The capacity of women to coach men (and the abhorrent comments made in my sports law class on the issue)
As you may have noticed—whether you check this blog regularly, once a month, or if this is your first time—there has been a dearth of updates. It has made no difference whether I’ve been busy (during finals) or not (during break between semesters). Merely, I have not had the motivation to write.
The reason: I haven’t felt compelled by anything.
Sure, of course, there have been minor developments within the scope of what I normally write about. And I do my best to pass those on via Twitter or Facebook. “Random sports person vocalizes his support of the gay community!” or “Random sports person does something homophobic!” or “Random athlete playing random sport at a random level of competition just came out!”
Not to minimize the importance of those events—because each incremental step is newsworthy—but I have nothing to add to those stories that I haven’t said already. In fact, I even have categories for each of those topics: Allies in Sport, Athletes Coming Out, and Homophobia in Sport. While the individual details may vary from story to story, generally, my commentary will be the same. And it gets repetitive. I’ve always wanted to be offer more than, “Here is Story X, plus repetitive, obvious commentary.”
Anyway, enough of the reasons why I haven’t written; clearly, I’m writing, so I must have a good reason!
And that reason: I could not believe the comments made by my classmates when discussing whether women could coach men.
First, some context.
The course is “Sports Law” and the previous week we had discussed the scope of authority for the commissioners of leagues to act for “what is in the best interest of the sport.” (Aside: I wish every law school course was like this!) This week, in wrapping up that subject and with those commissioner powers and responsibilities in mind, we were asked to think about and to discuss the following questions under the heading of “Sports and Social Ethics”:
- Do you ban the athlete who is HIV or AIDS positive?
- Does the American with Disabilities Act come into play?
- Is there discrimination in sports not only against HIV positive people but also gay and lesbian athletes, minorities, or women in general?
- What do you think of the Rooney Rule? And should there be percentages of a certain minority of players and coaches and should it tie to the overall population?
- Should Affirmative Action be applied in sports?
- Should athletes have a right of free speech even if they say something distasteful, or can their team govern what they say based on the potential embarrassment?
- Should athletes be allowed to make protests or demonstrations while they are part of a team? This includes considerations of free speech, freedom of religion and assembly in a public building. [And now, Social Media.]
Whew. What a list.
Honestly, the class could have (and I would have enjoyed) spending an hour-plus on any one of those questions. But with limited time, we were only able to discuss a few, and in far more brevity than the subjects could warrant.
The discussion began with the first question listed, “Do you ban the athlete who is HIV or AIDS positive?” The professor added some context: other players in the league (even up to all but the single athlete in question) are refusing to play. If you’re commissioner, do you ban the athlete? Or, if you’re a plaintiff’s attorney, do you take the case?
Of course, I had something to say. I mentioned that the risks of transmitting HIV or AIDS in that fashion are significantly low, and that there are far more risky elements of any sport that are not acted upon; therefore, to act on this would be discriminatory. Others fairly retorted that in the interest of the entire game, rather than the interest of a single player, if 99% of the league refused to play with that athlete, prohibiting the HIV/AIDS athlete may be your only course of action.
While I could go on and on about that subject, what I consider to be the absurd comments sparking my interest to write came next. So, yes, after over 700 words of ramble, I’m finally getting to the substance of what I wanted to write about. (Sorry for stringing you along this far.)
We moved on to discussing the Rooney-Rule of the NFL. If you’re not familiar with it, basically, any NFL team that is hiring a new head coach must have three “finalists” and one of those three finalists must be a “minority candidate.” We discussed the merits of it, whether it has been successful or not, whether it is still needed, etc.
And then the professor posed the question: Should a rule like the Rooney-Rule be imposed for women coaches in NCAA men’s sports, because, for example, there are no women head or assistant coaches in men’s Division I basketball ? (The professor was not, nor am I, familiar with any women coaches at that level).
The response simultaneously astounded and bothered me.
And it came from both men and women.
Ignoring the merits of a rule like the Rooney-Rule and whether there would even be women interested in coaching men as general matters (which both were discussed), those that spoke suggested that a woman would not even have the capacity to do so.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
The arguments seemed to suggest that a woman would be lacking in what I’ve grouped together as two ways: (1) competence and (2) leadership.
All/most/many coaches of men’s basketball played at that level at some point and even if a woman played at some point, the game is different (size of the ball, speed, size, physicality, etc.); so therefore, a woman would not even be able to coach men satisfactorily.
I’m sorry. What?!?
Okay, sure, most of the coaches at that level did play at that level. And yes, it certainly could be beneficial, both from understanding the game and in getting a little credibility from the male players on the team. But a requirement?! Not even close.
Plenty can be learned through observation. Fundamentals can be learned and taught by anyone. (In fact, the woman’s game has been known for having better fundamentals.) Xs and Os can be drawn up by anyone. Boxing out, free throws, pick and rolls, court spacing: None of it is so profound that it cannot be learned, even without having played at the exact same level of competition.
Oddly enough, I’ve written about this before, after a woman was selected to coach a men’s football team in D.C. in 2010 (of which Vernon Davis of the San Francisco 49ers tweeted his criticisms of the move).
At that time, ESPN columnist Jemele Hill tweeted, “If ur against women coaching fb, fine. but dont make it an athletic argument. plenty of bad/mediocre male athletes are coaches.”
Indeed, there are plenty of coaches who were horrible at their sport, or never played at all. In 2007, ESPN columnist Andy Katz wrote the piece, “Coaches prove you didn’t have to play to win,” specifically highlighting successful men’s college basketball coaches who never played at that level.
And there are examples in every sport and at every level.
Furthermore, as I mentioned in the class discussion, Nancy Lieberman coaches men of the Texas Legends in the NBA’s development league, a level of play (speed, skill, etc.) above college. She played at the highest level of women’s basketball, both professionally and in the Olympics. She also coached in the WNBA. She has proven to be able to coach women and men competently. Where one has done it, there are more.
Male collegiate athletes would not respect (listen to, accept direction from, etc.) a woman coach, and therefore, the woman coach could not lead the team.
Again, what?! This is the same argument that has discriminatorily prevented women from advancing in the corporate world. This is the same argument that was made in opposing African-American coaching white players. It is pathetic.
Really, I think it comes down to distinguishing between whether the male athletes would not respect a woman coach or could not.
Clearly, they could. They possess the capacity to do so. Throughout their lives, undoubtedly, they’ve had the opportunity to be in a position where a woman was in charge: either their mother or another family figure, a school teacher, a police officer, or work supervisor. The capacity is there. They know how to do it. They know how to respect someone with authority over them. Thus, they could respect a woman coach.
Then, the question is, would they?
I’m sorry, but if your answer is still, “no, the woman coach would not be respected,” then I have to say that the problem is the male athletes and not the woman coach.
(3) Would there be enough interest to warrant a Rooney-Rule?
I know I said I’d ignore this issue, but since students in the class brought up how there probably is not enough women interested in coaching men’s basketball to warrant a Rooney-Rule, I have to at least say something.
The sentiment is probably true, but it only has merit if the rule operated in the exact same fashion as the Rooney-Rule, requiring that a woman be interviewed for all vacant positions.
But, that view fails to consider that the rule could be modified to balance the level of interest in coaching with the interest of breaking down this gender barrier.
Here’s my quick solution:
Any woman interested in coaching a men’s sport submits their name for consideration to the NCAA, specifying what she thinks she is qualified to coach and where should would like to coach (examples: specific geographic regions, in a specific conference, specifically-named teams, teams based on success, etc.). The NCAA can then pre-screen the applicant to assure that at the bare-minimum, she would be worth consideration for the positions she has expressed interest. Then, if a team is looking to hire, they must consult the list, and if a woman candidate matches the school, she must be interviewed.
The system would prevent a team from being handcuffed by the obligation when no candidates are interested while simultaneously provide an avenue for qualified woman to enter into the league.
Sure, there may not be many women interested, but I would much rather that interest be the only roadblock than antiquated views about competence and leadership.