Title IX, the federal law enacted in 1972 that prohibits sex discrimination in educational institutions, was a huge boon for female athletes in college. Unfortunately, it had the opposite effect on female coaches.
In 1973, 90 percent of NCAA women’s sports teams had female coaches. Today, that number is 43 percent.
Now, a new investigation by Reveal for the Center for Investigative Reporting has found another disturbing trend in college athletics: Female coaches who witness or experience discrimination in their departments and report it to administrators are often swiftly fired or forced out of their positions. In many cases, allegations against the female coach have surfaced for the first time soon after they reported the discrimination.
Annie Brown, the reporter on the investigation, found that in the past decade, retaliation lawsuits have been filed by at least 29 female coaches and eight female sports administrators against their universities. When she looked deeper into these cases, she noticed that 13 coaches in the retaliation cases were accused of “mistreating or verbally abusing” their players.
“When I started looking into the retaliation cases, I wasn’t even looking into this pattern. It just came up,” Brown told ThinkProgress. Although she is hesitant to draw concrete conclusions, she did admit “it’s possible that female coaches are being punished in ways that male coaches aren’t.”
Many directly associate the lack of female coaches with the slashing of women’s athletic departments. When more women’s sports were created as a result of Title IX and more outside attention was given to them, most colleges put the male athletic director in charge of women’s sports. Since men are statistically more likely to hire other men, and the pay associated with coaching women’s athletics increased, and when men took over women’s athletics, they naturally brought more men into the fold.
The Reveal report focused in on Iowa University. For decades after Title IX, Iowa was a haven for female coaches because it retained a separate athletic department for women until 2000.
The culture at Iowa began to change when Gary Barta took over as athletic director in 2006. He fired female coaches with losing records, but retained male coaches whose resumes were equally as dismal.
Barta replaced two of the five female coaches he ousted with men — and paid those men 25 percent more than their female predecessors. For the three he replaced with other women, he paid those women 13 percent less, according to public salary data. By comparison, when Barta replaced male coaches with other men, he paid the new male coaches 10 percent more.
Tracey Griesbaum, the field hockey coach, was the primary coach who spoke out against the changes at the university. In 2014, the university told her that a player had come forward and accused her of being verbally abusive, and an investigation was underway. Ultimately, the investigation found “insufficient evidence” that she violated a university policy, but she was fired anyways without explanation.
In her reporting, Brown reached out to 60 of Griesbaum’s players, and 24 agreed to speak with her. None of them were able to substantiate the claims of abuse, or even say anything bad about her. She was beloved.
Now, Griesbaum’s former players have filed a Title IX complaint on behalf of their coach — a practically unprecedented event.
“If you take every allegation against Tracey Griesbaum and you pretend that it’s true, then the question you have to ask yourself is: If a male coach were engaging in exactly the same behavior, who cares?” said attorney Tom Newkirk, who helped the young women file the federal complaint.
The Office of Civil Rights is looking into the situation at Iowa, and could potentially remove the university’s federal funding. However, there is no documentation that the office has ever followed through with that threat in the 33 years since Title IX was passed.
Brown says that she doesn’t have the answer on how to fix this, but that fans and alumni should start looking closer at their school. Notice whether they’re hiring female coaches, or whether female coaches are being fired in droves. Look up salaries, and speak out if you notice something unfair.
“I was surprised at how insulated sports is from the other social changes that are happening,” Brown said. “It’s easy to not look at that stuff when it’s the team you love. We don’t want to rock the boat, we just want them to win.”