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Gender and athletic administration and coaching

This is an excerpt from Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Sport by Ellen J. Staurowsky & Algerian Hart.

By Amira Rose Davis

While Title IX opened many doors to athletic participation, it also closed off possibilities of athletic governance and coaching for women. At the time of Title IX, women’s college sports were governed by the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW). The AIAW, similar to the early Black women administrators, articulated a distinct vision for women’s sports. While a variety of opinions existed within the organization, the AIAW as a whole was open to and interested in creating athletic programs that did not focus on profit or even necessarily on winning. Leaders of the AIAW made clear that the hegemonic sporting culture was unabashedly male, created and maintained by men, and that perhaps it did not suit the needs or wants of girls and women in sport (Hult, 1999).

What does a feminist sport look like? What are other possibilities of athletic governance? What might an alternative sporting culture look like? These questions, for a short moment in time, floated in the air. As debates raged across the country about Title IX, its implementation, and its consequences, women athletic directors like Donnis Thompson lamented the fact that people had “no imagination” when it comes to women’s sports. She had a “vision and a dream” about what women’s college sports could be (Davis, 2021). Yet Messner’s work remains instructive here. Even as people considered new and innovative frameworks for sports, the fundamental ideas about gender still structured and constrained every conversation.

Despite not wanting to manage women’s sports, and in fact attempting to legally get off the hook, the NCAA ultimately moved to take full control of women’s athletic administration. By 1982, the NCAA had crushed the AIAW and halfheartedly shoehorned women’s college sports into their existing structure. As women’s college sports came under the control of the NCAA, the women who comprised a great majority of women’s athletic directors and coaches soon found themselves pushed out of sport. They were replaced by mostly White men. When Title IX was passed, women made up over 90 percent of coaches and administrators of women’s sport. In 2020, those numbers have dropped to 42 percent and 15.9 percent, respectively (Hruby, 2021; Davis, 2021).

Studies have shown that gendered ideas about sporting knowledge, constrained upward mobility, and institutional dead ends have contributed to the barriers for women coaches and athletic directors (Knoppers et al., 1991; Cooky & LaVoi, 2012; LaVoi & Baeth, 2018). Many opportunities exist as senior women’s administrator, the highest-ranking administrative position traditionally focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion. This position has been like quicksand, holding women candidates in one place, unable to parlay that into a professional stepping-stone. Despite being more likely to have played college sports, to have coached, and to hold advanced degrees, athletic administrators face gender bias related to their ability to manage football programs and to court donors, among other things. This is especially true for Black women, who in addition to having playing and coaching experience are far more likely to hold a PhD yet remain on the margins of athletic governance (Carter-Francique & Olushola, 2016; Davis, 2021).

Gender and Coaching

Coaching opportunities are slightly less elusive. These jobs are almost always coaching women’s sports, while men are perceived as allowed to coach both women’s and men’s sports. Studies have examined the perception of sporting knowledge, prior athletic experience, motivational ability, and prevailing ideas about a lack of trust or response to women’s leadership or dominance as factors that affect the gender disparity in coaching (LaVoi and Baeth, 2018; Kane, 2016).

In recent years there have been a few women hired to coach men’s sports, most notably in basketball, where former WNBA players have found some traction as assistant coaches in the NBA. Despite the anticipation, a woman has yet to be named head coach of an NBA team (Dator, 2021). While the high profile hires of Becky Hammon or Teresa Weatherspoon have spurred hope, the overall landscape is still bleak. In college basketball for instance, women make up 0.01 percent of men’s team coaches. Recent studies that surveyed male coaches, women coaches, college students, and athletes, continued to show that ideas about gender and bias about women in sport dominate the evaluation of women coaches (Walker, Bopp, & Sagas, 2011; Walker & Sartore-Baldwin, 2013).

When discussing Title IX and the disparities in the numbers of women coaches and administrators, it is important to use an intersectional lens. Intersectionality, as defined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, means that Black women face the overlapping burdens of racism and sexism. The data on coaching disparities demonstrate why this lens is needed. While women were pushed out of coaching positions after Title IX, Black women coaches have particularly struggled to find opportunity.

Consider women’s basketball, for example. A field study from the Global Sports Institute analyzed coaching patterns and demographics in women’s college basketball from 1984 to 2020. The study found that while Black women make up over 50 percent of Division 1 basketball players in the Power 5, Black women coaches account for under 15 percent. Similar to Black women athletic administrators, Black women coaches also have more experience as players and higher degree attainment than their non-Black counterparts. For instance, 98 percent of Black women coaches played Division 1 college basketball themselves, compared to just 23 percent of White male coaches in the Power 5. Getting a job is hard, but retaining it is another challenge. Black women also had the shortest average head coaching tenures and were the least likely to receive a second head coaching job at a comparable level. White women were twice as likely as their Black peers to be offered another comparable job (Gerretsen et al., 2021).

Ideas about race and gender create these disparities. Treatment discrimination based on ideas of what “good coaching” looks like or what leadership entails plays a pivotal role in limiting opportunities for advancement. Many women get stuck as assistant coaches in charge of recruiting or tasked with managing the social-emotional aspect of team building because of perceptions that women have natural caretaking ability and are not strategic thinkers. Moreover, for men the traditional rewarded and celebrated coaching style is one that leads by force, whereas women—in and out of sports—are socialized to lead by relationship building and team development (Davis, 2021; Cunningham, Wicker, & Walker, 2021; Strauss, 2020). These foundational ideas can also have harmful and tangible impacts.

More Excerpts From Diversity



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