Friday, February 06, 2015

Fired Tufts Coach Files Complaint

Though it's no longer truly "news," I recently learned that former men's tennis coach Jamie Kenney filed a Title IX complaint with the Department of Education back in December alleging that her termination from the position was illegally motivated by gender stereotypes and double standards. According to the complaint (which I have read but do not have a link for) Coach Kenney suspended two team captains for violating the team's drinking policy. As part of their suspension, a decision Kenney had cleared with the Athletic Director, the players were banned from attending the conference championship in any capacity.  The players attended anyway in defiance of their coach, so Coach Kenney confronted them, as well as a (male) assistant coach who had been in on their plan, to insist that they leave.  In response, the rest of the team rallied around the suspended players by enlisting their parents to complain to the university president. The Athletic Director then withdrew his support for the coach's decision, and a representative from human resources confronted Coach Kenney with the parents' complaints, which had been forwarded by the President, as well as the negative evaluations that the students had filled out in the wake of (and in obvious reaction to) her unpopular disciplinary decision.  Eventually, after raising gender equity concerns about the way she was being treated, Coach Kenney received notice on July 1 that she was terminated from her position.

The complaint alleges that the university's response to the complaints about Coach Kenney's decision to discipline her players was discriminatory on the basis of gender, in that male coaches are afforded greater freedom to engage in coaching methods that female coaches are scrutinized for.  Additionally, she alleges that Tufts tends to ignore complaints made against male coaches and to support male coaches' decisions to discipline their players.

I am hopeful that OCR will investigate this complaint and expose some of the under-examined obstacles facing female coaches in general (see also Kris's post from yesterday about the Iowa complaint), and female coaches of male athletes in particular.  As the complaint points out, gender stereotypes create the expectation that women, including female coaches, embody a "caretaker" role.  When they step out of that role and into a stereotypically male"leadership" role, they are often penalized for it in overt and subtle ways.  This puts female coaches in a double bind, because the leadership model is generally more valued that the caretaker model, and may be particularly so when the athletes in question are male. It is no wonder that women constitute a mere 2-3% of the head coaches of men's teams, while men, in contrast, are the majority of coaches of men's teams. This matter, therefore, provides OCR with a rare opportunity to address a concrete, individualized example of conduct that contributes to a widespread problem.