For those of you that don’t know who Shannon Miller is – she is the most successful female ice-hockey coach of all time.
Born in Canada in 1963, Shannon became the first female coach to lead her Country to an Olympic Games and in 1998, returned from Japan with a silver medal. She went on to win a number of World Championships, Canadian Winter Games and more recently, served as a mentor to the Russian team at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Because of this reputation, Shannon was hired by the University of Minnesota Duluth in 1998 to create their first ever women’s hockey program and was asked to use her international experience to build an international program that would succeed in the NCAA’s toughest league – Division 1. 16 years later, Shannon became the most successful ice-hockey coach in the history of the league with 5 Championship wins, reaching 300 victories faster than any other female coach in the sport and even has a designated day named after her by the Major of Minnesota. So, you would think that Shannon’s time at UMD was filled with respect, admiration and celebration…this has unfortunately not been the case.
The Shannon Miller story is one that violates just about every aspect of the Title IX law brought into the US in 1972. This law ensured that all publicly funded schools would not discriminate against based on gender and that funding and efforts in all education strands must be split evenly. The exact wording of the law states:
“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
Here are some of the facts of Shannon’s story that violate Title IX:
The Women’s Hockey coach [Shannon] was paid around $93,241 less per year than the men’s head coach; even though the women’s Head Coach had a far greater success record than the mens.
The recruiting budget for the men’s hockey program was ‘unlimited, ’ the women’s budget was a mere $26,000.
The men’s hockey programme had a full time director, equipment manager and strength coach, the women’s program had one personnel to cover all 3 roles as well as her other duties within basketball.
Men’s team were given two meals at the weekends, the women’s team only one.
Men’s team received full funding to pay students throughout every term, the women’s team were not.
Overall spending for the men’s program exceeded $277,590 more than the women’s programme.
Despite Shannon repeatedly bringing up the disparities for the two programmes and fighting for equality for her teams, she was ignored and treated to a barrage of discrimination and disparate treatment at the University and suffered harassment and hostility from her co-workers. She was sent hate mail on a number of occasions, called homophobic and derogatory names, was told by her Athletic Director ‘there are too many Canadians round here’ and generally mistreated.
It all came to a head when in December 2014, Shannon was called into the Chancellor’s office and with the new young Athletic Director present, was told that her contract would not be renewed at the end of the season as the University needed to cut back on funding to save money towards their $6 million budget deficit. With one of the strongest coaching staffs Shannon had ever had, while being ranked 3rd in the league and 6th in the country, and while in the middle of their season, she was told that her and her entire coaching staff were losing their jobs. Shannon left that meeting feeling hurt, betrayed and was in utter shock. Although she was told time and time again that it was due to funding cuts, the men’s programme had been unaffected and it is now believed that “Miller’s contract as the head coach of the women’s hockey team at the University was non-renewed because she is an openly gay woman, from Canada, and/or is over 40 years old.”
Enough was enough for Shannon and on Monday 28th September 2015, along with two other female coaches from the UMD, Shannon publicly announced in a press conference her intent to file a law – suit. We spoke to Shannon days before this press-conference to ask how she was feeling, why she stayed at UMD for so long and what her intentions were for filing the law – suit. You can read the full interview:
So, why is the Shannon Miller case so important for all women in all sports? It is sad to say that even now in 2015, there have been a number of highly public sexist incidents in the top levels of sport around the World, ranging from the resignation of Chelsea Football Club Doctor Eva Carneiro after her public humiliation with male manager Jose Mourinho and the recent mis-treatment of the first female head coach in the French football League, Portugese Helena Costa who resigned even before her first game stating “There were a series of events that no trainer would tolerate and a total lack of respect”. Whilst some sports are making real headways in the equality coaches (such as the hiring of Becky Hammon and Nancy Lieberman in the NBA and Jen Welter in the NFL), the Shannon Miller case shows we still have a long way to go.
Shannon, along with two other female coaches in the same case, are finally fighting back. Shannon’s drive behind this is to make a change, inspire women and in an exclusive interview with the FCN states “my hope is that I am helping shed a very bright light on a very big problem that exists.”
Title IX may have been law since 1972, but in a recent publication by the ‘Tucker Centre’ (research centre at the University of Minnesota), female coaches in women sports have declined from 90% to a mere 40% and there are a number of cases of gender discrimination in sport across the US (and the rest of the World).
Now is the time that female coaches fight back and stand up for their rights – and Shannon Miller aims to inspire all to do so. Many women in the past have paved the way for the women of today who take part in sport and now Shannon Miller is now paving the way for future generations. This case could turn out to be a revolution for the equality of women in sport.