I felt like the interview wasn't maybe on the up and up," she said. "But I will say that just by having my name out there was a source of hope for people. And so you do it because you know that you just have to keep your name out there."

Ng continued to interview for a chance to run a major franchise in an American men's sport because she believed each interview brought her and other women one step closer to achieving the dream.

Her ascension may well persuade people who are from groups often excluded from seats of power to aim higher. Having Ng as a role model could spur them to success in a sport dominated by white men or in other nontraditional fields.

"When I got into this business, it seemed unlikely that a woman would lead a major-league team, but I am dogged in the pursuit of my goals," she said. "My goal is now to bring championship baseball to Miami."

And she could do it, too. The Marlins appear to be a franchise on the rise. In 2020, they had their first winning season in 10 years, made the playoffs and swept the favored Chicago Cubs in a two-game wild-card series before losing to the Atlanta Braves in a best-of-five division series.

The hiring of Ng adds substance to Jeter's stated goal of bringing more diversity to major-League baseball. "Her leadership of our baseball operations will play a major role on our path toward sustained success," Jeter said.

Ng, who once was the Dodgers' assistant general manager, has spent the last nine years as MLB's senior vice president of baseball operations. That made her baseball's highest-ranking Asian American executive.

Those applauding her rise include Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores, one of four head coaches of color in the NFL. "It's phenomenal," he said. "Anyone who thinks a woman can't manage or coach or lead, I think, is silly. Kudos to the Marlins."

As the only woman in a male-dominated role, Ng should bring a unique perspective — the uniqueness of her life experience — to the role of GM. But a unique perspective may also mean not seeing things exactly the same way as your boss. And if that happens, will that cultural difference be respected? Or will a groundbreaking hire suddenly find her job in jeopardy?

Those questions have relevance in light of the Texans' ouster of Palcic.

Palcic was a trailblazer who performed her job so well that in 2017 her staff received the Pete Rozelle Award, presented annually to the best public relations staff in the NFL by the Pro Football Writers of America. But whatever goodwill the Texans earned by employing Palcic appears to have been squandered. ESPN football reporter Adam Schefter first reported that the Texans decided that Palcic was no longer "a cultural fit."

In a tweet Thursday, Palcic called the firing "the most humiliating day of my life." It seems as if those who worked with Palcic — journalists and Texans players alike — have been sacking the Texans ever since.

Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, said: "I think you can tell from the universal response from prominent people in the business what type of person Amy is and how well-respected and well-liked she is, both inside of our building and outside our building.

"Extremely professional. Just really good at her job. Cared a lot. Just wants what's best for the team and what's best for the organization. Always trying to do what's best and was a massive helping hand with me during [Hurricane Floyd in 2017] and during my entire time here," Watt said. "I think it's a very difficult loss. She's an incredible person, and I think she's going to have another job in an absolute heartbeat."

The Texans still have not confirmed the comment about Palcic's not being "a cultural fit" or given any specific reason for the firing. A statement from Texans president Jamey Rootes sidesteps the issue. "It was definitely my call," he said. "I gave her the role a number of years ago and felt the need to make a change. Leadership is sometimes a very lonely role, and from time to time you have to make a move that impacts people that you care about deeply. This was one of those unfortunate times."

On Nov. 7, Palcic tweeted about the significance of Harris' becoming vice president-elect: "A historic day. To every little girl out there…you can be ANYTHING you dream of!" She also retweeted a video of a girl laughing while explaining how President Donald Trump's campaign held a news conference at Four Seasons Total Landscaping instead of the previously announced location, the Four Seasons Hotel.

Whether Houston's ownership took offense at those tweets or not, should a widely admired executive, a role model for women in communications, lose her job after posting them?

NFL owners tend to be politically conservative. Indeed, NFL owners donated to Republican candidates, including Trump, by a 9-to-1 ratio in 2020 races, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In 2008, Texans owner Bob McNair complained to players in the locker room about the election of Barack Obama. Owen Daniels, a white tight end on the team, confirmed the story to Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio.

The 32-team NFL has only one Black team president: Jason Wright was hired this year by Washington. But the league has no one comparable to Jeter. There's no Black CEO or team owner. Perhaps if Palcic had worked for someone more tolerant of opposing views, regardless of race or gender, her "cultural fitness" would not have been questioned.

Right now, there are more questions than answers. Palcic has hired Houston-based lawyer Joseph Ahmad. According to Ahmad's website, he represents executives in a variety of matters, "including breach of contract, trade secrets, covenants not to compete and breach of fiduciary duty."

Clearly, Palcic does not intend to just walk away. That should encourage those who aspire to shatter other glass ceilings. The task itself is hard enough without having to worry about being cut by those inside the room.