Homophobia and sexism factor into NCAA coaches getting hired


How would you react if you knew that half of the jobs in your chosen field were not open to you simply because of your gender? This is the sad reality female coaches face when they search for jobs in college athletics.

While Title IX has succeeded in getting more girls and women to participate in sports from the modest beginnings of bumblebee soccer through the heights of the NCAA championships, it has been less successful in advancing the ranks of women in college coaching. A fascinating new article from ESPN’s Outside the Lines details how the percentage of women in college coaching has actually decreased since Title IX became law. Two factors, sexism and homophobia, stand out from the multitude of complex, interrelated factors that contribute to the declining numbers of female coaches in college sports.

According to the article, when Title IX was passed in 1972, women coached more than 90 percent of women’s teams. By 1978 that number had dropped to just over 58 percent and it now stands at just under 43 percent. In the last 12 years NCAA programs have added over 1700 women’s coaching positions and men have filled over two thirds of those positions.

Before Title IX, there was neither money nor prestige in coaching women’s teams; Pat Summit made $250 a month and used to have to wash her team’s uniforms and drive the team van to games. Once Title IX passed, money flowed into women’s sports and men followed.

Pat Summit

Men, in increasing numbers, coach women’s teams but the number of women who coach men’s teams has stayed at a pathetic three percent. Why? Men who coach men’s teams rarely think of hiring women as assistant coaches and women rarely think of applying to coach men’s teams. Indeed, women generally assume, often rightly so, that jobs coaching men’s teams are off limits to them and don’t even apply when a job is advertised. Right away, women have lost half the coaching jobs in college sports. The article gives the following example of how women further limit their job opportunities:

On every Division I campus, there are approximately eight basketball coaching positions: four on the men’s side, four on the women’s. Men can and do apply when any of those become available; inevitably they fill six of them. Women, however, will vie for only four slots — the women’s team slots — and claim two.

Women, by hiring men as assistant coaches and by not applying to be coaches for men’s teams are closing themselves out of job opportunities especially when men’s teams do not reciprocate by hiring female coaches.

Head coach Muffet McGraw of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish

If hiring male assistant coaches is simply exacerbating the problem for female coaches then why do so many female head coaches hire so many male assistants when their male counterparts never consider hiring female assistants? Women’s coaches hire male assistants because they may feel that having a male voice is valuable to the team and that their players do better when they have a variety of voices in the locker room. Head coaches also hire men because having a male assistant is perhaps the best way to avoid being thought of as having a “gay” program.

Head coach Kim Mulkey of the Baylor Lady Bears

Currently, there is only one out lesbian in all of Division I women’s basketball, Portland State’s Sherri Murrell. Negative recruiting, in which opposing coaches imply that another program is run by a lesbian in an effort to turn a recruited player away, is not uncommon. For some former players the thought of living a life in fear of having their sexual orientation used against them in recruiting and having to stay in the closet is much too high a price to pay to be a coach. Not only does homophobia lead to fewer women being hired in an effort to avoid the stigma of being a gay program but it actively drives lesbians who might otherwise coach out of the profession because being the secrecy and silence that being in the closet exacts too high a psychological toll.

PSU’s Sherri Murell

If sport is ever going to be used as a tool to stamp out prejudice, these sorts of barriers to participation from women in general and lesbians in particular have to be torn down. For players, both gay and straight, having a coach who is forced to remain in the closet sends a powerful, negative message about what it means to be gay.

Title IX has done immeasurable good for girls and women who have played sports at every level. What this article shows, however, is that Title IX has done little to improve the landscape for female coaches in college athletics. Title IX is not solely to blame for the decreasing numbers of women in coaching.

Stanford’s coach Tara VanDerveer

This article is an interesting, complex, layered, and well researched look at the forces at play in college athletics and how they affect female coaches and the athletes they lead. Hopefully, coaches, players, and athletic directors will read it and will begin to counteract the institutional issues, the sexism, and the homophobia that contribute to the downward trend in the number of female coaches in the NCAA. If they don’t, the words of Stanford women’s basketball coach Tara VanDerveer may ring true: “We’ll have a female president — and one woman coaching women’s college basketball.”

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