You may not know me, but have probably heard of me. I am the female coach you are replacing. My team is now yours.
I was the coach being quickly ushered out of the building during your interview because this is how far in advance the administration knew they wanted me replaced. The press release that announced my dismissal described my departure as a "resignation". I want you to know that as someone who has given much of their life to this profession, I was far from ever being "resigned" to anything where my program and athletes were concerned.
I will be called many names after I am gone but the only one that has any truth to it is whistleblower. The truth is, I am a whistleblower and a fighter. Even as a fighter, I admit I fought less for myself and my salary than I ever did for the experience I knew my female athletes deserved, but never received.
The truth is, I am a whistleblower and a fighter. Even as a fighter, I admit I fought less for myself and my salary than I ever did for the experience I knew my female athletes deserved, but never received.
This is far from the narrative your new administration will attempt to spin about my team culture and leadership following my departure, so I encourage you to believe only in what you experience firsthand rather than what you hear. Many will assume I had a choice in my situation. They are correct. Over such a long period of experiencing retaliatory behavior and discrimination, those who choose to do what is right have two choices.
We can resign or be fired.
In the event we opt not to resign, this then requires departments to go a step further to provide reasoning for a dismissal. While the law protects me from retaliation as a whistleblower, many departments have cracked the code to work around this protection.
This calls for the true dismissal reasons to be buried or cloaked underneath a thick layer of overinflated complaints. These complaints may range from one sub .500 season, a secondary NCAA violation, to a single dissatisfied athlete, or perhaps only the claim that I was "just too difficult to work with." The scariest part is that some schools feel entitled enough to not to have to provide a reason because they bank on most of us just leaving quietly.
Had I not resigned, odds are high I would have been subject to an investigation that would fabricate or manipulate any negative feedback from my athletes. There would be a department hunt and gathering of details of abuse that never occurred coupled with direct attacks on my standards and character. This popular arsenal is used to commit coach-character assassination and is a skill today's athletic departments and HR offices have perfected with minimal effort.
Most of what you were promised in your interview is likely the same set of promises that were made to me. After years of meetings and attempts to diplomatically resolve existing disparaging treatment and discrimination within the department, my dismissal was less about me as a coach than administrators simply growing tired of my reasonable questions serving as reminders that their ethical and moral thermometers had fallen below freezing.
When you sit down at my old desk on the first day and have countless questions as to why I crafted my schedule in a certain format or why I recruited the way I did, I ask you to recognize that I was barely making ends meet for my program with no allies in sight. As you begin this job, know that you are likely to re-activate this cycle all over again.
Prior to the first-year clock expiring on this job you will be so busy with the preparation and excitement of your new position it will be easy to overlook injustice. You may be largely naive to the cycle of inequity that will slowly reveal itself to you over time.
As you enter year two, your gut will attempt to tell you that something might be wrong. Some days inequity will stare you directly in the face and you will do your absolute best to try and ignore it. You may tell yourself it's not worth the risk or that confronting the issue will distract you too much from your job. What you will not recognize is that this actually is your job. You will consistently second guess your gut feeling because after all, none of your other colleagues appear to be aware.
As your eyes gradually open over the next season, that nagging feeling that your sport might be a second class citizen will be hankered with doubt. This doubt will manifest itself into a fear that will shout at you to keep quiet.
If you make it to year three you may be compelled to inquire about these equity issues where you will be responded to in a cold, calculated and patronizing manner or perhaps even shut down. This could be abrupt or gradual but when your meeting requests are no longer returned with any kind of punctuality and eventually answered with radio silence, you will grow frustrated. The eye contact and welcoming hellos you once received from administrators and colleagues in the hallway will become scarce and then replaced by blatant avoidance.
This is when the paranoia sets in.
You will begin to silently search for supporters within your department carefully analyzing who you can trust. Ultimately that search may feel fruitless as you come to the realization that the high number of years your colleagues have accumulated while operating in this environment is strictly because they have traded their silence for their tenure.
After officially being labeled the "problem coach", it will be a challenge to come to work each day. As the stress attempts to bleed into the rest of your life, you will feel run down, emotionally exhausted and find yourself struggling to talk to your spouse or family at the dinner table about anything other than how much you want out of your environment. You will consider legal counsel but then realize your salary which is 20k less than the men's coach in your sport, simply isn't enough to get you more than one consultation. My advice to you is to keep your eyes open, trust your gut and the earlier you have this information, the sooner you can help yourself thrive instead of just survive.
My advice to you is to keep your eyes open and the earlier you have this information, the sooner you can help yourself thrive instead of just survive.
On the hard days, think of those who have come before you and your mission. Most coaches want to leave their programs better than they found them. While we did not always have undefeated seasons, my athletes were exposed daily to leadership that fought for them. This is my mark on the program. You determine what yours will be because once you commit to becoming an advocate, your clock officially begins to run against you.
In exchange for this letter and my advice, I only ask that you not disparage me to my former athletes. In this situation, even with my open advocacy, their perspectives are so limited in understanding just how poorly they were actually being treated. My old team may even accept what the media and administration has told them. This is already heartbreaking for me so from one coach to another, I thank you in advance for not speaking poorly about me.
I do not wish for you to fail, I wish for you to be fearless. I am not sharing this experience in hopes that you duplicate it. Consider this my offering and support to illuminate you to the journey ahead in hopes that yours may be different.
Author's note: This letter is general piece that was written to represent what countless women in coaching experience combined many are removed from the profession.
Join the Fearless conversations, hit like, comment or tweet @TFCoachCarlson with #BEFEARLESS. To contact me visit thefearlesscoach.org
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