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What About Bob?

8 March 2018

Today is International Women’s Day, and it’s also the third day of the Shannon Miller v. The Regents of the University of Minnesota trial. It’s probably a good time to bring up something that isn’t sitting well with me.

Last weekend, four people were inducted into the UMD Athletic Hall of Fame: golfer Tom Waitrovich, longtime multi-sport volunteer Dale “Hoagie” Haagenson, women’s hockey legend Jenny Potter (who played under Miller), and former AD and football coach Bob Nielson.

I really don’t understand inducting Nielson into the HoF at this time. I know a lot of the hype around the lawsuit, from pro- and anti-Miller sides, focuses on Chancellor Lendley Black and AD Josh Berlo, but the alleged systemic issues that led to the discrimination lawsuit pre-date both Berlo and Black.

Black’s predecessor, Kathryn Martin, testified on Tuesday. The Duluth News Tribune reports:

Martin acknowledged that she was protective of the women’s hockey program, and that she asked Black to continue those efforts. She said Miller had the support of former athletic director Bob Corran, but his successor, Bob Nielson, was “hesitant about pushing too hard for equity in the women’s hockey program.”

This is unsurprising and unremarkable, in the sense that there are hundreds of men in AD positions around the country who are hesitant about pushing too hard, or at all, for equity in women’s sports. If you require me to cite a source for that, all I can say is I’m sorry you’ve broken from reality and wish you well during your in-patient psychiatric treatment.

The DNT continues:

The university maintains that the December 2014 decision to let her go came as a result of her declining performance and an analysis that showed a cost-per-win well in excess of rival head coaches as UMD faced a budget shortfall.

This was elaborated on in a subsequent article:

Donald Chance Mark Jr., another attorney for Miller, turned the discussion to one of the factors subsequently cited by UMD in its decision: a financial analysis prepared by Berlo showing that Miller was paid about three times as much per win as the women’s hockey head coaches at Minnesota and Wisconsin during her final four seasons.

This is somewhat off-topic but is a perfect example of what women have to face in their fight for pay and resource equity. No one ever questions that perhaps Johnson and Frost are underpaid. When Tony Granato was hired at Wisconsin to replace Mike Eaves, Johnson became the senior coach, with significantly more proven success in the job, but Granato makes nearly twice as much money as Johnson does. Why doesn’t Johnson press for pay equity? Rumors that Johnson was marking time in the women’s job until the men’s job became available (only to have Eaves stick around long enough that Johnson’s window of opportunity passed) would make it seem that he views his job as inferior to the men’s head coaching job, and that he in fact deserves to be paid less. Of course, he’s never stated this to me, so I can only speculate. We need coaches and administrators, regardless of their gender, to be tenacious in their pursuit of equity.

No one can ever say Miller was not tenacious in her pursuit of pay equity, and she was fortunate to have Kathryn Martin in a position to support that and to pay her a salary comparable to her peer (since tUMD plays up in hockey but is actually a D-2 school, Scott Sandelin is the only coach who was truly her peer in this sense), but, according to the lawsuit, she faced retaliation for her actions in this regard.

Many of the details that first emerged when the lawsuit was filed are disturbing and speak to a hostile work environment. But did that hostile work environment appear overnight in 2013, upon Berlo’s hire? Or was it a continuation of what was already occurring under Nielson’s watch?

Nielson is not going to appear in court, but may have been deposed for testimony, according to Tom Olsen of the DNT, who is covering the case.

I question the decision to induct Nielson into the Hall of Fame before this lawuit has been decided. It would be in extremely poor taste to honor him in this way, only to later hear in court that Nielson was complicit in the retaliation or workplace harassment Miller experienced during her tenure. UMD should have waited until a decision was reached in the lawsuit, and then gone through with the induction if it was still appropriate.

I know there are lots of people out there who don’t like Shannon Miller and who found her either personally or professionally grating. I am here to tell you that it does not matter if you don’t like her, or think she’s annoying, or if she wasn’t sweet and nice and meek, or if you’re a disgusting subhuman cretin who hates women’s sports and thinks they don’t deserve any funding or support – it is not acceptable to use gendered insults, or insults related to her sexual orientation, to express these feelings in the workplace. (It isn’t acceptable in any arena, but it is illegal federally [on the basis of sex] and on a state level [on the basis of sex and sexual orientation] to behave in this way in the workplace.) And people in authority (like, say, athletic directors) have a responsibility to ensure they themselves are not discriminating against employees on this basis, and that their employees are not being harassed on this basis by their colleagues. And until this trial is concluded, it was ill-advised for UMD to have honored someone who may (or may not) have been in a position to allow discrimination or harassment to fester.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Loren Lapsitis permalink
    8 March 2018 11:27 pm

    Gino Gasparini got fired in ’91 after winning the NCAA title in ’87. Three titles all together.

    • 9 March 2018 8:45 am

      I’ll file that away for UND trivia night.

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