Po-Chin Liu is Striking Out Gender Discrimination in Taiwanese Baseball

By Lynn Olszowy, October 27, 2017

Po-Chun Liu, 38, overcame immense gender discrimination and obstacles to become the first female umpire in Taiwanese baseball. Even after completing umpire training, Liu was told she didn’t have the right equipment to do the job. The New York Yankees stepped in and donated the required accouterment. Since then, she’s become known as the “Mother of Baseball” in Taiwan, and now Liu wants to inspire girls and women in her country to pursue their own dreams.

As a member of the 2017 Global Sports Mentoring Program (GSMP) — a partnership between the U.S. State Department, the University of Tennessee’s Center for Sport, Peace and Society and espnW — Liu hopes the program will help her “encourage the girls and [women] of Taiwan to play sports.”

In the last six years, 99 women from 52 countries have come to the United States for a month-long mentorship program. The goal is for each woman to learn how to use sports to improve conditions in her home country.

Liu, who has umpired for World Baseball and Softball Confederation (WBSC) tournaments in Venezuela, South Korea, and Hong Kong is spending her mentorship with Susan Cohig, Senior Vice President of Business Affairs and Integrated Marketing at the National Hockey League. Liu and Cohig were partnered due to both having excelled in male-dominated sports and their unwavering commitments to breaking down barriers.

espnW met up with Liu and Cohig at the NHL offices in New York City to talk about their GSMP experience.

espnW: What sparked your interest in the GSMP program?

Po-Chun Liu: The Taiwan Embassy introduced me to the program and asked if I wanted to be a participant. They also explained that it is very selective. I’m very fortunate to have this opportunity. I have no mentor in Taiwan, so I was so excited about this program because finally, I have someone to consult with. Having a mentor is so meaningful to me.

espnW: How did you become a GSMP mentor?

Susan Cohig: I was introduced to the program at espnW’s Women + Sport Summit in 2012, and I met someone from the U.S. State Department during an afternoon of networking activities. She was explaining the program and, when I heard about it, I knew the NHL had to get involved. I was sold right from that point.

And, yes, while the NHL is a male sport, we have women that work in the sport across the league not only here in our [league] offices, but at all of our teams. There are universal things that every organization can provide concerning marketing, communications, fundraising and youth development.

[I also considered] how the women here at the NHL could participate in something like this in a meaningful way.

espnW: What have you gleaned from the program thus far?

PCL: They take care of me and give me a lot of advice. In Taiwan, I felt very lonely as a female leader. As a woman in Taiwan, you cannot just be good. You have to be much better. For example, as a baseball umpire, I could not just be a good umpire. You have to be much better than the other umpires. That’s a huge pressure on me. I have to be perfect. But here, I don’t have a huge amount of pressure on me.

espnW: Support is essential to growth.

PCL: Absolutely! It’s great. I don’t have to be perfect every day. I can relax and show my weakness to people and ask for help.

SC: We have a six-person mentoring team here for Po-Chun. We make sure she is meeting with our marketing group — especially those who have expertise in digital marketing and social media. We’re a collaborative effort.

espnW: In the U.S., girls and women have the opportunity to play sports. What is it like in Taiwan?

PCL: In Taiwan, sports aren’t very popular. Not everyone participates in sports. We only have one professional sport: baseball. And baseball is a very single-gender sport. Baseball is not for girls in Taiwan.

espnW: Why did you want to become a baseball umpire?

PCL: I love baseball so much. My father was a baseball player. He would wake me up at 2 a.m. to watch little league baseball because of the time difference. For me, baseball is the happiness of my family. At 13, I wanted to participate in my school’s baseball team, but the teacher turned me down because I’m a girl. I was unhappy with that because I wanted to be involved in the sport and not just a fan. I became a volunteer for the little league and I thought the umpires were not good, so I told them, “I can do better than you.”

I umpired 150 games, then declared that I wanted to be a home-plate umpire. They said it’s impossible. First, I cannot touch the ball because girls are not allowed to do so. Second, there’s no gear for me. During that time, I was frustrated. People looked down on me. Nobody respected me in the field. For two years [while umpiring], no one called me Po-Chun. They just called me “girl.”

Fortunately, in early 2009, the New York Yankees came to Taiwan for a pitcher’s clinic, and I was their interpreter. I told them I that I love baseball and want to be a plate umpire. The Yankees [ended up buying me] the umpire gear I needed.

SC: I admire Po-Chun so much because I can’t imagine the isolation she felt and being told, without any apology, you can’t do that because you’re a girl. It’s incredibly shocking to me. It’s not to say it doesn’t happen in different ways here in the United States. But one of the things that drives us from an NHL standpoint and all the other [GSMP] mentoring organizations to keep coming back is there is so much work to be done, and we can’t stop. This web of delegates and mentoring agencies have to keep fighting. There isn’t Title IX outside of the United States, so we can’t be complacent.

espnW: How will you improve things in Taiwan upon your return?

PCL: Along with being a baseball umpire, I work as a social worker with single mothers in Taiwan. Coming here, being in this program, I realized that sports can really empower people. I got empowered doing sports, but I didn’t know until I came here. Through this program, I know sports can have so much benefit to a person. I would like to use sports to encourage and empower the girls and single mothers I work with in Taiwan. I want to provide them with equal opportunity, and then they’ll have the motivation to pursue their own happiness.

Original article: