Thursday, December 18, 2014

What should we take from Miller's firing?

This post will start cynical  (it has not been a great week for discrimination against women in sports) but I will try to end on an up(ish) note.

So we can now add to the list of things that will get female coaches fired/dismissed/forced into retirement: having too high of a salary. This joins such explanations (which range in legitimacy--I'm not commenting on whether or not they are true, just that they have been offered in some suspect dismissals): having a family, not having a family, pulling a player's shirt, banning white bread, reporting gender inequity, yelling at players, being too feminine, not being feminine enough, too successful, not successful enough. 

University of Minnesota Duluth women's hockey head coach Shannon Miller, who coached her team to five NCAA championships, was told this week that her contract is not being renewed (she will finish out the season) because her salary--the highest of any head women's hockey coach at $215,000--is too high for the financially distressed UMD to sustain. Most of those reasons above are never applied to  male coaches (yes, Tim Rice at Rutgers--who was caught on videotape--is an exception and lack of success is often a reason male coaches get bought out of their contracts)--but certainly "we're paying you too much, so we have to let you go"  is something male coaches do not hear when they are sat down in the athletic director's office to be fired.

This incident cannot be looked at in isolation. Don't forget the story from just a few weeks ago out of Iowa and the apparent pattern of female coaches being fired, not renewed, or entering into early retirement.

Yes, UMD is a different school, this is a different rationale, but it is part of the pattern. We may not know exactly what the pattern is and, unfortunately, I suspect the number of smoking guns that exist to explain things are rare--because I don't believe there is one thing that makes an athletic department fire female coaches. It's about the power of male administrators, beliefs about female leadership, the value of women's sports, the value of female coaches, and so much more.

Though this story broke two days ago, I feel we are a little bit behind given the extensive news coverage. But--and here is the potential upside--doubts are being raised and questions are being asked. Dr. Nicole LaVoi of University of Minnesota has been speaking to the media and also posted on her blog, One Sport Voice, some revealing data about coaching, salaries, and discrimination. 

UMD made a mistake not just in firing Miller but in providing a weak justification, which only serves to make people question the actual justification. They also made a mistake in doing it so close to the revelations about what is happening at Iowa. And they underestimated a general public that dislikes overt discrimination. It may be difficult to see and understand structures and systems of discrimination, but it is not hard to see that firing a female coach under the guise of being paid too much when there are other, less successful male coaches who are paid more...well that's gender discrimination.