Female coaches face double threat of sexism, homophobia (USA)
For the first time ever, four women coaches met in the conference finals of the WNBA; Becky Hammon became the NBA?s first full-time female assistant coach as a member of the San Antonio Spurs? staff; and Rachel Balkovec cracked the Major League Baseball locker room, becoming MLB?s first-ever female strength and conditioning coach (for the St. Louis Cardinals).
But the news for women coaches isn?t as good as it appears. According to research conducted by the NCAA, only 40 percent of women?s sports teams are coached by women (down from 90 percent when Title IX was introduced in 1972), and there are fewer than 300 total women coaches leading men?s teams ? a miniscule 2 percent.
Add to that the recent news of Iowa?s prominent field hockey coach Tracey Greisbaum being fired or the decision to not renew the contract of Minnesota Duluth?s ice hockey coach Shannon Miller, despite her leading the team to five?NCAA championships and developing 28 Olympians in her time, and there?s clearly a problem.
Some have questioned whether Miller?s outspokenness as an out lesbian had anything to do with her dismissal, and it?s definitely a worry that has to be on the mind of any female coach when discussing her sexual orientation. It?s why many female coaches who are gay stay closeted for fear of losing their jobs.
?The thinking has always been ? for both straight and lesbian coaches ? keep your head down, do your job, win, and you?ll succeed.?These two coaches have shown that that truism doesn?t hold up,? says Nancy Hogshead-Makar, CEO of Champion Women, which advocates?equality, accountability and transparency in sports. ?Particularly in Shannon Miller?s case, I believe she was fired because she was so successful. Her success gave her a power base that the male coaches and (athletic directors) wouldn?t ever have.?
Roger Brigham, who in 1982 became one of the first sports reporters to come out as gay, has long championed equality for all in sports. He feels female coaches have been under attack for decades and only recently are people becoming aware of the institutional and cultural discrimination they face.
?They are routinely underpaid when their salaries are compared with male peers and they are held to a double standard on conduct that essentially infantilizes female athletes with its implication that the female athletes are not as emotionally tough as males and therefore need to be protected,? he says. ?Female coaches also have to deal with the presence of the male-monopoly in the massive sacred cow that is known as football. In short, women coaches, heterosexual or gay, are faced with a system that is stacked against them.?
Brigham says that the cases of Greisbaum and Miller will have a general chilling effect and may make more coaches reluctant to leave the closet, but also hopes both expose the built-in homophobia and sexism in the institutions and will activate people to fight those things harder.
?I would also hope that the cases would make closeted coaches realize the sense of security a closet provides is false and the greatest control they can have over their lives and careers is by being as open and honest about who they are as they can possibly be,? he says. ?Look at the support the athletes of both coaches expressed when their coaches came under attack. Clearly the athletes knew the sexual orientation of their coaches and it was a non-issue for them.?
Hogshead-Makar, who is also a civil rights lawyer, said Greisbaum?s case makes it clear that lesbian coaches will be evaluated differently, based on gender stereotypes.?It?s something she is fighting to change and she wants to start with Mark Emmert?s leadership at the NCAA.
?Mark Emmert is not friendly to women; I cannot think of a single decision that has benefitted women. In my four years with the Women?s Sports Foundation, and almost a year at Champion Women, our efforts to get the NCAA to adopt female-friendly policies were regularly ignored,? she says. ?It was a completely different story under his predecessor, Myles Brand.?
The first step in improving the disparity, Hogshead-Makar notes, is recognizing the male bias in sports.
?If hiring committees receive training on bias, they?re more likely to hire diverse candidates,? she says. ?I view male bias in sports as harming both women and particularly women of color, and the LGBT community, equally. I don?t think there can be success in one of these areas without the other.?
Brigham feels the best thing to do would be to erase the incredible imbalance created by football, requiring every school that has a football team to spend an equal amount on women?s football and have one female coach for every male coach.
?That kind of financial burden might be enough to make athletics directors and university presidents realize that way too much is spent in one sport and steps should be taken to reduce costs through smaller rosters, smaller coaching staffs and rule changes,? he says. ?Of course, none of that is likely to happen. The number of women coaches will increase the day we eliminate sexism in all aspects of society and schools take proactive steps to adopt equal opportunity employment practices.?
Rick Leddy, senior director of communications for the National Association of Basketball Coaches, understands the problem but says not every school should be lumped into the bias.
?I have worked at a Division II school for more than three decades with many openly gay coaches, athletic administrators and athletes who were extremely successful and highly respected by me and our campus community in general,? he says. ?It?s my hope that our society in general will become more accepting of all people, regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion or sexual preference and that everyone will have greater opportunities overall, including in sports and the coaching profession.?
According to Hogshead-Makar, there?s still a long way to go. She says homophobia is still a driving force in the decisions made in intercollegiate athletics and until something changes, the number of women coaches will continue to be small.
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