Celebrating Kim Ng, the First Female General Manager in Sports History

A think piece on the significance of Kim Ng’s promotion to General Manager of the Miami Marlins.

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MLB Chief Baseball Officer Joe Torre said in 2015: “At some point, somebody just has to ignore the fact that [Kim Ng] is a woman and just make a baseball decision.” Five years later, Derek Jeter, co-owner of the Miami Marlins, made “a baseball decision” and hired Ng as the team’s new general manager.

Growing up in Queens, Ng played both softball and tennis. As a young athlete in a male-dominant field, she developed immense perseverance from an early age, an asset she credits to the array of strong female athletes in the 1970s (an era of outstanding female empowerment in the sports industry, featuring trailblazers like tennis stars Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova). Her athletic abilities and leadership skills eventually landed her a spot on the University of Chicago softball team, which Ng later captained. After graduating with a degree in public policy in 1990, she took her skills straight to the MLB, where she worked with the Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, and Los Angeles Dodgers.

Beginning in the early 2000s, Ng applied for numerous positions as general manager, but she was rejected, very publicly, from all of them. While the humiliation was overbearing, she knew she held a great responsibility in representing women in the MLB, so she never stopped working toward her goal. In an interview with the TODAY show, Ng reflected on this period in her life, explaining, “There [was] no other choice but to keep going on.”

Her journey to success, however, was not straightforward. In 2003, Ng attended a baseball conference in Phoenix, during which the Mets’ special assistant, Bill Singer, mocked Ng’s Chinese ancestry at a bar. While he was immediately fired, Ng was reminded of the sheer discrimination she had continuously faced in her career over aspects of her identity she could not control.

Despite these setbacks, Ng was finally offered the role of General Manager of the Miami Marlins this year—nearly 30 years after entering the MLB as just a low-ranking intern. Her feat is especially significant as she is the first woman in North American professional sports’ history to ascend to the title of General Manager. Beyond that, Ng is only the second Asian American to lead baseball operations in the MLB.

Though Ng’s promotion is clearly an accomplishment to be celebrated, it carries heavy baggage. Unsurprisingly, Ng’s promotion was met with backlash from baseball fans who claimed that her achievement was simply the team’s way of garnering “diversity points.” Though Ng’s extensive resume speaks for itself, this false assumption unfairly dismisses the success of people from minority backgrounds, like Ng, on the baseless claim that their identity makes it easier for them to rise within their respective organizations. In addition, Torre, who has worked closely with Ng throughout her career, elaborated on Ng’s success to The New York Times: “It was just a very comfortable conversation all the time… You could talk to her the same way you’d talk in the clubhouse. She was one of the group.” While well-intentioned, Torre’s comment reinforces the expectation that women must fall into a certain niche to be accepted in the sports industry. Their femininity must be tamed and altered to make their male counterparts more comfortable with having women around. Rather than being a sports industry, the MLB has become a men’s industry, in which women, in their true form, are rarely accepted.

Despite the criticism, Ng has gracefully persevered through each challenge in her career and has inspired a new generation of young athletes, both male and female, to stand strong in the face of adversity. Though Ng has undoubtedly broken a long-standing barrier, her promotion only touches the surface of a greater systemic issue within the sports industry. The sports industry still has plenty of room for diversity in leadership with future trailblazers who can follow in Ng’s footsteps.