Last week, the Sonoma Stompers announced that Jen Ramos, a baseball writer and data journalist from Northern California, would be the team’s new assistant general manager.
Normally, a hire from an independent baseball club in the Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Club league wouldn’t be national news.
But this hire is notable because Ramos is non-binary, which means Ramos doesn’t identify as a man or a woman. Ramos may be the first genderqueer executive in professional sports.
Baseball isn’t usually viewed as a particularly progressive sport, but the Stompers — who were the subject of the 2016 New York Times Bestseller The Only Rule is it Has to Work — have a history of bucking the norm. Two years ago, the club signed pitcher Sean Conroy, who became the first openly gay active professional baseball player. And last year, the team became the first coed professional baseball team in the United States since the 1950s when they signed three female players to the team.
As an experienced data analyst and prospect evaluator with a Master’s of Science in Journalism from the University of Southern California and digital media experience with the NHL’s San Jose Sharks, Ramos is a perfect fit for a job with duties spanning from talent evaluation to business operations to public relations.
Ramos — who prefers they/their pronouns, though they were okay with the Stompers using she/her pronouns in the press release—is embracing being a trailblazer, and hopes to be an inspiration for others who are struggling with their gender identity. But ultimately, they’re just excited to have the opportunity to work in a baseball front office.
They spoke with ThinkProgress about their journey in sports, why its important for them to be open about their gender identity, and their goals moving forward.
Did you always dream of becoming a sports executive, or at least working in sports?
I don’t think I ever really made a conscious effort to work in sports, it just kind of happened. I applied for the Sharks on a whim.
I didn’t get into sports outside of basketball until I was 16. Sports weren’t really that big in my family, other than me playing basketball or street hockey, but when I was 16 I found sports and started learning every stat I could. I think that was my way, maybe, of combating the stereotypes of female sports fans. Then I learned how to scout players when I was a journalist.
“I really want to help queer people of color find their voice and learn to use it.”
It’s hard to find statistics on such a thing, but it does seem that you are the first openly non-binary executive in pro sports. Why is it important for you to be open about your gender identity?
I grew up being uncomfortable in my own skin, not being comfortable with my gender assigned at birth. It wasn’t until my senior year in undergrad that it clicked and made sense. I was at a very LGBTQ friendly school, Mills College in Oakland, which was a great, safe space to explore my gender. Being able to surround myself by other people not on the gender binary, I was able to explore my identity in a way that was comfortable to me, and because of that I was able to come into my own and realize that, this is me, this is something I need to do for me, for my mental health, to be comfortable as a person.
I know many people don’t understand that, and I don’t expect people to understand it, but I expect them to respect it. Since opening up about it, I’ve been met with nothing but respect — even in grad school, professors respected it.
Still, very little is known about being gender non-binary. So hopefully, being in this position as a sports executive who is openly non-binary, I can be an inspiration.
Growing up, did you have any non-binary or genderqueer role models?
No, I didn’t. The people I considered my role models were my LGBTQ friends at college. Seeing the way they had such open conversations about gender and sexuality, that community meant so much to me because I didn’t have any non-binary role models .
One of the things I wrote in my grad school application letter was that I wanted to be a role model and mentor for queer youth of color and women of color in journalism. I really want to help queer people of color find their voice and learn to use it.
“With the Stompers, after I started my first day, it wasn’t an issue at all. They wanted me to be comfortable.”
As you mentioned before, even in progressive circles, very little is known about being gender non-binary. When you left the support of undergrad, was it difficult to open up about your gender identity, either at USC or in the sport world?
One of the problems at USC was just a lot of staring, a lot of discomfort. I think that’s not something that’s due to any malice, it’s a lot of misunderstanding. I didn’t look like everyone who was at USC. But in my department I felt comfortable and I felt like people were willing to understand why I was using these pronouns.
I’m very open to explaining things, as long as they’re willing to understand. I’ve never found it to be a problem, explaining what non-binary means.
With the Stompers, after I started my first day, it wasn’t an issue at all. They wanted me to be comfortable.
What is the biggest misconception people have of gender non-binary people?
I feel like the biggest misconception is just that some people think it’s a phase, that they will go back to a binary gender, but it’s a lot more nuanced than that, a lot like bisexuality. It’s misunderstood as either/or, but it can be both. My own non-binary gender fluidity works where I feel like one gender one day and another another day, or some kind of in-between space some days. So knowing my state of gender helps me every day to not feel dysphoria.
How has gender dysphoria impacted your life?
It’s been something I’ve been struggling with my entire life without being fully aware, and because there wasn’t a lot of literature on it growing up, I felt it wasn’t understood, even by myself. I think that led to a lot of depression and anxiety, and it’s not until I figured things out that the dysphoria managed itself. Knowing how to cope is something that helps every day.
Have any athletes that you covered or worked with ever asked about your gender identity?
There are a couple of ballplayers who left teams who I used to cover and we ended up having a friendly relationship, but it’s never really come up. Most of them just treat me as — you’re the reporter who knows their stuff, who asks me about my curve ball. I’ve always been treated with respect.
“The best and most qualified person for the job might be someone you never thought of, and I hope that can be communicated.”
What are your goals moving forward?
I guess my goals are to help run a good organization and give 150 percent — I know I’m speaking in cliches. (Laughs) I guess just to help the Stompers exceed the expectations from last season, and provide a great experience for fans and players and coaching staff and employees.
I also want to make it known to fans that this is a very accepting place to be. It’s not like you’re going to get slurs thrown at you — with women ballplayers, a gay ballplayer, and now an openly non-binary general manager, this is a place where it’s okay to be who you are. I hope to spread that mentality upwards in baseball, to the minor leagues and MLB.
The best and most qualified person for the job might be someone you never thought of, and I hope that can be communicated.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.