Explaining the scarcity of female coaches: Homophobia still pervasive

9 12 2010

This week I read two separate stories about female collegiate coaches who are no longer coaching due to homophobia. Scholars have been writing about the effects of homophobia on women’s sports for decades, yet it persists.

The first story is about University of Minnesota Associate Women’s Golf Coach Katie Brenny. All the facts are not in yet, but allegedly Brenny was relieved of many of her coaching duties when the Director of Golf, John Harris, learned that Brenny was a lesbian. You can read about this story in the MN Daily, here and here. It was announced this week that Brenny plans on suing the University of Minnesota for  “a violation of several Minnesota statutes, which would include discrimination based upon creating a hostile work environment; discrimination, retaliation and harassment; and discrimination concerning sexual preference.” Note: 12/10/10 Star Tribune story on Brenny.

The second story involves Lisa Howe, Belmont University’s Head Women’s Soccer Coach, “who resigned last week after she told school officials that she and her same-sex partner were expecting a child.” Howe felt she should resign in the “don’t ask, don’t tell,” climate at Belmont rather than be fired “due to her poor choices.”  To read more about this story click here and here and Pat Griffin has also written a number of blogs about Howe.

There are many troubling issues about these two stories, but in light of my research on the scarcity of female coaches, I find them particularly interesting. Females coaches are in the minority at all levelsyouth, high school and college (if you want to see the statistics, click on these links). The barriers and factors which influence this phenomenon are complex, but in these cases, I think it is safe to say homophobia and a climate of intolerance are contributing factors as to why we now have 2 fewer female college coaches.

Austin Calhoun, a graduate student, and I completed research on how gay and lesbian coaches are erased from online sport media. When we heard of Howe and Brenny, we looked at their online coaching biographies and were not shocked to learn neither mentioned their same-sex partners.

While Brenny seemed to be released from her duties because she was gay, Howe quit because she couldn’t stay in the closet (and resumably didn’t want to) once she and her same-sex partner were going to have a baby.  Interestingly,  having children dramatically affects both heterosexual and homosexual female coaches, in some similar, but also in some very different ways.

For gay women, having a child makes it harder to stay in the closet, and once you have a child with someone you love, one presumably would prefer to openly and freely share that love and joy with the world–including one’s team and colleagues. However, gay coaches are then faced with a dilemma: Come out and risk their career, or stay in the closet and alienate and erase their newly expanded family. Young gay female coaches in the early stages of their careers and families, may have very different thoughts and values about being openly gay in the workplace than their older generational counterparts.  Therefore, it is likely that the attrition rate of young gay female coaches may increase as they want to live openly, but bump up against institutional and societal homophobia. This group of young women may also choose not to enter the coaching profession to begin with (stay tuned for cutting edge research on this topic and more from my graduate student Alyssa Norris).

For heterosexual women, having a child makes it harder to balance the work-mother roles unless a supportive male partner is willing to take on some of the domestic labor in the home (I realize that same-sex couples have to also balance domestic labor issues). For this group of women, having a child does not directly threaten your job. In fact, it is celebrated (as it should be!). Researchers have documented that despite gains made by women in the workplace, women are still responsible for a majority of the domestic labor in the home. For many women (gay and straight alike), balancing the coach-mother roles proves to be too stressful and often results in quitting the coaching profession.  What may compound this issue for females coaches with male partners is that a gender pay gap still exists where females make on average .77 cents for every dollar a male earns. Thus, if a heterosexual couple is deciding who is going to stay home (if that is even an option) or how to lessen the workload, it often makes better financial sense for the male to remain in his career/job.

Of note, when a male coach and his female partner have a child it rarely affects the male coach’s career trajectory or job security. One key take home: in order to have a successful coaching career, a female must have a supportive and equal partner. Another key take home is that gay female coaches likely face more barriers than their heterosexual counterparts which makes staying or getting into coaching challenging.

I have more thinking to do about this complex issue, but these two stories illustrate a few key contributing factors in the ongoing scarcity of female coaches. I realize my logic on this is not fully developed, and I would love to hear your constructive thoughts.

Addition 12/10/10: A NYT piece about a wife-husband co-head coaching duo for Mizzou Volleyball is an example of how heterosexual coaches can be visible and celebrated, whereas I doubt you would ever see a similar story on same-sex co-head coaches. This story is also an example of how if a mother-coach is going to succeed she needs a supportive and equal partner.

Addition 12/17/10: A NYT piece on Howe and the reaction of her athletes and the community.

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2 Important Firsts in Sport for Marginalized Groups

12 11 2010

1. Afghanistan is poised to get their first national women’s team. The sport will be cricket and the Afghanistan Cricket Board feels cricket will allow the women to play a sport but remain consistent with Islamic tradition and values. To read more about the team click here.

2. This weekend a historic basketball game will be played here at the University of Minnesota’s Best Buy Classic. Kye Allums will be the first transgender athlete to play a NCAA D-I basketball game. He is a Minnesota native and I think it quite fitting he play this historic game in his home state. In light of the new report released a few weeks ago on transgender athletes, perhaps Allums courageous will help forward dialogue and policy. To read the original article on OutSports.com that broke the story click here.





Hazing Has No Place in Sports

28 10 2010

Every week I hear stories from across the country about hazing in sport contexts. The recent attention nationally around bullying, including a stand from the White House, illustrates the seriousness of these issues and that social change is necessary. Here in Minnesota a hazing incident involving a MN high school football team garnered a lot of media attention. Unfortunately, stories of hazing in high school and college sports is not uncommon. I teach a hazing unit  in my Psychology of Coaching class, so I’ve been thinking about this issue for some time.

I feel it is important to educate current and future coaches, parents and athletes that hazing has no place in sports (or any context!). Here are some of the reasons why hazing should not be tolerated, punished swiftly and severely, and not minimized as harmless “teasing.”  To hear me talk about hazing, you can watch an interview I did with Fox 9 News.

There are some great resources available about hazing including HazingPrevention.org and StopHazing.org

  • Hazing is a serious issue in which psychological or physical harm is intentionally inflicted in order to gain membership to a group, and in that way it is different than teasing. The guidelines for what constitutes hazing can be found here.
  • Many myths of hazing include: it is harmless, the victim agreed or consented to do it so it isn’t that big of a deal, it is tradition, it teaches respect and discipline, or it is just kids having fun…but these are just that, myths. Hazing is an act of power and control over others. One of the myths is that hazing is just “boys being boys.” If physical and psychological harm is attributed to “boys being boys” than this societal belief needs to be challenged and changed. What does this message teach young men and boys? Unfortunately this type language is used repeatedly to normalize or minimize the bad behavior of those who haze.
  • Hazing is typically used as a means to achieve team membership, improve performance, teach respect or discipline, reflect a sign of tradition, and/or to facilitate team bonding, but in reality hazing events are embarrassing, degrading, can be physically and/or psychologically harmful, can cause resentment and hostility, and undermine trust, positive relationships, and team cohesion.
  • It is quite common despite educational efforts to thwart the occurrence of hazing. Exact numbers are not known due to the fact most hazing goes unreported as the victims are under a veil of secrecy, don’t want to call out their peers, and face the potential of more hazing, retaliation, or losing friends. Statistics vary but between 50-80% of all students report being hazed.
  • Most kids, and many adults, think hazing is normal and just accept it uncritically, but there are some questions that can be asked to help discern if it is indeed hazing.
    • Am I asked to keep it a secret?
    • Would I want my parents, teachers, principle or coach to know?
    • Would I want this in the newspapers or on TV?
    • Is there risk of injury or is it safe?
  • Hazing is common enough to cause concern. Experts on hazing argue proactive, consistent, and explicit educational effort to coaches, parents, and athletes is the best preventative measure along with firm policies and strong consequences. Many coaches turn a blind eye and view it as harmless team fun, when in fact it is a serious issue.

There are far better and more positive ways to build team cohesion, mutual respect and create positive relationships among athletes than hazing rituals.





New Report on Transgender Athletes

13 10 2010

A new report on transgender athletes titled “On the Team: Equal Opportunities for Transgender Student Athletes” is the first ever to thoroughly address the complete integration of transgender student athletes within high school and collegiate athletic programs. The report is also the first to provide comprehensive model policies and a framework for athletic leaders to ensure equal access to school athletics for transgender students.

This groundbreaking report is sponsored by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and It Takes A Team!, an Initiative of the Women’s Sports Foundation, is urging high school and college athletic associations across the country to adopt standard policies to provide transgender student athletes fair and equal opportunity to participate on athletic teams.

The report provides:
·        Model policies—created by leading athletic, legal, and medical experts—for including transgender students in both high school and college athletics that ensure the safety, privacy, and dignity of all student athletes.
·        Specific best practice recommendations for athletic administrators, coaches, student athletes, parents, and the media.
·         A thorough analysis of issues related to providing equal opportunities for transgender student athletes.
·         An in-depth list of local and national resources to help address transgender issues in athletics.
·         Definitions of key terms, as well as information about the legal rights of transgender people in the United States.

The report is authored by Pat Griffin, former director of It Takes A Team!, and Helen Carroll, NCLR Sports Project Director.  Content of this blog was taken from the NCLR press release for the report.

11/16/2010: Article by Dave Zirin, Acceptance of GW transgender basketball player a good life lesson






One Yeah! Three Nays for Girls & Women in Sport

11 10 2010

In the Yeah! column, a video featuring two girls who play on boys’ football teams.

In the Nay column, Mechelle Voepel’s column on the first-ever FIBA conference and the five “key topics” discussed by attendees (including lowering the rim, and regulating uniforms), to which I say quoting Voepel, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

The second Nay has to do with a basketball coach who wants to “fight the lesbian lifestyle” by creating a team with all heterosexual players. Huh?  Unfortunately, gender stereotypes still haunt women’s sport as this ESPN column outlines.

The third Nay, is the 2010 ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue cover of Diana Taurasi. This blogger on SheWired summed up my thoughts, “This is not the Diana Taurasi I remember!” I will keep contending that seeing female athletes posed like this (given females only receive 6-8% of all sport media coverage), does nothing positive to promote women’s sports or female athletes. If it does, WNBA season ticket sales should be dramatically increasing as I type.

Thanks to the people that have sent me tidbits, some of which are included here.