The last week was a particularly terrible week in terms of egregious coach behavior coming into public light. I am not going to weigh in on the Penn State/Paterno/Sandusky/He Said-He Said/Student Riots Sex Abuse scandal. Others have written on this topic. My favorite pieces (here and here) of the many out there on this topic are by Dave Zirin, who writes for The Nation. He summarizes The Big Problematic Picture of “the billion-dollar logic of big-time college football”.
What may have been lost in the media frenzy over the aforementioned was the egregious behavior of another football coach. A Wyoming high school football coach resigned after he made his players fill out a “Hurt Feelings Survey” (see picture). What would possess a coach of boys to conceive, construct and deliver such a survey is baffling to many. However, it isn’t all that mysterious when placed in the big picture context of how football is the epitome of a masculinity breeding ground and apprenticeship for teaching boys how to be men.
This survey teaches boys exactly what is expected of (real) men: don’t be weak, don’t have feelings, don’t show weakness, don’t tattle on other boys and men (i.e., perpetuate the culture of silence if you are harmed or abused, or see harm being done to others…sound familiar?), don’t be anything but a masculine heterosexual, and don’t turn to others for support or seek comfort when you are hurt (especially from a female like your mother who will surely feminize you even more!…tough it out by yourself and be a rugged individual). This survey teaches boys that being a real man is in opposition to: boyhood and childish behaviors, girls and women and all things feminine, nurturing forms of masculinity (like those needed by fathers and real partners), and gay men.
While the coach who constructed this survey was dumb enough to actually put this all on paper, don’t for a second think other coaches don’t “teach” these lessons to boys every day, in every sport, in every state. Until “lessons” like these are eradicated in youth and interscholastic sports through awareness, coach education and public outcry, the problems like those we have all hard about this week will unfortunately persist.
Since I returned from the espnW Summit a month or so ago, coupled with the WNBA Champions Minnesota Lynx win and the media treatment of their season, the conference the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport just hosted about creating change, the sport sociology conference (NASSS) which followed, and the breaking news of the Sundusky/Penn State/Paterno/Football scandal….I have a LOT of thoughts I’m going to try and put together coherently.
We are coming upon the 40 year anniversary of Title IX in 2012, landmark federal legislation which dramatically increased participation opportunities for female athletes in educational settings. Roughly 40% of all female sport participants at the high school and collegiate levels are female, yet female athletes receive only 2-4% of all sport media coverage and when they do they are often sexualized and portrayed in ways that minimize athletic talent, females are under-represented at all levels of sport in all positions of power, rampant homophobia exists in most sport climates which affects the sporting experiences of athletes and coaches regardless of sexual orientation, and in all sport settings boys and men outnumber girls and women.
How it is that after 40 years of participation progress for females males are the majority of participants, that females are covered LESS often in the media and are LESS often head coaches and athletic administrators than in previous decades?
As espnW is trying to find its way in marketing and drawing in female fans of sport, at the summit there was much discussion about a “new model” of sport for girls and women and not just replicating the dominant “male model” of sport which keynote presenter and former NFL player Don McPherson said “is broken.” Female athletes and those who run women’s sport do not have to aspire or replicate the male model. Some seem to forget or never knew that a different models in collegiate athletics did exist (i.e, the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, AIAW, Division for Girls’ and Women’s Sports, Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, CIAW). For the most part these groups were student-athlete focused, looked out for the interest of the female athletes first, and were not concerned with the big time and growing more popular “Beer & Circus” aka Sperber model that those men’s athletics were making popular. These female athlete centered, women-lead groups were (to my understanding) not about making money, corporate sponsorships, TV contracts, opportunistic conference alignments, skirting rules in order to win and satisfy alumni and fans, and figuring out how to brand their programs to increase relevancy and thus be more scalable and salable. However as the NCAA took over the AIAW, men were predominately assigned to run and coach women’s athletics, women’s collegiate sport began to resemble the men’s model (note: arguably there are some positive outcomes to imitating the male model).
My point and challenge to those who care about girls’ and women’s sport is to think about who benefits when “we” replicate, imitate, uphold and reproduce the male model of athletics? Is this what we want to aspire to? Can we do it better? What does “better” look like and mean? How can we take what was working in the days of the AIAW, DGWS and CIAW, and merge it with new innovative ideas, to create a “new-old” model of women’s sport?
Should we think about these questions? Does it matter? I think the answer is a resounding: YES. It does matter because if we want sustainability, growth, and respect for women’s sport I believe that is not only a good idea to think about how to do it differently than what the men are doing and from what is currently being done in women’s sport, but it is necessary and imperative. Right now there are many signs that indicate the male model is broken…look no further than big stories of this year alone including the Ohio State Football/Tressel NCAA violations, conference realignments which are all about football and fail to take into account how longer travel might affect all athletes, women’s athletics or men’s “non-revenue” sport, the University of Miami football violations scandal, or the Sandusky/Penn State/Paterno/Football sex abuse scandal.
I think “we” can do better. Participants at the Tucker Center conference discussed concrete action strategies about how to create change for girls and women in sport and move the needle on some key disparities and inequalities. I challenged them to report back in one year to tell us about what they have accomplished. I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, we all should think about how to create broader change in the structure of (men’s) sport that allows and even encourages and permits the egregious behaviors of abuse and discrimination to flourish. (note: I’m not even touching upon the male professional model, which is a different discussion. Instead I’m focusing on sport programs situated in institutions of higher education).
So how do you think we can create structural changes in sport that move the needle that benefit girls and women in sport? I’d love to hear your concrete action strategies…big or small, grass roots or national, public or private.
The recent focus on the athletic attire of female athletes, “unifems”, concerns me for many reasons. I write “unifem” instead of “uniform” to make a point. Most of the discussions about what is to be worn, or not, in competition is largely about underlying concerns that female athletes remain and at least look “feminine.”
Aside from unifem concerns, some female athletes like some members of the German soccer team, purposefully pose nude in magazines like Playboy that exploit women so they can be perceived as less “butchy” and tomboy-like (i.e., “sweet”, feminine, and thus heterosexual).
Let’s be clear–concerns, policies and rules about females athlete uniforms are usually about making the uniforms smaller, tighter and a more feminine color. These concerns are usually couched under the guise of “performance” or “safety” or both. To my knowledge, and I will stand corrected, that aside from some initial data on compression wear, very little empirical evidence exists that demonstrates that a smaller or tighter uniform will improve performance for athletes (aside from the razor suit in swimming…which is under scrutiny and I believe is now banned). If uniform size were about performance, you would also see scantily clad male athletes.I am also unaware of any sport marketing evidence that demonstrates that smaller, tighter, more feminine uniforms actually increases ticket sales, interest in the sport, or sponsorships. Show me the evidence.
It is my opinion the discussion about female athlete uniforms is first, outdated, and second sexist.
Let me summarize some of the very recent discussions pertaining to unifems. Reminder: this IS 2011, but attempts to marginalize, sexualize and exploit the female athletic body and female athletes is alive and well, and I think getting more egregious.
1. To create a more “attractive presentation,” the Badminton World Federation decided all elite level female players must wear a skirt or dress while competing. The complete NYT story here.
2. The lack of attire for the Lingerie Football League earlier this spring I have already written about (and no, I still don’t consider the LFL a sport, but I do support the notion that some, probably a good %, of the women in the LFL are real athletes.)
3. A female Muslim weight lifter, Kulsoom Abdullah, who wants to complete but keep with religious traditions by covering her entire body, aside from her hands and face, has sparked debate at the international level. Many argue this policy is racist and Islamophobic, in addition to being sexist as male Muslim athletes do not have the barrier of covering in public that impedes athletic performance.
4. The Iranian women’s soccer team was in tears after being forced to forfeit a 2012 London Olympics qualifying match this past weekend because it showed up to play in hijabs, and some argue that “FIFA makes things worse for women.”
5. Twitter blew up when a picture of tennis player Serena Williams in a hot pink cat suit appeared on the internet.
So what is going on with the recent barrage of unifem incidents? Why now? Is this further evidence of the gains women are making in sport?
One of my primary areas of research pertains to the many layers of barriers that influences the scarcity of female coaches at all levels. I find blog inspiration comes in waves, as did the following two today.
1. A great piece on espn.com covered the implications of homophobia and negative recruiting that plague women’s athletics and particularly women’s basketball. I thought this piece was very well done and lays out the complexities of the issue and how it may detract females from entering and staying in coaching, as I had wrote about in a previous blog.
2. The second is a job in the NCAA Job Market posted by Rhodes College for a “Assistant Football Coach & Assistant Softball Coach”. While this is a somewhat unusual combination, what is more unusual and ridiculous is the job description which states, “Bachelor’s Degree required. Must have served as a high school and/or college football coach, and be able to (learn and) coach softball.” LEARN softball?! It is a college coaching position! How would you like to be the women on that softball team? Would a job posting ever read like this, “Bachelor’s Degree required. Must have served as a high school and/or college softball coach, and be able to (learn and) coach football”? This example highlights how certain sports (in this case football) are valued over others on this particular campus, but reflects the sentiment on many others.
There are many things novice and expert coaches can learn, and the stories above outline that often times coaches and those in positions of power in sport learn patterns of behavior that perpetuate and reproduce inequalities.
This week I read two separate stories about female collegiate coaches who are no longer coaching due to homophobia. Scholars have been writing about the effects of homophobia on women’s sports for decades, yet it persists.
The first story is about University of Minnesota Associate Women’s Golf Coach Katie Brenny. All the facts are not in yet, but allegedly Brenny was relieved of many of her coaching duties when the Director of Golf, John Harris, learned that Brenny was a lesbian. You can read about this story in the MN Daily, here and here. It was announced this week that Brenny plans on suing the University of Minnesota for “a violation of several Minnesota statutes, which would include discrimination based upon creating a hostile work environment; discrimination, retaliation and harassment; and discrimination concerning sexual preference.” Note: 12/10/10 Star Tribune story on Brenny.
The second story involves Lisa Howe, Belmont University’s Head Women’s Soccer Coach, “who resigned last week after she told school officials that she and her same-sex partner were expecting a child.” Howe felt she should resign in the “don’t ask, don’t tell,” climate at Belmont rather than be fired “due to her poor choices.” To read more about this story click here and here and Pat Griffin has also written a number of blogs about Howe.
There are many troubling issues about these two stories, but in light of my research on the scarcity of female coaches, I find them particularly interesting. Females coaches are in the minority at all levels–youth, high school and college (if you want to see the statistics, click on these links). The barriers and factors which influence this phenomenon are complex, but in these cases, I think it is safe to say homophobia and a climate of intolerance are contributing factors as to why we now have 2 fewer female college coaches.
Austin Calhoun, a graduate student, and I completed research on how gay and lesbian coaches are erased from online sport media. When we heard of Howe and Brenny, we looked at their online coaching biographies and were not shocked to learn neither mentioned their same-sex partners.
While Brenny seemed to be released from her duties because she was gay, Howe quit because she couldn’t stay in the closet (and resumably didn’t want to) once she and her same-sex partner were going to have a baby. Interestingly, having children dramatically affects both heterosexual and homosexual female coaches, in some similar, but also in some very different ways.
For gay women, having a child makes it harder to stay in the closet, and once you have a child with someone you love, one presumably would prefer to openly and freely share that love and joy with the world–including one’s team and colleagues. However, gay coaches are then faced with a dilemma: Come out and risk their career, or stay in the closet and alienate and erase their newly expanded family. Young gay female coaches in the early stages of their careers and families, may have very different thoughts and values about being openly gay in the workplace than their older generational counterparts. Therefore, it is likely that the attrition rate of young gay female coaches may increase as they want to live openly, but bump up against institutional and societal homophobia. This group of young women may also choose not to enter the coaching profession to begin with (stay tuned for cutting edge research on this topic and more from my graduate student Alyssa Norris).
For heterosexual women, having a child makes it harder to balance the work-mother roles unless a supportive male partner is willing to take on some of the domestic labor in the home (I realize that same-sex couples have to also balance domestic labor issues). For this group of women, having a child does not directly threaten your job. In fact, it is celebrated (as it should be!). Researchers have documented that despite gains made by women in the workplace, women are still responsible for a majority of the domestic labor in the home. For many women (gay and straight alike), balancing the coach-mother roles proves to be too stressful and often results in quitting the coaching profession. What may compound this issue for females coaches with male partners is that a gender pay gap still exists where females make on average .77 cents for every dollar a male earns. Thus, if a heterosexual couple is deciding who is going to stay home (if that is even an option) or how to lessen the workload, it often makes better financial sense for the male to remain in his career/job.
Of note, when a male coach and his female partner have a child it rarely affects the male coach’s career trajectory or job security. One key take home: in order to have a successful coaching career, a female must have a supportive and equal partner. Another key take home is that gay female coaches likely face more barriers than their heterosexual counterparts which makes staying or getting into coaching challenging.
I have more thinking to do about this complex issue, but these two stories illustrate a few key contributing factors in the ongoing scarcity of female coaches. I realize my logic on this is not fully developed, and I would love to hear your constructive thoughts.
Addition 12/10/10: A NYT piece about a wife-husband co-head coaching duo for Mizzou Volleyball is an example of how heterosexual coaches can be visible and celebrated, whereas I doubt you would ever see a similar story on same-sex co-head coaches. This story is also an example of how if a mother-coach is going to succeed she needs a supportive and equal partner.
Addition 12/17/10: A NYT piece on Howe and the reaction of her athletes and the community.
1. Afghanistan is poised to get their first national women’s team. The sport will be cricket and the Afghanistan Cricket Board feels cricket will allow the women to play a sport but remain consistent with Islamic tradition and values. To read more about the team click here.
2. This weekend a historic basketball game will be played here at the University of Minnesota’s Best Buy Classic. Kye Allums will be the first transgender athlete to play a NCAA D-I basketball game. He is a Minnesota native and I think it quite fitting he play this historic game in his home state. In light of the new report released a few weeks ago on transgender athletes, perhaps Allums courageous will help forward dialogue and policy. To read the original article on OutSports.com that broke the story click here.
Every week I hear stories from across the country about hazing in sport contexts. The recent attention nationally around bullying, including a stand from the White House, illustrates the seriousness of these issues and that social change is necessary. Here in Minnesota a hazing incident involving a MN high school football team garnered a lot of media attention. Unfortunately, stories of hazing in high school and college sports is not uncommon. I teach a hazing unit in my Psychology of Coaching class, so I’ve been thinking about this issue for some time.
I feel it is important to educate current and future coaches, parents and athletes that hazing has no place in sports (or any context!). Here are some of the reasons why hazing should not be tolerated, punished swiftly and severely, and not minimized as harmless “teasing.” To hear me talk about hazing, you can watch an interview I did with Fox 9 News.
- Hazing is a serious issue in which psychological or physical harm is intentionally inflicted in order to gain membership to a group, and in that way it is different than teasing. The guidelines for what constitutes hazing can be found here.
- Many myths of hazing include: it is harmless, the victim agreed or consented to do it so it isn’t that big of a deal, it is tradition, it teaches respect and discipline, or it is just kids having fun…but these are just that, myths. Hazing is an act of power and control over others. One of the myths is that hazing is just “boys being boys.” If physical and psychological harm is attributed to “boys being boys” than this societal belief needs to be challenged and changed. What does this message teach young men and boys? Unfortunately this type language is used repeatedly to normalize or minimize the bad behavior of those who haze.
- Hazing is typically used as a means to achieve team membership, improve performance, teach respect or discipline, reflect a sign of tradition, and/or to facilitate team bonding, but in reality hazing events are embarrassing, degrading, can be physically and/or psychologically harmful, can cause resentment and hostility, and undermine trust, positive relationships, and team cohesion.
- It is quite common despite educational efforts to thwart the occurrence of hazing. Exact numbers are not known due to the fact most hazing goes unreported as the victims are under a veil of secrecy, don’t want to call out their peers, and face the potential of more hazing, retaliation, or losing friends. Statistics vary but between 50-80% of all students report being hazed.
- Most kids, and many adults, think hazing is normal and just accept it uncritically, but there are some questions that can be asked to help discern if it is indeed hazing.
- Am I asked to keep it a secret?
- Would I want my parents, teachers, principle or coach to know?
- Would I want this in the newspapers or on TV?
- Is there risk of injury or is it safe?
- Hazing is common enough to cause concern. Experts on hazing argue proactive, consistent, and explicit educational effort to coaches, parents, and athletes is the best preventative measure along with firm policies and strong consequences. Many coaches turn a blind eye and view it as harmless team fun, when in fact it is a serious issue.
There are far better and more positive ways to build team cohesion, mutual respect and create positive relationships among athletes than hazing rituals.
A new report on transgender athletes titled “On the Team: Equal Opportunities for Transgender Student Athletes” is the first ever to thoroughly address the complete integration of transgender student athletes within high school and collegiate athletic programs. The report is also the first to provide comprehensive model policies and a framework for athletic leaders to ensure equal access to school athletics for transgender students.
This groundbreaking report is sponsored by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and It Takes A Team!, an Initiative of the Women’s Sports Foundation, is urging high school and college athletic associations across the country to adopt standard policies to provide transgender student athletes fair and equal opportunity to participate on athletic teams.
The report provides:
· Model policies—created by leading athletic, legal, and medical experts—for including transgender students in both high school and college athletics that ensure the safety, privacy, and dignity of all student athletes.
· Specific best practice recommendations for athletic administrators, coaches, student athletes, parents, and the media.
· A thorough analysis of issues related to providing equal opportunities for transgender student athletes.
· An in-depth list of local and national resources to help address transgender issues in athletics.
· Definitions of key terms, as well as information about the legal rights of transgender people in the United States.
The report is authored by Pat Griffin, former director of It Takes A Team!, and Helen Carroll, NCLR Sports Project Director. Content of this blog was taken from the NCLR press release for the report.
11/16/2010: Article by Dave Zirin, Acceptance of GW transgender basketball player a good life lesson