Tuesday, April 17, 2007

More on the Lack of Women Coaches

In her recent post about the lack of women coaches in women's sports at TCU, Kris shed some additional light on this issue by pointing out some factors that went unexplored in the article -- namely, the gender imbalance of the athletic administration and heteronormative spin in the department's publicity. I'd like to add that the reporter could have also included a more critical analysis of the "gender blind" approach to hiring that was offered as an explanation by TCU and on the issue more generally.

Because, as this recent article in the Salt Lake City Tribune helps confirm, that so called "gender blind" approach is applied with far greater frequency when the coaching position at issue is for a girls' or women's team. The Tribune article points out that less than 2% of Utah's 1600+ boys high school varsity head coaches are women. Boys interviewed for the article admitted to skepticism about having a female coach ("She coaches the girls' team. We need someone different"). One AD interviewed for the Tribune story said his hiring decision drew fire from those "asking, among other things, how he could defile America's passtime" by hiring a woman to coach the boys' baseball team.

Stereotypes and sexism among the players and their parents are harmful because they give rise to seemingly gender-neutral rationale for turning down or not encouraging female applicants for coaching position of boys teams -- a rationale along the lines of: We're not turning her down because she's a woman, but because we want to avoid a controversy, or because we think this coach would 'lack player rapport' or 'fail to command player respect.'

To be sure, not everyone feels this way and some people interviewed in the article support female coaches of boys teams--some in response to a positive experience with a female coach. Others suggest that things are changing, albeit slowly, for the better. But kudos to the Tribune for contextualizing these sentiments with statistics from the Women's Sports Foundation. In addition to pointing out that the number of women coaching women's teams is declining (at the college level, from 90% in 1972 to 42.4% today; and in Utah high school girls basketball teams, only 30%), the article points out that less than 18% of all head coaches (men's and women's teams combined) are women. It's hard to accept that figure reflects genuine gender neutrality in hiring.

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