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Discrimination against women seeking or serving in leadership positions in sport is worthy of analysis, not only for the sake of individual women who desire to self-actualize as a head coach or athletic administrator, but because the unique role of sport in society gives underrepresentation of women in leadership positions additional significance. Due to its high visibility and widespread appeal—its veritable iconic status—sport is a salient site of cultural production. That is, sport operates on a symbolic level, reflecting and transmitting shared cultural values. Among these values, sport helps define the attributes associated with leadership, and thus, derivatively, power. By remaining, in the words of Carole Oglesby, “uniquely impervious to the inclusion of women,” sport operates to ensure women’s exclusion from powerful social roles more generally, as both men and women exposed to the male-dominated realm of sport “internalize . . . the dominant vision” of power as a masculine trait. Put another way, when women serve in head coaching positions, “the visibility and responsibility associated with coaching implies [sic] that women are capable in leadership positions of any kind.” The current spate of retaliation cases is, therefore, a relevant source of information about an important social problem. Moreover, the fact that plaintiffs in Title IX retaliation cases against college athletic departments are enjoying new levels of success provides an opportunity to speculate optimistically about the power of law to effect positive change in the culture of college athletics. Following the Supreme Court’s recent validation of a private right of action to challenge retaliation in Jackson, coaches and athletic administrators have never before had more legal remedies with which to tackle sex discrimination in college athletics. Together with the recent high-profile multi-million dollar jury verdicts and settlements, these legal remedies create a strong incentive for athletic departments seeking to avoid liability to monitor for and address institutional practices that drive and deter women from coaching. With this in mind, this Article proceeds as follows. Part I describes Title IX’s role as an employment discrimination statute and examines the contribution of Jackson v. Birmingham Board of Education as a catalyst for coaches’ retaliation claims. Part II describes in greater detail the wave of Title IX retaliation cases that has followed the Jackson decision, including those against Fresno State. Part III examines the content of those cases in connection with existing empirical and theoretical scholarship about women in college coaching and athletic administration. Part IV examines the legal significance of the retaliation cases as a trend, and concludes with cautious optimism about the potential for law to help expose, remedy, and deter discriminatory practices within the leadership of college sport.

Recommended Citation

17 Duke J. Gender L. & Pol'y 1 (2010)