A Turning Point in Sports Gender Equality



Ms. Rachel Balkovec is the new manager of the Tampa Bay Tarpons.

In 2018, the MLB earned a C for gender diversity on their year report card by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports. At that point, women accounted for 30% of MLB employees. In 2020, this percentage rose to 40%. On January 11th,  Ms. Rachel Balkovec’s appointment as the first ever female manager of a major or minor league team for the New York Yankees’ minor league affiliate, the Tampa Bay Tarpons, marks a notable change in MLB gender equality. 

Ms. Balkovec played Division 1 softball as catcher for Creighton University and University of New Mexico. In 2012, Balkovec started an internship with the St. Louis Cardinals as a strength and conditioning coach. Two years later she became the minor league strength and conditioning coach for the Cardinals, making Ms. Balkovec the first woman to hold the full-time position in affiliated baseball. In 2019, the Yankees hired Ms. Balkovec, making her the first female full-time hitting instructor for a major league baseball team. The Yankees described the hire as having little push back, as her impressive resume made her a perfectly qualified candidate. When asked about Ms. Balkovec’s transition from hitting instructor to manager, Kevin Reese, the Yankees’ Vice President of Player Development, said, “Everybody was on board.” 

Ms. Balkovec’s career path did not come without setbacks, however. In 2013, although Ms. Balkovec had eight colleges reaching out to her about positions in women’s sports, she continued facing resistance from men’s teams. Her sister recommended she change her name from “Rachel” to “Rae” on her resume, a change which automatically increased interest from teams that had initially denied her job applications. But Ms. alkovec has said that officials were taken aback when they discovered she was a woman. Some wouldn’t call back or said they wouldn’t hire a woman. She said, “It’s the American dream. There’s definitely been some dark times that I’ve been able to overcome … that I think that everybody can enjoy a piece of my story.”

Celebrities such as Billie Jean King congratulated Balkovec on social media, and Rob Manfred, the MLB Commissioner, publicly issued well wishes. During her acceptance speech, Ms. Balkovec said, “Just the way that people react to me and the way that they talk to me, it’s becoming more normal. It’s pretty apparent and it’s just exciting to see how much progress we’ve made. We definitely have a lot of room to grow. But it’s really exciting.” Ms. Balkovec’s promotion to manager is one of few recent milestones in the continued rise of women in a male-dominated industry. As a manager, she will be in charge of guiding the team, developing players, and making tactical decisions. Carlos Martinez ’22 said, “I think it’s definitely a step in the right direction. It’s great that she’s getting the opportunity to do so at the highest level, especially after having to face that adversity of gender bias. I hope she helps open up a path for even more women to become involved with the sport.”