Tag Archives: women’s hockey

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?

 

A Not So Good Day For Women's Hockey: What Were the Canadian Women Thinking?

Canada's Meghan Agosta (2) and Jayna Hefford (16) celebrate with cigars after Canada beat USA 2-0 to win the gold medal.

So I woke up this morning still thinking about the gold medal women’s hockey game between USA and Canada. What a great game! Before I could fully open my eyes and drink half a cup of coffee, one blog reader alerted me to the breaking story and pictures of the Canadian women celebrating on the ice after the arena had cleared. At first I thought she was referring to the fans celebrating with cigars and beer, not the player’s themselves. After I’d woken up a bit and clicked on the link she sent (Thanks Cindy!) I thought I was having a nightmare! What were the Canadian women thinking? Is this a way to portray one’s sport and your team? Here is a full slide show of the “celebration”. These pictures are really quite unbelievable for so many reasons, the least of which is that one of the players is under the legal drinking age (Poulin. Follow up: In Poulin’s providence the legal drinking age is 18, in BC it is 19).

I suppose one could make the argument that men do this, so this can be seen as progress for women’s sport, but that is a real stretch. Obviously athletes–male and female alike– celebrate when they win big games, but this type of public celebration in an Olympic venue is just not appropriate. Celebrations of this type typically happen (and should happen), in the locker room, or at a night club, or in private. I get the athletes were excited and proud to win the gold over their biggest rival, and win in their own country…but this is disrespectful to Canada, hockey, women’s hockey, their teammates who weren’t there,  coach, and the Olympics in general.  It certainly is not good for women’s sport! If I thought women being sexualized on the cover of Sports Illustrated was bad for women’s sport, I’m not sure where this ranks! I’m really stunned.

I’m not against women smoking cigars (to each her own), although I’m sure this will be critiqued by many because cigar smoking is typically thought of a male activity and not “ladylike” (and remember the male commentator throughout the game referred to the women as “ladies”). Also, I’m not saying I believe it to be ladylike or unladylike. That isn’t my point, like I said, to each her own.  However, if you are a gold medal Olympian and want to smoke a cigar, drink champagne or beer or double fist it, don’t do it on the ice of an Olympic venue (regardless of if you are male or female!). I do wonder, as have others, what the reaction would be if male athletes engaged in the same behaviors?

I also wonder how long it will take people to start with homophobic/lesbian/dyke comments and speculation (in fact it has already started). Remember it is a common pattern of marginalization that whenever females are great athletes, and particularly when they play a sport characterized by strength, speed, & power which encroaches upon activities traditionally and historically only reserved for/associated with males (like sport/hockey, and cigar smoking) they are usually immediately labelled lesbian. Pay close attention to how the media will construct this event in addition to the public reaction.

Lastly, these pictures are going to be seen by thousands of young girls and boys, who look up to these great athletes as role models. We somehow construct female athletes as better candidates for positive and “family friendly” role models than male professional athletes, so when “girls behave badly” or out of character to this prescribed norm, the outcry is loud and swift. What makes me sad is this lapse in judgment will probably forever taint their great play. They are now at risk to be remembered, not for their great play on the ice, but for the partying that ensued after the horn blew. What an opportunity lost.

Note: Read the Byline To Finish Line blog as well which outlines some similar perspectives, but raises other issues pertaining to this event.

A Great Day for Women's Hockey

I managed to get home and watch the DVR’d USA v. Canada women’s hockey game before anyone could tell me the score (now that was a gold medal effort!). I watched every second of a great game, possibly the best women’s hockey I’ve seen. Although USA didn’t win (0-2), I was never so proud of women’s hockey.

 What I wasn’t proud of was the male commentator (I love Cammi Granato in the booth as a 2-time Olympian, she added great insight and I hope to see more of her as a sport commentator) who throughout the entire game called the women “ladies” (which has been critiqued previously in this blog). Three or more times when a great play was made by a Canadian woman, he compared her to a Canadian male hockey player, “Poulin handles the puck like Sidney Crosby”. Why not just say, “Wow, what great stick handling!” and leave it at that. You’d never hear the reverse.

Despite this annoying commentator, it was a fun game to watch. Seeing the US team get their medals and watch how each player held back tears after years of preparation culminated in this one game, I got choked up. The veterans like 4-time Olympians Angela Ruggiero and Jenny Potter, and 3-time Olympian Natalie Darwitz were holding back tears probably for different reasons than their 15  first-time Olympian teammates. How cool would it be as a young girl to see these great women play a sport you love? I never saw women playing hockey on TV growing up. It wasn’t until adulthood I traded in my figure skates for hockey skates. Now I play in the Women’s Hockey Association of Minnesota (WHAM) with some of the aunts and cousins of current Team USA Olympians–women who would of made the Olympic team in their prime, if a team existed at that time. (note: I don’t play at their level!) WHAM is the largest women’s hockey league in the US, with over 80 teams at 7 levels.  Hockey is a great game and living in The State of Hockey, Minnesota, I can tell you we do breathe hockey here. Seeing Minnesota natives and women who played on the University of Minnesota women’s hockey team be a part of  Team USA is pretty cool.

You could tell Team USA was disappointed, but I think the gesture of Angela Ruggiero putting her arm around the rookie player in the medal line next to her as if to say “I know how you feel, but enjoy this moment” was telling of the character of the entire team.  Congratuations to both teams! What a great day for women’s hockey!