Murray's hire makes a major statement
Right move but not a game-changer
It's hard to believe we're still asking the question, but maybe it's because the real question is not whether gender matters when it comes to coaching, but: "Can women coach, period?"
The answer? Once again, it's hard to believe we're still asking.
That said, let's not underestimate the significance of a move like the one Andy Murray made Sunday, when he announced the hiring of Amelie Mauresmo as his new coach.
Because sports breeds as many copycats as any other industry, this is big. And when one of the best in the world at his sport does anything, it is that much bigger.
Whatever the reasons are for women to be in the minority when it comes to coaching both genders -- smaller pools of potential candidates, flat-out discrimination -- everyone likes a winner.
If Murray wins a major with Mauresmo sitting in the coaches box, with millions around the world watching it play out, it will matter little that he has won Grand Slam titles before or how big a part Mauresmo played. Suddenly it becomes the cool thing to do.
Tennis is seemingly a sport with little gender difference. Remember, it was Murray, in an interview with the New York Times during the US Open last year, who suggested that women should have to earn the pay they were granted in Grand Slams in 2007, when the French Open joined the US Open, Wimbledon and Australian Open in awarding the same prize money to both men and women.
"I think either the men go three sets or the women go five sets," Murray said, in trying to offer the men's point of view regarding the current setup that features a best-of-three-sets format for women and best-of-five for men.
Murray was suddenly sexist to some. On Sunday, he was a role model. And it hardly matters if he deserves either. But Sunday, he did something we don't see often enough, and people will take notice.
For now, that's a good thing. Maybe one day, they'll stop noticing. And that will be even better.
Andy Murray hiring Amelie Mauresmo is certainly a small step in the right direction, specifically within tennis, but this move will have very little influence on how female coaches are viewed and treated across all sports.
Tennis occupies a rare space in the sports landscape. Female tennis stars are often just as popular, and often make just as much money, as male tennis stars. In fact, if you were to list the highest-earning female athletes in the world, most of them would play tennis. This is because, for the most part, women's tennis is given the exact same platform as men's tennis: the same facilities, same TV time, same paychecks. (Tip of the cap to Billie Jean King and all the women who have fought for equality in tennis.)
This is not to say that sexism and gender discrimination have been eradicated from tennis. They certainly haven't been. But tennis is one of the only sports where male and female athletes exist on something even remotely resembling an equal platform. So it's no wonder that Murray could look at the resume of Mauresmo, who won two Grand Slam titles during her career, and see the value in what she offers. She has played on the same courts he plays on, in front of the same crowds, and has struggled with the same schedule.
She knows the rhythms of the pro season in the exact same way a man does.
Now look at the division that still exists in most of our other sports. Can we imagine LeBron James hiring a woman as his personal coach during the offseason? Or the New York Knicks hiring a female head coach? No, we can't, because very few people believe that playing in the WNBA finals places the same demands on an athlete as playing in the NBA Finals.
Professional tennis is a world where the gender of the player does not seem to dictate the interest level of the media and the fans. And so it's no wonder that within tennis, a female coach is seen as capable of working with one of the greatest male players on the planet.
But it's not an indication that female coaches are gaining acceptance across all sports.