Thursday, February 05, 2015

Iowa complaint & coaching behavior

Two pieces of news from two of my alma maters today. One, four field hockey players at  the University of Iowa have filed a Title IX complaint with OCR in conjunction with the firing of field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum. The second: University of New Hampshire fired women's ice hockey coach Brian McCloskey signed an admission of wrongdoing in a case of assault against a player during the course of a game.

Regarding Iowa, we were expecting something Title IX related to come out of this situation, but we presumed it would be a lawsuit from Griesbaum. (This still could happen, of course.) So it was a pleasant (in that unfortunate kind of way) surprise to hear about the four student-athletes taking the initiative and filing the complaint. The premise of the complaint is that the firing of Griesbaum, a highly successful coach, disadvantages female athletes, i.e, they are not receiving treatment equal to that of their male peers. They also contend that there is unequal treatment of female and male coaches within the department noting that the alleged abusive behavior committed by Griesbaum (based on student exit interviews) is tolerated when it is done by male coaches.

This relates to the case at UNH. The original story from McCloskey, who did have a lawsuit pending against the university for a while, was that he grabbed a player's shirt after she came off the ice and spoke back to him when he reprimanded her for her performance. He contended that this would have been tolerated if he were a female coach and/or coaching men. And he was probably right. This does not excuse his behavior or make it acceptable. It does point to the double standards that exist around gender and coaching styles--the same ones that the Iowa complaint points out.

McCloskey, as part of the admission--which includes more details (he pulled the player's shirt which caused her to fall and hit her head; he then grabbed her face mask)--will attend anger management classes.

I was about to suggest that all coaches take anger management classes or that there be better training programs for coaches, but I do not think the solution is that simple. We chastise coaches who engage in abusive behaviors, but the paradigm never shifts away from the idea that harsh disciplinarians and tough love and other such euphemisms are the key to creating a successful team. We justify these behaviors by pointing to athletes who say they are motivated by such tactics.

I believe there is more (there always is!) to both the Iowa and UNH situations that resulted in the dismissal of these two coaches. Even if it was the only reason, there are gendered implications to the bad behavior rationale.

Still, there is a huge positive to take out of, at least, the Iowa complaint. The four student-athletes are challenging their department, a pretty bold move given that three of the four will be returning athletes next season. I suspect there may be a Title IX whisperer somewhere in Iowa City. Regardless, I hope the activism is contagious. Maybe it will head north towards Duluth??