Category Archives: sexism

LaVoi gives Distinguished Lecture on Women in Sports Coaching

Nicole M. LaVoi, Ph.D., Co-Director of the Tucker Center
Nicole M. LaVoi, Ph.D., Co-Director of the Tucker Center

I recently had the opportunity to give the Tucker Center’s Distinguished Lecture where I laid our current and historical data on the Paradox, Pitfalls & Parity: Where Have all the Women Coaches Gone?  You can watch the lecture here (I start about 14mns in, so fast forward!!)

A puzzling paradox exists when it comes to women occupying sport leadership positions—particularly coaches. Two generations removed from Title IX, female sports participation is at an all-time high, yet the number of women coaches is near an all-time low. At the college level alone, female coaches are in the minority, representing just 43% of all head coaching positions in women’s sports nationwide. It is simply not possible that as each new generation of females becomes increasingly involved in and shaped by their sport experience—especially at the most elite levels of competition as evidenced by the dominance of the U.S. female athletes at the 2016 Rio Olympics—they simultaneously become less qualified to enter the coaching profession.

In this lecture I answered three questions I frequently get about women in sports coaching:

1. Why do women coaches matter? Why should we care?

2. Why is there a stagnation in the under-representation of women coaches?

3. What can we do about it?

 

Shannon Miller Gets Fired: A Troubling Development for Women Coaches

Some of you may not know who Shannon Miller is, but those of us in The State of Hockey (Minnesota) do. Shannon Miller was a highly successful women’s hockey coach at University of Minnesota-Duluth where her teams have won five NCAA championships, she developed 28 current and former Olympians, and amassed a .713 winning percentage. I say “was” because on 12/16/2014 Miller was fired in the middle of her season (her contract was not renewed for 2015-16) because she got paid too much. Miller was the highest paid women’s hockey coach in the country at $215,000, largely because she is one of the best. Miller’s counterpart, the head men’s hockey coach at UMD makes $235,000, and still has his job.

In a story posted on MPR Athletic Director Josh Berlo was quoted as saying, “She established a winning program, raised it to the highest level of competition and sustained a national championship tradition over the last 15 years. Today’s decision about Shannon’s contract was an immensely difficult and financially driven decision. Unfortunately, UMD Athletics is not in a position to sustain the current salary levels of our women’s hockey coaching staff.”

hockey_puckLet me point out a few things about Berlo’s decision that just don’t add up.

1. First it is public knowledge that UMD is “in serious financial trouble” and faces $5M+ budget shortfall. Is saving $45,000 by firing Miller really going to make a significant difference? They have to pay a new coach. Minnesota’s highly successful head women’s hockey coach Brad Frost makes $170,000 and in this article the salaries of Miller’s male colleagues are stated.  Miller was willing, but not given the option, to take a pay cut. In sum, her firing is really not about money.

2. If it were about money, let’s look at the Equity in Athletic Data Analysis (EADA numbers) for UMD that clearly show that there is significantly more money being spent on the men’s hockey team, compared to the women’s team. In fact, the budget for men’s hockey is $533,322 (including coach salaries) and for the women that figure is $259,732. That is a $275,590 difference in favor of the men’s hockey team.

3. In all my research on coaches, I have NEVER heard of a male coach of any sport being fired because he was paid “too much.” In fact, if you look at salary comparisons of coaches for men’s teams and coaches of women’s teams (some of which are men), the pay gap is staggering, especially when you factor in football coach salaries. (EADA, 2012).

4. There are very few head women’s hockey coaches that are female in the most visible prominent programs, Miller was one of the few left. Based on 2014-15 data for my Women in College Coaching Report Card (being released Feb. 4, 2015) there are very few (n=8) women’s hockey programs in the “Big 7” NCAA-I conferences, and only one of those programs is headed by a woman. Therefore, only 12.5% of premiere women’s hockey programs are coached by women. In my report card, hockey earns an “F” for the percentage of women’s teams coached by women and adds to the trend that the percentage of women head coaches have been in a steady decline (~40%) since the passage of Title IX in 1972 when over 90% of female athletes were coached by women.

It is well documented in my own research, and of my colleagues, that women coaches face a number of barriers and double standards that preclude women from entering the coaching profession, impede career advancement, and lead to women burning out and quitting the profession. The firing of Miller and the reasons given are a game changer and new “barrier” for women coaches.

It communicates to women that even if you do your job well, win, coach with integrity, are beloved by your players, well respected by your peers, turn out Champions and Olympians, are paid well for your expertise, make a long term commitment to the community, institution, and program, that you can be fired under the guise of “financial reasons” while your male colleague with less success and a greater salary, remains.

If this issue concerns you, become involved in the Alliance of Women Coaches.

note: I amended this post 5pm 12/17/14 to reflect an inaccuracy that I wrote in an earlier version of this post. Miller’s contract is not being renewed and she will continue coaching through the 2014-15 season. What I wrote earlier made it seem that she was terminated immediately. I will say however on a related note, that being notified of a non-renewal in the middle of the season is not a common approach.

note 2: The best posts I’ve read on this topic are by colleagues Pat Griffin, College Athletics’ War on Women Coaches, where she summarizes some recent discrimination lawsuits filed on behalf of women in athletics. Kris Newhall’s post on the Title IX blog is also very good, What should we take from Miller’s firing?

 

Access free educational materials for espnW Nine for IX films

I recently had the opportunity to work in collaboration with espnW to develop discussion guides for the Emmy-nominated Nine for IX film series.

Nine for IX premiered June 18, 2013, as part of ESPN’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of Title IX. Inspired by the 40th anniversary of Title IX, ESPN Films and espnW produced nine documentary films about women in sports, told through the lens of female filmmakers. Nine for IX Films are a collection of remarkable stories that offer teachable moments and powerful lessons in the history of sports. .

The Nine for IX Knowledge Center is a free resource available to institutions, organizations, administrators, professors, coaches, and students who want to lead thoughtful and engaging discussions around key themes in the films. The Knowledge Center provides discussion guides for each film, film posters, and a sign-up form to receive the Nine for IX DVD set, all free of charge. The Knowledge Center is a tool that goes beyond the entertainment value of the films and leverages the rich educational content of the embedded lessons and messages within the films.

The discussion guides generate thought-provoking discussion topics around key themes and issues present in the films such as gender equality, intersectionality, identity politics, sport and politics, social class, racism, and sexism, along with issues related to sport psychology, sports media coverage, sports marketing, and sports as a vehicle for developing role models. Each unique guide contains Key Concepts, Discussion Questions, Additional Readings and Additional Activities.

I wrote a specific guide for coaches for The 99ers, a film about the 1999 Women’s World Cup Championship team, that coaches can use as a team building activity and to discuss what it takes to develop performance excellence and a positive team culture.
To access the free materials, including obtaining a free DVD box set of the Nine for IX film series, discussion guides, and posters visit the espnW Nine for IX Knowledge Center.

Sexism, Misogyny, & Violence Toward Women: The Role of Sport

Recent events in sport and outside of sport (i.e., Elliot Rodger) have given visibility in clear and stomach turning ways to the fact that girls and women face sexism, misogyny and sexual and domestic violence at alarming rates. Lately blatant acts of derisiveness against women have been numerous, or perhaps they promoted more dramatically by the media. I hope these events and others provide a real and critical turning point in bringing awareness and dialogue about how to reduce all these offensive behaviors directed at and onto women….especially in and through sport.

  • Donald Sterling, (former, but contested) NBA owner of the clippers, was sanctioned by the league for racist comments but his long history of sexism and sexual harassment largely went without sanction.
  • UK Premiere League CEO Richard Scudamore so far has escaped sanction for his sexist commentary in a string of emails exposed by a former personal assistant.
  • NFL star Ray Rice was caught on hotel video cameras dragging his then fiance (now wife) from an elevator after he punched her unconscious. In an embarrassing press conference where he tried to save face, he never apologized TO his wife yet she acknowledged her role in contributing to the incident. The Ravens perpetuated and minimized the culture of violence against women by live tweeting from the Rice press conference that constructed a “feel good narrative of personal redemption”  without having to really address the problem with their star or their organizational complicity to victimizing the victim. Rice’s sanction is TBD, but I will predict it will be minimal.
  • Florida State QB Jameis Winston and the alleged case of rape against him in which he was acquitted sent a terrible and damaging message to young women who dare to accuse popular star athletes of sexual violence.
  • The rape case against high school football players in Steubenville, Ohio is also a not too distant occurrence.

Sexism is such a common part of women’s lives, many do not realize they experience it daily, and females who experience more egregious behaviors from men often take blame for their own victimization (just ask Janay Palmer). The incidents above and countless others that involve men in positions of power in sport and star athletes in the most popular and televised men’s sports, highlight the uphill battle that all girls and women face when battling sexism, misogyny and violence toward them and their sisters. Sport is one of the most powerful social institutions and when men in sport exhibit egregious behavior toward women and are not punished, it not only tells young men this is an expected part of being a male athlete, but it communicates to women and girls that being victimized, belittled, objectified and powerless is a normal part of womanhood.
What do all these men have in common?…..power.

Whether that power is personal, professional, social, economic, or expertise-based (or all of the above) when it is used and enacted in a “power-over” way, the result for women and girls is often negative. Public apologies for egregious, boorish and/or illegal behavior of men in sport toward women should not be sufficient, but is often used to erase collective memory and the “Restart” button is pushed. Violence toward women is not funny or something to be joked about (like it was in a recent Texas bar sign which read–“I like my beer like I like my violence. Domestic.”). Female fans, parents with daughters, men with wives or anyone that cares about the treatment of women should be appalled that such behaviors go unpunished as it creates a culture of violence and mistreatment toward ALL women and girls.

Many have argued that sexism is the last “ism” to be seriously confronted and conquered, and I would agree. However, until there are more women in positions of power in sport, men are held accountable in real ways for their damaging behavior, boys are taught that “being a real man” isn’t related to violence, domination and physicality on or off the field, society takes sexism and violence against women seriously (such as the recent White House campaign NotAlone.gov) and we stop hero worship of male athletes in “the Big 4” sports, this is unlikely to change. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

With the death of Maya Angelou who wrote:

“I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.”

If we lived in a world where all girls and women believed and embraced the sentiment of your poem and all males respected and treated women as equals, the world would be a better place.

RELEASED: New Reports on Women College Coaches

Did you know that in the 40+ years after the passage of Title IX, female sport participation is at an all-time high but the percentage of women coaching women at the collegiate level has declined from 90+% in 1974 to near an all-time low today of 40%? While the number of collegiate coaching opportunities is also at a record high, only 20% of all college coaching positions for men’s and women’s teams are filled by women.

T2012-13_women-coaches-reportoday we (meaning the Tucker Center & the Alliance of Women Coaches) released a research series, 2 report cards and infographic on the status of women college coaches at 76 of the biggest NCAA D-I athletics programs. This work is the culmination of many people’s efforts. The purpose of this initiative is to increase the number of women in the coaching profession, generate awareness, and hold institutions accountable. I hope you will check out the reports and infographic and read the article Christine Brennan wrote in USA Today about the report.

Here are some key take-aways from the reports:

  • As the position became more visible and arguably powerful from graduate assistants, to assistant coaches, to head coaches, women occupied those positions less frequently.
  • In one academic year the percentage of women head coaches declined from 40.2% to 39.6%
  • Only ONE school, Cincinnati at 80%, was awarded an A for the percent of women head coacheswcr_2013-14_infographic
  • An equal number of schools got above average grades of A’s and B’s as got F’s (11 each). To see which schools passed and failed, or where your school stacked up, click on the infographic.
  • Two sports had 100% female head coaches (field hockey, synchronized swimming) while five sports had ZERO (0%) (water polo, bowling, skiing,, sailing, squash)
  • The B1G Ten (46.1%) conference had the most female head coaches of the 6 conferences we examined (ACC, Big East, Big 12, SEC, PAC 12), the SEC had the lowest (33.3%)wcr_2013-14_head-coaches
  • 66 of 886 head coach positions turned over from 2012-13 to 2013-14. Out of those 66 positions 74.2% of all coach vacancies were filled by men resulting in a net gain of five head male coaches, thus the decline in the percentage of women head coaches.
  • 7 schools increased the % of female head coaches in one academic year, while 13 decreased.

To read more about why this research matters, grading criteria, methodology and more specifics on processes go to the reports.

Revisiting Dunking in Women’s Basketball

basketball._whiteMarch Madness 2013 is now in full swing. As we approach our brackets, be aware of how women’s basketball and female athletes are covered and discussed in the media, compared to men’s basketball and male athletes. If you haven’t read Kate Fagan’s piece on espnW titled “What Brittney Griner says about us?”…you should. Fagan outlines why some people negatively react to Griner and why it matters. After I read her piece, I thought it may be worth sharing here an OpEd I wrote that was published in the Boston Herald in 2006, a few days before the Women’s Final Four began in Beantown.

After you read the OpEd, I’d like to know if you think the argument has changed? If you insert ‘Griner’ for “Parker’ would it still ring true?  I contend it has, and in fact the negative comments and critique of Griner has been far more egregious than what Candace Parker endured. This is precisely what Fagan discusses…and it is important to bring attention to the fact female athletes still face discrimination, marginalization and other barriers than preclude them from being seen as equally athletic to their male counterparts.

To dunk or not to dunk in women’s collegiate basketball? (originally published in the Boston Herald, April 1, 2006)

Candace Parker is changing girls’ and women’s basketball. In 2004 Parker won the McDonald’s All-American dunk contest over the best boys in the country. Last week, 6’4” Parker made history by completing two dunks in a first-round NCAA Tournament game. While many applaud past and current dunks as advancing the sport and female athletic potential, others are quick to criticize Parker’s dunks as the demise of the women’s game citing various reasons such as; (1) The dunk is seen as undermining the quality of the men’s game. Thus, dunks are an unworthy pursuit for women; (2) Focusing on the dunk takes away from the array of women’s basketball skills (dribbling, passing, shooting); (3) No one wants to see women dunking, that is — acting like men.

What is missing from the conversation is how women’s dunks, and the commentary around them, simultaneously positively promote, change, and oppress women’s basketball. 

A double standard exists for dunking women. On one hand, if a woman dunks, she may be criticized for showboating, and for trying to be “like a man.” Similarly, her dunk is dismissed and compared to men’s dunks as “not a real dunk,”  “less than,” or lacking proper elevation above the rim.  On the other hand, the lack of female dunking in games is often used as a reason why some people lack interest in the women’s game and as evidence the women’s game is a “lesser” version of basketball. Dunking women are damned if they dunk, and dunked if they do.

The frequency and magnitude of the media’s coverage in recognizing Parker’s achievement can create change in and of itself. The public rarely gets to see or hear about women’s exhibition of skills that are considered male — especially in a sport that is as highly valued and close to the cultural center of male sport — such as basketball. Underlying the hype around Parker’s dunks, however, is an unspoken fear. The dunk has long provided irrefutable, natural (i.e. biological) evidence of male sport superiority. Dunking females threaten male sport superiority by challenging the separation of “men’s sports” and “women’s sports.” Dunking females provide evidence of a continuum of sports performance, where many women routinely outperform many men (e.g., many 6’4” male basketball players have never dunked in a game) and possess strength, ability and speed in equal and greater capacities than men. The dunk confirms female athleticism and potential when equal access, opportunity, and quality training and coaching are provided for girls.

Dunking is a worthy pursuit for girls and women. Dunking is not a proven gateway of demise for basketball.  Even if one believes it has contributed to a decrease in the quality of the men’s game, a similar fate in the women’s game is not a given. Dunking adds to the skill array of women’s basketball. People do want to see women dunk. Dribbling skillfully through defenders does not make ESPN SportsCenter’s “Top Plays of the Week.” Unquestionably, women’s dunks provide increased exposure and coverage of women’s basketball. The dunk is constantly promoted by the media as the dynamic standard of performance and skill, which communicates its societal importance and value in basketball. Why should the standard be different for women? Because discouraging women from the pursuit of dunking under the paternal guise of what is best for the women’s game, will keep women’s basketball subordinate to men’s basketball.

The dunk at its worst can be used as a means to maintain women’s sports as “less than,” thereby reinforcing notions of a gender binary of “women’s sports” and “men’s sports,”  while also perpetuating traditional stereotypes of femininity and masculinity. The dunk at its best can be a change mechanism for people’s perceptions about, and interest in, women’s basketball, and girls’ and women’s sport in general. To that end, girls and women go forth– be strong, fast and powerful and dunk, dunk, dunk!

Gender & the Olympics: A Commentary

I wrote about three significant trends pertaining to females and the Olympics for Minnesota Public Radio. Namely I wrote 2012 has marked the 40th anniversary of title IX in the US, female Olympians outnumbers their male counterparts for the USOC, and women in predominately religiously conservative Muslim nations were allowed to compete for the first time in summer Olympic history. I also wrote about the lack of women in positions of power for the US Team (also see previous blog).

After I wrote that piece I’ve been thinking about other broken barriers, and in some cases have proven just how far girls and women in sport have yet to go. Other key occurrences include:

1. African American women winning gold in sports traditionally dominated by Whites–Serena Williams (tennis, becoming only the 2nd female to obtain the Golden Slam), Gabby Douglas (all-around gymnastics). However, both athletes competed in sports and trained in systems that are not under the jurisdiction of Title IX (i.e., private, non-school based). This is a key point because while Title IX as dramatically improved participation rates for females, girls and women of color have not benefited from this law to the same degree as their White peers.

2. On Friday, August 9, 2012, Shannon Eastin became the first female to referee an NFL game. This is key for many reasons–its provides proof females can be in other visible roles in football than cheering on the sidelines, it provides a role model for girls and young women to aspire to a career in refereeing at the highest level, and it provides evidence that women are capable of referring a sport that most don’t play (no one ever raises an eyebrow when men ump or coach softball!). Unfortunately due to enduring sexism and gender stereotypes about women in positions of power she will endure criticism that is not leveled at her male colleagues, and backlash in the blogosphere. However, her appearance is not without controversy due to the NFL ref picket line.

3. While US women have won 58% of the medals for Team USA (as of 8/10/12), female athletes in most all sports have been criticized and subject of derogatory remarks for not being feminine or attractive enough. There are a number a articles on this topic which details that “faces not feats” are predominately highlighted in Olympic coverage. I was encouraged by the fact some female athletes fought back and resisted those who tried to marginalize their amazing feats.

The reason why this matters is that just as many current Olympians (e.g., Alex Morgan, Gabby Douglas, Missy Franklin) talked about how their aspirations for gold began as they watched 12, 8 or 4 years ago, today’s girls are doing the same. Girls need to see active, athletic female role models rather than be subject to commentary about how female athletes should look and conform to society’s notions of femininity and beauty. Athletes are beautiful…in all shapes, sizes, sport types, ages (equestrian Karen O’Connor is the oldest Olympian competing for the US at age 54; swimmer Katie Ledecky is the youngest at 15).

For some female athletes they self-promote by relying on looks, and for those who have them…can we blame them?. According to Jere Longman, a NYT writer, “Lolo Jones has received far greater publicity than any other American track and field athlete competing in the London Games. This was based not on achievement but on her exotic beauty and on a sad and cynical marketing campaign.” As Jones took 4th place in the 100m hurdles by a tenth of a second, I wondered if all the attention and hype distracted Jones’ attention and energy from optimal performance. What is even MORE interesting is that Longman’s critical column of Jones garnered considerable criticisms of its own (here, here, here, here).

…primarily from blogs that are rarely interested in covering women’s sport!

So is the lesson from “low blows on LoLo” that one should not be mean spirited and critical of the Olympic “It Girl”? (I’m reminded of my blog where I criticized the SI cover portrayal of 2010 Winter Olympic It Girl Lindsey Vonn). That female athletes should be left alone to market and promote themselves as they see fit? That it is OK if girls and young women internalize consistent messages of “it is more important what you look like than what you can do athletically” that can, according the to American Psychological Association, lead to a host mental and physical disorders?

If remaining gender barriers are to be broken, how female athletes are portrayed, portray themselves, and critiqued by the media must be examined and changed.

Athleticism and talent of ALL female athletes, not just the ones who meet society’s standards of femininity and attractiveness, (of all the hours of NBC coverage I did not see any of female weightlifters or boxers) should be sufficient for coverage.

And when they perform well and give it all they had in the tank, we should celebrate— not compare them to men, call them “manly” or other gendered slurs, subject them to sex testing, or wonder if performance enhancing drugs are involved (e.g., Ye Shiwen, Caster Semenya).