Evanson: Title IX complaints against UI valid


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As reported in the Feb. 6 issue of The Daily Iowan, four Iowa field-hockey players have filed a Title IX complaint against the University of Iowa on the basis of gender discrimination in the firing of former women’s field-hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum.

The female head coach’s contract was terminated on Aug. 4, 2014, leaving many questions unanswered by Athletics Director Gary Barta and university officials involved in her firing. The move also created many concerns involved largely with alleged gender-based double standards prevalent at Iowa and in university athletics departments all over the country.

Firing a coach for undisclosed reasons is highly problematic for the continuation of a coaching career, even more so for the firing of a female coach. Despite the role of Title IX in effectively increasing the number of female athletes, it has not done the same for female coaches.

A report by Nicole M. LaVoi, the associate director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota, shows that women coaching women at the college level has dropped considerably.

In 1974, 90 percent of those positions were held by women, but now, that figure is down to merely 43 percent.

What does this mean? It means that in the past 40 years, the hierarchy has shifted so that male coaches are given a significant advantage to not only keep their jobs but to be hired for positions that their female counterparts otherwise would not be considered for.

When thinking about the firing of coaches at the college level, one first would first look to performance or lack thereof. A football coach is on the “hot seat” if he fails to win games and reach the postseason.

That was definitely not the case for Griesbaum and her termination. She was highly successful during her tenure as a coach, guiding the Hawkeyes to 12 winning seasons in the past 14 years, making six appearances in the NCAA Tournament, and reaching the 2008 Final Four.

Firing coaches may also be in response to off-the-field issues, improper conduct, and other violations of a contract. But Griesbaum has not been concluded to have violated any university policies or the like that would warrant a contract termination.

But there was one thing. An investigation was conducted last summer by the UI involving complaints from two former athletes who contended that Griesbaum had created an environment in which student-athletes felt intimidation and pressure.

Griesbaum didn’t violate any university policies, and the case was dismissed, but it is apparent that it played a significant role in her firing.

Taking a look at the instance involving the former head coach of the women’s field-hockey team and comparing it with other sports at the UI — football, men’s basketball, and wrestling — it’s obvious to see: Male coaches are treated much differently than female coaches.

In what world would you see a firing of head football coach Kirk Ferentz for working his players too hard, instilling an intimidating environment? In 2011, when 13 Hawkeye football players were hospitalized and diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis after an intense off-season workout, Ferentz wasn’t penalized at all, let alone fired.

But who have been fired, not-renewed, or forced to leave at the UI? Five different female head coaches in various sports, including softball, golf, rowing, volleyball, and now field-hockey.

It’s systematic bias. It’s discrimination based on gender. It’s everything Title IX was created for in 1972 to prevent.

Barta has yet to offer a proper explanation for why Griesbaum was fired.

Beyond the superficial and glossed-over PR speak that the university uses to hide behind, the real reason she was fired is clear: Griesbaum wasn’t allowed to coach like a man.

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