Making inclusive coaching decisions in major league baseball

Last month, the Giants announced another change – they hired Alyssa Nakken as an assistant coach.

Spring training and the new baseball season have begun. The San Francisco Giants face an uncertain future, with ace Madison Bumgarner gone, many other roster changes, and a new manager. Last month, the Giants announced another change — they hired Alyssa Nakken as an assistant coach. She is the first female full-time coach in Major League Baseball.

Nakken, who was a softball standout at Sacramento State, will pitch batting practice and hit fungos, fly balls for fielding practice. She will travel full time with the team and wear a uniform during her pregame work. New manager Gabe Kapler has said she and other coaches will also focus on “fostering a clubhouse culture that promotes high performance through, among other attributes, a deep sense of collaboration and team.”

She is not the first woman hired by a major league team. That honor fell to Justine Siegal, who was hired by the Oakland Athletics for a two-week coaching stint in the instructional league in 2015. But Nakken is the first woman working in the major leagues.

Nakken joined the Giants in 2014 as an intern in baseball operations. Most recently she has been overseeing the Giants’ health and wellness initiatives and events. She was named a co-winner of the 2019 Sprinkles of Love award, named in honor of late Giants front office employee Anita Sprinkles. It is considered the “Willie Mac Award” for non-player staff and recognizes individuals for ethics, professionalism and humanitarianism.

Nakken joins another local groundbreaker — San Francisco 49ers coach Katie Sowers, the first woman and first openly gay member of an NFL staff to coach in a Super Bowl. Sowers, who was featured in a recent commercial for Microsoft, is an assistant offensive coach who works closely with the wide receivers.

There is no doubt Sowers has player support. Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders called her “one of the coolest coaches I’ve ever been around.”

“She’s been tremendous,” quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo told the media before the Super Bowl. “Katie’s awesome out there.”

Still there are those who don’t think women should coach men. But to hear that said repeatedly by a former Giants player is deeply disappointing. When Nakken’s appointment was announced, former Giants first baseman Aubrey Huff tweeted, “Couldn’t imagine taking baseball instruction from an ex female softball player.” He then added the eyeroll emoji. He doubled down on this point last week in a live radio interview that the host cut short when Huff continued to demean women.

Huff, who claimed he superstitiously wore a red “rally thong” during games that helped give the team the mojo it needed to win the 2010 World Series, was a fan favorite back then. I too enjoyed his antics then, but now I wonder if he was really laughing at the fans — especially women — not with us.

Since retiring, Huff has taken to Twitter to spew misogynistic insults and hateful comments.

The offensive posts led the Giants to tell Huff that he would not be invited to the team’s 2010 World Series reunion. “Aubrey has made multiple comments on social media that are unacceptable and run counter to the values of our organization,” the Giants said in a statement.

Huff claims he’s being blacklisted because of his support of President Trump. But as Chronicle sportswriter Ann Killion noted in a column, “No. … The issue is that he thinks that spewing hate out into society via a digital microphone is acceptable. … Words matter.”

I hope Alyssa Nakken has great success as a major league coach. I’m proud of our Bay Area teams’ inclusive coaching decisions. And, I hope one former player’s misogyny will no longer have a place in our society.

Sally Stephens is an animal, park, and neighborhood activist who lives in the West of Twin Peaks area. She is a guest opinion columnist and her point of view is not necessarily that of The Examiner.


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