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Notre Dame Women's Basketball Head Coach Muffet McGraw Takes On Gender Inequality


Tonight, the University of Notre Dame's women's basketball team faces off with the University of Connecticut in the Final Four. Notre Dame's coach, Muffet McGraw, is taking on gender inequality in sports and just about everywhere else. Here she is at a women's Final Four news conference yesterday.


MUFFET MCGRAW: Did you know that the Equal Rights Amendment was introduced in 1967, and it 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.

SHAPIRO: That and so much more was in response to a question about her commitment to only hire women coaches. Here's some more of what she had to say.


MCGRAW: 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.

SHAPIRO: That's Notre Dame women's basketball coach Muffet McGraw. And to discuss what she had to say there and why she's saying it, Washington Post sports columnist Sally Jenkins joins us now. Hi, Sally.

SALLY JENKINS: Hi. How are you?

SHAPIRO: Fine. Thanks. Give us more of the context behind what she said here. Like, what are the numbers?

JENKINS: Well, part of the context - I mean, the context is everywhere you look. I mean, the context is literally across the board. And I think that is what accounts for some of the frustration you hear from a woman like Muffet McGraw. I mean, we have an athletic system in this country where our most decorated gold medalists in history - gymnasts - were serially sexually abused by a team doctor over a period of more than a decade. We have a sports system in this country where our most decorated soccer players, who, for probably 30 years now, have done better work for less pay, have to literally go on strike to get a decent pay raise from USA Soccer. I mean, if you think that women in corporate America are discriminated against, look at women in American sports.

SHAPIRO: Let's listen to a little bit more of what Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw had to say yesterday.


MCGRAW: 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 1. People hire people who look like them. And that's the problem.

SHAPIRO: What do you make of that?

JENKINS: Well, I mean, I think it's essentially true. You know, one of the things - look. I happen to be a woman in a man's business who's absolutely flourished. And every opportunity I ever got had to come from a man because, you know, to become a sports columnist at The Washington Post, that was only going to happen if a man named George Solomon hired me. You know, that doesn't happen in most of the businesses I cover. It really, really doesn't.

And it's been especially discouraging in, say, women's basketball, which was really essentially founded by my great friend Pat Summitt and a few other pioneers. They had to build those programs brick by brick with literally almost no help. I mean, women coaches have told me they were literally stealing gear out of the men's locker room. That's the sport Muffet McGraw is talking about. And that's the history that she grew up in. And so when you hear that, you know, vibrato note in her voice, that's where it comes from. That's the history of that sport.

It's a sport where, you know, now that you can actually make a six-figure salary in women's basketball, most of the really good jobs are going to men. They're right now looking for a coach to replace Holly Warlick at the University of Tennessee, the program built by Pat Summitt. And a lot of people wanted to go to Jeff Waltz at Louisville. Pat Summitt would rise up out of her grave and beat an athletic director over the head with her briefcase if that job goes to a man because she would understand better than anybody the numerical disparity that's going on in that sport right now as far as jobs for women.

SHAPIRO: There's been some pushback against Muffet McGraw saying people hire people who look like them, and that's the problem and then turning around and saying I'm only going to hire women coaches. Is there any element of hypocrisy in that?

JENKINS: Well, I think in some fields, you have to recognize that certain groups start from behind the starting line. And in women's basketball - that group right now is women. When it comes to hiring women, they literally start a good 10 yards behind the starting line as most men. And so what do you do about that? You know, let's face it. You know, everybody needs a Branch Rickey.

SHAPIRO: He's the man responsible for bringing Jackie Robinson in and integrating baseball.

JENKINS: Correct. You have to have people in power willing to give a leg up to people who aren't getting a fair crack. And a lot of people think the right thing to do - and I happen to be one of them - is to put the emphasis on hiring women. And that's what Muffet McGraw is really talking about.

SHAPIRO: Sally Jenkins is a columnist and writer for The Washington Post. Thanks for joining us.

JENKINS: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.