Monday, November 11, 2013

More evidence at Tennessee

The attention to issues of sex discrimination within University of Tennessee athletics a year ago waned rather quickly, but the department and university is coming back into the media spotlight with news that additional. The two lawsuits filed against the university emerged after complaints of inequitable pay between employees in the men's and women's athletic departments respectively--which Tennessee attempted to justify.  The "football makes money defense" is not likely to hold up in court, though. Also not helping the Vols is the current lack of female leadership in the merged athletic department. In addition to the dismal numbers (which includes a below average percentage of female head coaches at 38.5) are the stories of former employees. It seems that the narrative about Pat Summitt being pushed out of her head coaching job will come under additional scrutiny should the lawsuits go to trial. Also, one of the plaintiffs, during the merger process, was told not to bother applying for the new merged position in media relations because the football coach would not work with a woman. Usually proving discrimination is much more difficult; but when it is announced, well....
The discrimination is quite pronounced as noted by lawyer Kristin Galles, a Title IX expert: "it's all so obvious. It's a window into the discriminatory decision-making that happens every day in college athletics. And the fact that it's happening at a school like this really highlights the extent to which discrimination is a problem everywhere."
The merger is a case study in discrimination within athletic departments.
Now, whether it actually makes it to the courts is uncertain. It would likely be a big media relations disaster for the university given what we have already learned from court filings. And if the dominant narrative that comes out is about how one of the most revered coaches in basketball was forced out of her job against her will, that will be even worse for Tennessee and call into question all the praise they have heaped on Summitt and the credit they have received for advancing women's athletics more generally.