Accuracy in Media

Think Progress took advantage of Final Four weekend – the peak of the college basketball season – to write a story that advocates job discrimination.

But it’s OK because the people it calls for discriminating against are white men.

“Muffet McGraw is done hiring men,” reads the headline on Lindsay Gibbs’ story. “Women need the opportunity. They deserve the opportunity,” reads the subhead.

The story focuses on McGraw, the women’s basketball coach at Notre Dame since 1987, and the decision she made to discriminate against men.

No one can argue McGraw’s success. She is 819-230 as a head coach with two national championships, including last year’s, nine Final Four appearances and memberships in both the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

But since 2012, when Jonathan Tsipis left to become head coach at George Washington University, she has not had a man on her coaching staff and does not plan to hire one for the rest of her career, according to Gibbs.

“Up until seven years ago, McGraw always had one male assistant on her staff,” Gibbs reported. “At the time, it felt obligatory: The AAU basketball ranks were filled with male coaches, and the scouting services were run by men. In order to have ready access to that network, McGraw figured that she’d better have a man on her staff.”

Gibbs did not explain why women assistants could not talk to AAU coaches or directors of scouting services.

Perhaps that wasn’t the problem.

“For a time,” Gibbs wrote, “She admits she found the optics appealing. ‘I kind of liked the idea that a woman was in charge,’ McGraw said. ‘My team could see that like, I’m the boss. Yeah, he’s working for me.’”

But when Tsipis departed, Beth Morgan Cunningham – a former Notre Dame player who had spent the previous nine years as head coach at Virginia Commonwealth University – reached out to her old coach.

“Cunningham began the conversation with a caveat: ‘Look, I know you always like having a guy on your staff, but …’”

McGraw “instantly realized Cunningham would be a perfect fit” and hired her. “’At that point I said, ‘Why didn’t I do this before? What took me so long?’ McGraw said.”

The article opens with a discussion of what is really animating McGraw these days – that “’people are hiring too many men.’”

She was the only woman coach in the Final Four last year. And “for the past 40 years, as women’s basketball has grown in popularity and prestige, she’s seen white men enter the sport and immediately grab prominent positions while women struggle to get their feet in the door for an interview.”

Women coaches “deal with both systemic and targeted discrimination and harassment,” Gibbs declared without evidence. “She’s seen how when women get fired second chances are hard to come by. … Unparalleled success isn’t enough to stave off the never-ending questioning of their priorities and vision.”

Gibbs did not provide the name of any coach who had been successful and undergone this unfair scrutiny.

Neither did she provide evidence for the following: “Women’s sports were, for the most part, run by women,” before Title IX. But after it became law in 1972, “most athletic departments merged, and male athletic directors took over. The women were kept around as secretaries.”

She interviewed a number of other women’s coaches about their hiring practices, but it was Nicole LaVoi, director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport, who ultimately hit on the problem.

“Lavoi says that the only sure-fire way to reverse the trend is for women with hiring power to hire and mentor other women,” but she “understands why so few are comfortable making absolute commitments to the cause” of not hiring men.

“She can be that unapologetic and intentional because she wins,’ LaVoi said. Then, in a reflection on the thinking on college campuses, she added, “Muffet is a white, married, heterosexual, highly successful coach. So, she can say those things, whereas I would argue not many other women could get away with that.’”

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