Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw drops the mic on the lack of women leaders in sports

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Notre Dame women's basketball coach Muffet McGraw wants more women in leadership positions in sports. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)
Notre Dame women's basketball coach Muffet McGraw wants more women in leadership positions in sports. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)

Muffet McGraw has been the women’s basketball coach at Notre Dame for over 30 years, and she recently said she has no plans to hire a male coach at any point in the future. She told Think Progress that, “Women need the opportunity. They deserve the opportunity.”

Despite McGraw’s explanation that women need chances to succeed in leadership positions in both men’s and women’s sports, her commitment to giving women those chances rubbed some people the wrong way. Some even called her decision to hire only women coaches for her women’s basketball program “sexist” and “discriminatory,” even though nearly all coaching jobs in men’s programs go to men.

But McGraw wasn’t having it. At the Women’s Final Four news conference on Thursday, she gave an impassioned answer when a reporter asked her how seriously she takes being a voice for women in sports. McGraw’s answer wasn’t about her own voice, but about the vital need for more women to have a voice in sports.

McGraw spoke for over two minutes, and she delivered so many great points.

“Did you know that the Equal Rights Amendment was introduced in 1967 and still hasn’t passed? We need 38 states to agree that discrimination on the basis of sex is unconstitutional. We’ve had a record number of women running for office and winning, and still we have 23 percent of the House and 25 percent of the Senate.

“I’m getting tired of the novelty of the first female governor of this state, the first female African-American mayor of this city. When is it going to become the norm instead of the exception?

“How are these young women looking up and seeing someone that looks like them, preparing them for the future? We don’t have enough female role models, we don’t have enough visible women leaders, we don’t have enough women in power. Girls are socialized to know when they come out, gender roles are already set.

“Men run the world. Men have the power. Men make the decisions. It’s always the men that is the stronger one. And when these girls are coming up, who are they looking up to to tell them that that’s not the way it has to be? And where better to do that than in sports? All these millions of girls who play sports across the country, they could come out every day, and we’re teaching them some great things about life skills. But wouldn’t it be great if we could teach them to watch how women lead? This is the path for you to take, to get to the point where, in this country, we have 50 percent of women in power. Right now, less than 5 percent of women are CEOs in Fortune 500 companies.

“So yes, when you look at men’s basketball and 99 percent of the jobs go to men, why shouldn’t 100 or 99 percent of the jobs in women’s basketball go to women? Maybe it’s because we only have 10 percent women athletic directors in Division I. People hire people who look like them, and that’s the problem.”

Muffet McGraw isn’t going to let anyone tell her who she should hire or how to run her program, especially when male coaches never face the same pressure. If men’s basketball coaches are going to continue to hire almost exclusively men, she doesn’t see why she has to stop hiring exclusively women — especially when women’s sports continue to be one of the only places where women have an opportunity to get an on-the-court position.

Another layer of the issues surrounding women in sports is the double standard, something that McGraw experienced during the same news conference. She expertly handled a question she was asked about whether she and UConn coach Geno Auriemma would be friends — or even married — if they weren’t rivals. It wasn’t the kind of question a male coach would not have been asked, and McGraw gave a better answer than it deserved. Via Deadspin:

“Well there’s a question I didn’t expect. [Laughing] I think being from Philly, Geno and I have a lot on common, especially with Jim Foster as a very good friend of both of us. I could see us being friends, but I could not see us being married. So the answer is no, if he’s proposing.”

At his news conference, Auriemma was not asked to answer the friendship/marriage question, but to comment on the answers of McGraw and Baylor coach Kim Mulkey, who was also asked the same question. Auriemma made it clear that he has no patience for gendered questions like that, or for the double standard women coaches face.

Instead of acting like female coaches are different, why not just treat them the same as male coaches? It’s far from a novel concept, but it still hasn’t caught on. But if McGraw continues speaking her truth and fearlessly advocating for women, maybe we’ll see a change in the number of women in leadership positions, and in how they’re treated.

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