‘Time’s up. Time’s up. It is our turn.’
Muffet McGraw has spent the past 45 years navigating Title IX. She played at St. Joe’s. She’s coached there, too, before she moved to Lehigh and then, in 1987, Notre Dame. She’s always had a perceptive eye for the big picture, alongside the attention to detail that’s made her one of the best coaches in the history of the sport.
So it was a reasonable question asked by a reporter on Thursday afternoon, in her pregame press conference ahead of Friday night’s game, why she chose this moment to tell Lindsay Gibbs that she doesn’t plan to hire any more men for her staff.
“Enough,” McGraw said. “I think women across the country in the last few years have just said enough. Time’s up. Time’s up. It is our turn. If it’s going to happen, we have to do something about it. You see women marching in record numbers across the country. Women are coming out and being more active politically.
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“I’ve never watched CNN as much in the past two years as I am now. We have the Equal Pay Act. Women are making 77 cents on the dollar. That’s just white women. Women of color are lagging way further behind. I’m not talking about white women being coaches. We need more diversity in our game, as well.”
Put simply, Muffet McGraw is the Notre Dame women’s basketball coach, yes, but Muffet McGraw also lives in the world. And she sees what so many of us who cover this game see, which is that it is a vehicle for change, and that what needs to change is finding more, not fewer opportunities for women.
“Girls are socialized to know when they come out, gender rules are already set,” McGraw said. “Men run the world. Men have the power. Men make the decisions. It’s always the man that is the stronger one.
“When these girls are coming out, who are they looking up to to tell them that’s not the way it has to be. Where better to do that than in sports? All these millions of girls that play sports across the country, we’re teaching them great things about life skills, but wouldn’t it be great if we could teach them to watch how women lead? This is a path for you to take to get to the point where in this country we have 50% of women in power, we have right now less than 5% of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.
“When you look at men’s basketball, 99% of the jobs go to men, why shouldn’t 100 or 99% of the jobs in women’s basketball go to women? Maybe it’s because we only have 10% women athletic directors in Division I. People hire people who look like them. That’s the problem.”
Indeed, the backlash to McGraw’s comments come principally from those raising the possibility that if all do as McGraw is doing, the result will be… the extinction of men from the sport.
It’s an alarm raised in search of a problem. As McGraw points out, more men are getting hired, not fewer. And in the larger world of basketball coaching, men or women, there are nearly no women coaching men, though that is changing, finally, very slowly.
Nor was McGraw calling for some kind of “permanent ban on men until we can figure out what is going on”, to paraphrase another person in power’s approach to a problem that doesn’t exist. It’s simply her approach.
It is easy to feel as if the effort from McGraw will take away from her players here, in Tampa, as they chase back-to-back national championships.
But of course, McGraw’s program has never been about winning first and foremost, though she’s done plenty of it. It’s about building a better world for her players, and women as a whole. Incidentally, count me as one of the men who thinks a better world for women is a better world for everyone, that men and women aren’t locked in a zero-sum game.
“We need more men that are in positions of power to hire women,” McGraw said Thursday. “You’ve seen for the first time KPMG, Deloitte, first time women CEOs of their companies. I think that’s because the culture of the company is that it’s more acceptable now. I think women need to have more confidence and apply for jobs. I think we wait to be asked. It goes back to high school when you’re waiting to be asked to the prom.”
Muffet McGraw isn’t waiting to be asked anymore. Muffet McGraw is saying, “Enough.”
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