Monday, December 17, 2007

What Do Glaciers and Women Coaches Have in Common?

They are both disappearing, according to the amazing Go To authorities on all things Title IX, Vivian Acosta and Linda Carpenter. In 1972 when Title IX was passed, 90% of the coaches for women’s teams were women. In 2007, women comprise about 40% of coaches for women’s collegiate teams. In the WNBA something like nine of the 14 teams are coached by men. That means that while women’s and girls’ participation in sports has been increasing steadily, the number of women coaching these teams has declined at a dramatic rate.

At the same time, the number of women coaching boys and men has always been miniscule and remains so. It’s apparent that, in terms of coaching opportunities, Title IX has had unanticipated negative results for women coaches. Men now coach about 99% of men’s teams and 60% of women’s teams.

So, the obvious question is why is this happening? I don’t think there is any one answer to the question. Many factors contribute to this situation. Part of the answer is that most decision-makers in athletics are men. When an athletic director needs to hire a coach, he often turns to the people he knows: Other men.

Because so many men now coach young women at the high school and community level, these young athletes tend to prefer men coaches. That’s what they know. They are often concerned that a woman coach will not be as knowledgeable or as tough or as successful. And so the gender imbalance becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as young women themselves complicate the problem.

Other factors also are in play. Coaching requires a huge time commitment, in and out of season. Despite progress in equalizing the roles that women and men play in relationships, heterosexual women in relationships with men still carry the majority of the burden for home and family responsibilities. Men coaches have wives for this. The traditional story is that wives support their husbands and take care of home and family so he can focus on coaching. Men are rewarded for being driven and single-minded in their professional pursuits. We admire their leadership and aggressiveness. Women who display similar drive and ambition are still viewed with suspicion by a lot of folks. Bucking this perception takes a lot of energy.

Women coaches strap the baby on their backs and head off to practice, trying to remember to pick up some milk on the way home after practice and throw the laundry into the dryer before they go to bed. They worry about being seen as bad mothers and spouses even as they are rewarded for success as a coach. This is a lot of pressure that most men coaches do not need to deal with and accounts for why many heterosexual women leave coaching.

Of course, there are perks for being a heterosexual married woman coach too (or pretending to be). You get a lot of media attention paid to your heterosexuality and your motherhood. You get to have pictures of your family in the team media guide. This is a significant aspect of heterosexual privilege denied to lesbian coaches with families. Where heterosexual men and women coaches often highlight their marital status and children, the personal lives of lesbian coaches are a blank slate in media guides, which focus on their professional accomplishments (as it should be for all coaches, in my opinion).

Which leads me to another factor in understanding the disappearing woman coach – homophobia. Though I believe things are changing for the better, many parents and high school recruits still fear lesbian coaches or perceive them to be unacceptable leaders and mentors. This lingering stereotype prompts heterosexual women coaches to trumpet their heterosexual credentials in team media guides and use it as a recruiting tool to fend off worries about lesbian coaches. If you are an unethical recruiter, you can insinuate that the “family-friendly” environment on your team contrasts with the unsavory “lifestyle” issues rampant on the team of your biggest rival. Though this is no longer a guaranteed slam dunk with parents and high school athletes, negative recruiting like this still works far too often.

Too many heterosexual male athletic directors still believe that lesbian coaches (or women who look like what they think lesbians look like) or any woman who is not married to or engaged to a man poses an image problem for the program. What’s the best way to avoid dealing with the lesbian “problem?” Hire a man. Look at LSU. After the resignation of Pokey Chatman last year over allegations that she had an “inappropriate” relationship with a player, LSU hired Van Chancellor, who talks a lot about his family, even though he is about as far from being a lesbian coach as you can get. If you believe that lesbian coaches are a problem, what better way to reassure recruits and their parents that basketball players at LSU are safe again.

Athletic directors seem far less concerned with male coaches becoming sexually involved with their female athletes, even though these “inappropriate” relationships are rampant in women’s sports. The number of male coaches who start a relationship with an athlete and then marry her after she graduates is a real problem that has received far too little attention from athletic directors who are quick to dismiss any woman coach even on the suspicion that she has crossed the boundaries of acceptable coach-athlete relationships.

Put it all together and voila! - The disappearing woman coach. It will take some concerted efforts on the part of athletic leaders and women’s advocacy groups to address the sexism and homophobia that support the insidious and persistent myth that men are better and safer coaches than women. It would also be great if more lesbian (and gay) coaches felt they could be open about their lives and families. As long as homophobia in sport keeps them tightly locked in their closets, homophobia and sexism can be used against all women coaches. The only people who benefit from this deadening combination are heterosexual men who want to coach women.


calugg said...

It's also that coaching women's sports is more far lucrative than compared to the pre-Title IX days. Once women's sports started paying really stipends and/or salaries for coaching, the guys moved in.

Homophobia also plays a major role.

BTW--OT but somewhat related. You can see the same trend in K-12 educational leadership, post Title IX. See Jackie Blount's "Destined to Rule the Schools," which is a dandy history of women in k-12 leadership.

Anonymous said...

It would be useful to know the numbers of coaches and not just the percentages. Has the number of women coaches also gone done or just the percentage?

Anonymous said...

Dr. Pat, you hit it on the nose. The big L word and what they perceive them to look like. Single women will certainly have difficulty obtaining coaching jobs. Recently a college just hired a coach and they lost a coach who was open and had the alternative life style. This previous D1 coach was gossiped about in the community, among parents in the state, among the girls and travel teams and not many of the girls in the area would commit to this coach because of her lifestyle. Very Sad!!!! She was more professional than any married coach I've seen and was a darn great coach. There were 5 candidates for this job and 3 were single women, one was a man and the other was a married women, however once on campus with the job this married women's spouse who had an affair and they recently separated so he did not come with her to the job.However he did come for the wife's original interview and certainly eyed the young girls. Know you have a women coach, in a mess with her marriage with a year old child.Her concentration is not the team, it is her life and child. She not only bullies certain players, she emotionnally and mentally attacks certain players from her own life frustrations. Plus the State college is having all kind of help for her and her child, a burden and liability to the tax payers of the state, but the misery she brings to the girls is unbelievable. The more qualified candidate indeed was single, was more than qualified. We need more women athletic directors in the ranks who can hire and equal out the ranks of coaching similar to title 9 for players. lets have equal opp for women in the coaching ranks, and AD ranks in all sports.

Stephen Hutch said...

Great blog!

Philippines SEO Company