Coach Shannon Miller recently made headlines and history by winning her case for sexual discrimination and she regards the outcome to be a victory for all women
Talking Point is presented by Dr. Lisa Ingarfield
Podcast length: 55′ 24″
Renown Ice Hockey Coach Shannon Miller recently made the headlines when she won a federal case against the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) for sex discrimination and retaliation, and was awarded $3.74 million in past lost wages and emotional distress. Her story highlights how discrimination is ignored in the dark shadows of systemic oppression. Lisa invited Shannon to explain the facts of her employment and dismissal at the university and how for a prominent and high successful coach her future continues to be plagued with discrimination as she struggles to find employment in the sport and profession she loves. Shannon served as the head coach of the Minnesota–Duluth Bulldogs women’s ice hockey team from 1999 to 2015. In addition, she was the head coach of the Canadian national women’s hockey team which claimed gold at the 1997 IIHF World Women’s Championships, along with the silver medal in ice hockey at the 1998 Winter Olympics.
LISTEN to other episodes of Talking Point HERE
Shannon Miller Bio
Shannon Miller has a lifetime NCAA record of 383-144-50 and owns a laundry list of records and accolades — most notably her five national titles, which ranks first among all NCAA I head coaches. Miller won 5 NCAA Championships – 2001, 2002, 2003, 2008, 20010. Miller also owns more NCAA Tournament wins (15) than any other head coach, and tops her profession with 11 Frozen Four victories, the most recent coming in the 2010 National Championship. Miller’s college team made 10 NCAA playoff appearances, out of a possible 14, and seven trips to the Frozen Four.
Miller is one of just two coaches to crack the 200-win plateau in eight seasons and Miller reached her 250th career win faster than any other head coach in NCAA Division I history. In 2013 Miller became one of three NCAA Division coaches to reach the 350 win milestone. Miller has won four WCHA regular season titles (2000, 2003, 2008 and 2010) and five league playoff crowns (2000, 2001, 2003, 2008 and 2010),
Miller has had a huge impact on the growth and development of the women’s international game. During Miller’s 15 years coaching in the NCAA, she produced 28 Olympians from several different countries, and worked as a mentor coach with national team coaches from Sweden and Russia.
Miller has also enjoyed incredible success as part of Team Canada’s coaching staff – As Canada’s first ever-female Olympic Head Coach, and the youngest Head Coach at the Olympic Games, Miller led her country to a silver medal at the 1998 Games in Nagano, Japan. As Canada’s Head Coach, Miller also led her team to a 1997 World Championship gold medal, and to gold medals in the 1992 and 1994 World Championships as an assistant coach.
Miller was the chair of the Ethics Committee for US women’s college hockey, and previously served two terms on the NCAA Division I Championship Committee
A 1985 graduate of the University of Saskatchewan, Miller holds a bachelor’s degree in physical education and received her Masters of Education degree from UMD in 2005.
FULL TRANSCRIPT of Episode 6:
[00:00:00] Welcome to Episode 6 of Talking Point on WiSP Sports Radio where we delve more deeply into the systemic barriers facing women in sport. Talking Point is co-produced by myself and WiSP Sports. I’m your host Lisa Ingarfield, and at WiSP Sports we believe women in sport deserve equal coverage. Last month in episode 5 we talked with Dr. Mary Jo Kane Professor and Director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport at the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota on some of the reasons why the marginalization of women’s sport continues in sports media and the effects of the sexual objectification of women athletes. This week we are extremely lucky and excited to be joined by Shannon Miller who will be sharing her remarkable journey upholding the University of Minnesota Duluth accountable for its discrimination against her and the court case that she most recently won. Shannon Miller has a lifetime NCAA record of 383 wins. She owns a laundry list of records and accolades, most notably her five national titles, which ranks her first among all NCAA one division 1 head coaches. She’s won five NCAA championships in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2008 and 2010. She owns more NCAA tournament wins than any other head coach and top her profession with 11 Frozen Four victories. The most recent coming in the 2010 National Championship. Millers college team made 10 NCAA playoff appearances out of a possible 14 and seven trips to the Frozen Four. She has enjoyed incredible success of part of teams Canada’s coaching staff as Canada’s first ever female Olympic head coach and the youngest head coach at the Olympic Games.
[00:01:52] Miller led her country to a silver medal in the 1998 Games in Nagano Japan. As Canada’s head coach Miller also led her team to a 1997 World Championship gold medal and two gold medals in the 92 and 94 World Championship as an assistant coach. So she really has a fantastic record and we’re really excited to have her. Despite this amazing resume, if you can believe it, the University of Minnesota Duluth did not renew her coaching contract in 2014. Believing this to be a discriminatory act, she sued them for sex discrimination and retaliation. On March 15, so not too long ago, she won her case against them and we have her on the show today to talk about her experiences and what she hopes her battle will do for women in college athletics and beyond.
[00:02:39] Welcome Shannon to the show, we’re so excited to have you on and we’re so grateful that you were able to find the time to talk with us today.
[00:02:47] Well hello and thank you for having me.
[00:02:49] Well I’m just going to jump right in. I know things probably feel like a bit of a whirlwind right now after your long legal battle with the University of Minnesota Duluth and the jury came back a little under two weeks ago with the verdict against the university, which is very exciting for a lot of people including yourself obviously and I’m wondering if you would share with our listeners. Talk us through a little bit about how it felt to have your experience vindicated by a jury of your peers.
[00:03:17] Well it’s an amazing outcome. After a long very difficult three years, and a lot of people talk about the process being three years long which you know it was longer than that. Things started to go awry at the University around 2010-2011 and we’ll get into that later in the program and so really I look at it’s been since around 2010-2011. It’s now 2018 so it’s been a long eight years and to have the jury vindicate myself at a federal trial on both claims in a unanimous verdict in approximately four hours is a very powerful and honest event. And I think it reverberates around the country if not around the world.
[00:04:02] I know that a lot of people have been paying attention and were celebrating your win. And I think that the win like you just said it reverberates around the world and I’m wondering what you think – what message does this send in terms of the treatment of women in college athletics, coaches, athletes, students. I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on kind of how this intersects with the bigger picture.
[00:04:32] Well the message that I hope it sends is that it’s time. We will no longer put up with being treated as less than. When I say we I’m talking about female coaches, female athletes, people who manage and lead female programs – athletic programs – or outside of athletics. I hope it reverberates outside of athletics and I think that it does. We have been treated less then for a long time. There is a law in the United States called Title IX. It’s a federal law. Institutions receive federal funding to be in compliance with Title IX but yet very few are. And so unfortunately it gets put on us as individuals to have to fight this fight and even that in itself is not fair that we’re the ones who are the women having to fight this fight just to be treated equal. But that’s the situation we find yourself in. And fortunately I had the courage to fight the fight and it came out in my favor, which means it comes out in favor for all women.
[00:05:35] Yeah, I think it’s interesting because in many ways when laws are passed to rectify some kind of injustice or some kind of an equal situation I think a lot of people kind of like OK we’re done. The law is passed where good to go but Title IX certainly is evidence of the fact that it’s really not enough just to have a law on the books because it requires systems and people to change and it really sounds like the University of Minnesota Duluth did not really take that seriously.
[00:06:06] Yeah, they clearly didn’t and they had plenty of warning. I am one of those female coaches that fights for my female athletes and I do not accept being treated less then. And there’s you know there’s so many just there are glaring disparities. Let’s call them glaring disparities between how the men male coaches and female coaches are treated; the male athletes; a female athlete and so the university had plenty of notice that I was not happy that things needed to change. We had won them five division one NCAA championship on budgets that were less than the men’s; less than my opponents. And I felt that we continue to pull a rabbit out of a hat for the university year after year. And so I started talking to them about you know Title IX is a law, it’s a federal law and you’re getting federal funding and things need to change. And so they have plenty of warning and then they fired us in the middle of a winning season. And so it should have been no surprise to them that I was going to sue. It was certainly no surprise to myself.
[00:07:05] Right. And that’s what blows my mind. I think, you know, I oscillate between being completely not surprised that that happened because you know I have a lot of experience the Title IX not with the athletic side but with the sexual harassment and sexual assault side of things and then also just flabbergasted that that they would let you go and not renew your contract. Given your reputation and given the quality and caliber of your coaching and the success of the hockey team.
[00:07:36] Well exactly. So many people said do they not understand who you are. And I said they clearly don’t. And I say that with humility I don’t mean the reputation I may have for myself. But just who I am as a human being on a day to day basis. People that know me and they know me so well said: do they really not understand who you are, do they really not understand that you will fight this fight and you will go all the way to federal court if that’s what you have to do. And I said very clearly they didn’t understand who I was and who I am. And they acted like it’s all surprised and you know they made the right decision. And I don’t know. You don’t know me very well if you think that you’re going to treat me and my staff and my players and our program like that it’s a little of a winning season and just disregard us flush my coaching career down the toilet and think I’m just a walk away with my tail between my legs. That is even crazy to think that I would do that.
[00:08:32] Right. And they’re still.. and the last I read which it may have changed in the last couple of days but they’re still saying that they didn’t do anything wrong. Is that right?
[00:08:45] Yeah, and you know it’s disappointing but consistent with Iowa for example the University of Iowa where they fired two lesbians; one coach and one administrator that were partners. And they said you know oh they were shocked by the jury’s verdict just like this administration at UMD said we were shocked by the verdict. And then they continue to say we haven’t done anything wrong. Boy if I’m the Board of Regents and the president of the University of Minnesota who are over looking all of these people and this leadership group I know like wow they’re really missing the point. We didn’t do anything wrong but Title IX is a federal law and you’re not in compliance and it took 12 jurors four hours to deliberate and give you the news. So I think the response should not be we didn’t do anything wrong it should be OK. let’s look at what we did wrong, and let’s let’s get better at this and apologize and let’s move on.
[00:09:41] Right, and then the capacity for an institution collectively to provide you and others with an apology would require humility right. It won’t require them to perhaps acknowledge that they don’t always get it right and they find that system, oppressive systems are largely unwilling to do that.
[00:10:04] Well that’s exactly what it is an oppressive system. And they are unwilling to do that for the most part. But I think there’s a little bit of hope here, I guess we’ll see on time will tell. At the University of Minnesota we have a group called the Board of Regents and they oversee the entire University of Minnesota system which University of Minnesota Duluth is under that and part of that system and they still have an opportunity here to understand what happened; to accept the decision and accept the truth and make some changes and just say you know what we were wrong. We have been called on the carpet. We are going to make some leadership changes. We do apologize and we want to bring the community together and start healing and we’ll see what they do.
[00:10:47] Yes. So really kind of the ball is in their court to use a sports analogy there right. That it’s really up to them. The jury has spoken. You’ve been vindicated so really now, it’s their play next and they can choose the high road or they can continue to back themselves into a corner it seems like.
[00:11:05] Yeah absolutely, and continue to allow people to lie and spread false rumors and divide the community and embarrass the university. And quite frankly embarrassed state of Minnesota and the ball is in their court.
[00:11:21] Right, absolutely. You had mentioned earlier some of the glaring discrepancies of discrimination that you had experienced and I know that you know discrimination is inefectual and so obviously in many…well perhaps not obviously, that’s an assumption… In many sports environments, it’s pretty hard to be a woman, it’s pretty hard to be a member of the LGBT community and so experiencing discrimination in terms of both of those identities. What kinds of things if you’re willing to share, did you notice or did you experience or perhaps your players shared with you that they will also experiencing?
[00:12:01] Yeah, there is sort of a couple of different prongs here that I’d like to talk about to answer your question. There’s glaring disparities between how myself as the female head coach was treated compared to the men’s head coach at UMD, but also at University of Minnesota which we are part of that division one University of Minnesota system. Glaring disparities in the resources that they were given for recruiting to offer summer school to their athletes, to staffing to meals to equipment. I mean it just goes on and on you could almost pick any little segment of every little piece that they were given and the glaring disparity is there. The men were given far more than the women. The men are given unlimited recruiting budgets, and everybody knows recruiting is your lifeline. It’s your bloodline for your program. They’re given unlimited recruiting resources while my recruiting budget just got caught and cut and cut. It was like after 2010 I mean they just cut us and cut us and cut us to the point where we were bleeding, almost, dying. And while you looked down the hallway and you see the men have everything they could possibly want. You know they have so many staff members they are tripping over themselves…and they’re just… they’re able to trave, just able to do whatever they need to do to be successful and in the meantime we’re getting choked out or bled out like I said. And the same thing goes for the University of Minnesota. The head coach there. So not only were the coaches and the programs being treated so differently with sex discrimination but so were the athletes. And so what who would be okay with a student athlete being treated less than another student athlete? Why would we put up with that? But the female student athletes were definitely being discriminated against and it was everything like I said from equipment to travel to meals… there’s so many things being allowed to take summer school having it paid for versus paying for it yourself, having a proper athletic trainer. The men have an excellent athletic trainer with a master’s degree who gets paid a significant amount of money. I was always getting somebody right out of university who didn’t have any experience on a $26,000 budget to hire somebody so they had a much better athletic trainer than we give and that caused a lot of problems for athletes getting injured and not being able to get them back into practice or play. And it just goes on and on. Men have a full time director of operations. That’s an entire full time position on your staff an d especially on coaching staff. We did not have that. And so the list goes on. The second piece that Lisa if you don’t mind me saying with when we talk about disparities and discrimination then there’s a discrimination of sexism, just blatant sexism, homophobia, bigotry, prejudice and they are just words, unless you have to live them. But when you have to live them every day they become more than that. And they’re painful, and it grows. And you know it changes you. It festers and you fight it and you do the best you can but it can change your attitude it can change your personality your demeanor and you just put in a situation where you feel like you’re in a no win situation but you got to keep fighting.
[00:15:11] I can feel myself getting angry as you talk. It’s very disappointing as is a very mild way to put about the way that you and your athletes were treated and I was talking in my class today about death by a thousand cuts and how a lot of women in particular and not just women but folks who experienced marginalization in other ways the micro aggressive behavior, which is the little paper cut right. And you have that paper cut over and over and over again repetitively day after day month after month year after year. And so there is this death by a thousand cuts. And so how often women will leave work places that are hostile and discriminatory because there’s no way to turn. No one will listen to them and they feel like it’s a lost cause so it’s just easier to leave. It’s maddening that in 2018 we’re still seeing that happening over and over again time and time again.
[00:16:05] Exactly. I mean it’s infuriating because not only have they been cut and been bleeding for day after day, year after year. Now they have to live with the fact that they they just walked away because not everybody has that courage or confidence to fight back or stand up or they don’t have the means so they don’t have the support. I mean there’s a lot of different reasons that the women just leave and then they have to deal with that. I just recently did talk to a coach that ended up settling and didn’t go all the way to trial and she said she still lives with that guilt and why should she? She shouldn’t, she did the best that she could in the situation that she had. And and there she is having to live with that guilt for the rest of her life and to give you an example of paper cuts and discrimination. In 2006 somebody took my name tag off my office door and put up a yellow sticky that said ‘dyke’ and that was just one thing. We got left out of golf tournaments, literally standing in the parking lot. I just won university, or I don’t know at that point I can’t remember now three or four national championships myself and another lesbian don’t get put on teams and they do a shotgun start, and entire department goes off with these people for the shotgun start. And we are intentionally left in the parking lot. And it’s painful and it’s humiliating and left out of Christmas parties and strategic planning meetings and I received a lot of hate mail in my mailbox. I received hate mail that said ‘the end dyke’. I received hate mail that said ‘goodbye, go home’; referring to Canada. I received hate mail where they would put in…the hockey…the attendance record for women at the hockey games, and they would circle it, then they put in another newspaper article with the men’s hockey attendance and circle that, and my salary, and it just goes on and on.
[00:18:00] Yeah, and that is… that repetitiveness and that, the consistent way that you’re experiencing, it’s not physical violence per se but it’s still a violence against you in terms of the way people are treating you and the way you’re being excluded is it just wears you down. And I imagine you have like you the example you shared with the coach who contacted you recently. I imagine you’ve had other coaches outreach to you over the course of the last several years to share their stories because your experience I’m guessing is not at all unique for women coaches in college athletics.
[00:18:38] Yes, you are absolutely right. So I have been contacted by many many female coaches across the country. And I have listened to them and I have tried to help them the best that I can. And it’s not a unique situation I’m in but it’s a situation that many of us are in and must change and it’s going to take each and every one of us to create change. I’m just one catalyst. This situation is one catalyst what all of those women that have called me have encouraged them all to add their next job that they get to their next position they go to to just fight a little bit harder to speak up a little bit more and make sure you document things because it’s got change.
[00:19:20] Yeah, and I think speaking up is really tough right because if you’re in a hostile climate then there’s great professional and personal risk by talking off and saying hey this is discriminatory or hey you’re violating a federal law here and so it’s understandable why many folks who experienced discrimination such that you’re describing choose not to say anything. There’s decisions that are made based on the context within which they live right there their life. And so I think it just becomes very complicated and troubling and then. But that’s what, that’s what the quote, unquote system, which is that we try to deconstruct these systems of power on this podcast right, that it’s not like individual actors there are individuals operating under this broader system of oppression that is endeavoring to maintain the status quo and maintain power for those who have it. And so the system kind of writ large silences women, silences women, silence as members of the LGBT community silences people of color, people with disabilities. So all of these folks who are experiencing these a thousand paper cuts right. And it can feel really debilitating sometimes. I’m not sure if you have any thoughts about how to stay engaged or how to stay energized in those kinds of environments.
[00:20:39] Well it is hard. I did a lot of meditation especially from say 2010 afterwards as it got worse. And I would sit in my basement meditate and really think through things and say talk about you know the good things about myself and I would recommend that other female coaches do this as well and I would think about you know… I’m a very peaceful and I’m a very calm, kind, compassionate, loving person. You know don’t let them take that away from you. You know they’re damaging you and you’re fighting and this is hard but try to be authentic try to stay and be who you are and I would have those conversations with myself through meditation and I would recommend other female coaches do it as well because you don’t want them to get the best of you. I did say earlier that you know these, these wounds they fester and they hurt and they can change your attitude they can change your personality, your demeanor and it will a little bit. I mean if you’re human and it’s good it’s going to happen. But you do try to hide it. You try to manage it and if you’re… I guess the way I looked at myself was I’m a peacemaker and I’m a warrior and I’m a ‘wayshower’ and that’s how I thought of myself from a peacemaker I’m a warrior I’m a ‘wayshower’. And I have to try to keep this balance of being kind and positive and compassionate and this peacemaker and try to keep talking and having conversations with people whether it’s the athletic director, the senior women’s administrator, H.R., the chancellor of the University… continue to have conversations peaceful and see if you can gain ground that way but also have the courage to be a warrior when you need to bring that out in yourself and then the ‘wayshower’ or piece of me that I saw myself as a ‘wayshower’ was you know I was put in this position for a reason. And I need to show myself the way I need to show my staff the way I need to show my athletes the way and I am going to be an example for other women. And I want to be a good example not a weak example. And so I would encourage people to have those conversations with themselves to try to keep their and their positive attitude and their compassion and their peacefulness and calmness but continue to find a way to still be a warrior and to fight and fight and not lose who you are in it.
[00:22:52] Yeah, because that’s really important to not lose who you are because you’re right when you’re struggling and you’re in the face of what can seem insurmountable, it can be really debilitating and it can physically and emotionally change who you are and that’s really important to try and resist that as powerful as it can be.
SM – Well it really is. And you know the other thing I would advise female coaches is you know if you went to you HR many times and the rhetoric does not match their actions, which is unfortunately typical, you know make notes put down the date and you’re not asking for trouble. These are your own private notes and put down the date and the time of the meeting and if anyone else was present or and just jot down a couple of things because hopefully you don’t have to go down the path I did where you have to sue and be in the situation. But what if you do one day, you know, and then you’ve got; your armed with some knowledge and facts. But the other thing is you know you go to H.R. and you’re pleasant you don’t go in screaming and kicking and yelling obscenities but you go in and you sit down and you have an adult to adult conversation and you try to get them to understand what’s going on and help you. And in my situation although I found one of the women to be understanding she never did anything to help the other one that I dealt with was not understanding or helpful. But I made notes, I documented, I had no idea I was going to be going off to a federal trial or state trial someday in the future when all this was going on. I was just making notes so I didn’t lose my way I was losing my sanity. I was keeping track of what I was trying to do and any progress that was made. Am I even went directly to the chancellor of the University on several occasions when he gets to the point where they don’t do anything. And you’ve won five division 1 National Championships you’ve been to the White House five times to be honored by the President of the United States and they still don’t do anything. Sadly you may end up on a situation that I’m in where you have to sue but fortunately I have great documentation.
[00:24:55] That’s a great tip for folks who are experiencing discrimination is that writing everything down with a date and in particular if there are witnesses I think that that can be really helpful because over time you end up with a good history of those experiences and the doors that you’ve knocked on that have been closed in your face. So I think that’s a really good tip for listeners who might be experiencing something similar. Now in terms of the folks at UMD did you find any allies were there any people who supported you along the way?
[00:25:29] You mean before I was fired or after?
[00:25:34] Well maybe both before so while you were going through while you were experiencing this massive disparity in the way your team was being treated vis a vis the men’s teams and then also for the discrimination the personal attacks and discrimination you’re experiencing.
[00:25:46] Well I went to the the senior women’s administrator Karen Stromy (sp). So that was her title back then. Now she’s an associate athletic director. And her job is to support the female coaches and athletes and programs in the department. And her advice was basically stay in your office and don’t ask for anything don’t don’t cause trouble don’t rock the boat. So that went on for years. Yes. So she was also the interim Athletic Director at one point. I went to her and she was a bit more open at that point. She nodded a lot and I thought she was agreeing with me because she was nodding a. But then she didn’t do anything either so I also went to the LGBT director on campus. She couldn’t believe some of the way that I had the ways I had been treated and the fact that I had already gone all the way up to the chancellor of the university – Chancellor Black, and nothing had happened. So she got involved in supporting me and she went directly to the chancellor herself and she talked to him about it and she said look this is Shannon Miller she’s our most successful coach that UMD has ever had. She’s our most high profile female in the community, she is the most high profile LGBT person we have in the city of Duluth. We can’t have her being treated this way and he agreed and he said he would look into it and do something about it and he never did. And so she was in my corner as well. Sadly after we were fired and she got people to picket and she was really fighting for us and having conversations with vice chancellor and chancellors they ended up treating her really really poorly and they ran her out and she ended up suing them and she settled. But um there wasn’t a lot of support. I went to H.R. several times and like I said one lady, I really did like her and she listened and she seemed to be upset by how I was being treated but she had no power, it’s like she had no power. She did. She really didn’t do anything. The other one was really there to protect the university. So not a lot of support other than of course within my own group of people, my staff and some of the parents that I was close to. And then after we got fired lots of people came forward to support us. Like for example people from the university, not very many but a few. Most people ran the other direction, especially people in the athletic department and you know that’s disappointing because you thought you had good relationships with some of these people and then they just run the other way. But I guess that’s that you know primitive instinct of survival. So I try to be understanding about that. But um… anyway a lot of people, yes, a lot of people came to support after we were fired while thousands and thousands people actually from around the world and majority of my alumni…the alumni have been awesome.
[00:28:37] A lot other people you know they hide and they cower and that’s disappointing obviously.
[00:28:44] Yeah, it’s very disappointing to hear how few allies that you had at the university and even your one kind of primary ally the LGBT director was then treated very poorly and run out of the institution. That’s really troubling right to think about the climate. And then I think about students who are on that campus; women students, students who identify as lesbian or gay or bisexual and transgender. And one of their experiences like if staff and faculty members are being marginalized and discriminated in a similar way to yourself.
[00:29:19] Yeah, definitely, what a great example of systemic oppression that you’ve already raised and but yet you stand there publicly and to the papers and say oh we have a great climate, environment on campus it’s wonderful and it’s like; actually no it’s not. And if it is now awesome then this lawsuit triggered change. This lawsuit triggered change with those women and that’s great that’s one of the positive effects of it but it sure wasn’t before they sure weren’t interested in talking about it or doing anything to create change.
[00:29:51] So have you had time to digest everything that’s happened and heal a little bit from your experience. I mean obviously like you had identified at the beginning of the show this has been going on for a very long time and you must be pretty weary even though jubilant from your win. But what are you doing to take care of yourself and to really heal from this horrific experience?
[00:30:12] Well you know since the trial is over we saw some friends in Minnesota before we left the state and I went to Las Vegas actually and with my mom as silly as that sounds. I went with my mom and my partner and we just had downtime together. And it was wonderful because I was very tired. I was very drained as was she. It was very very hard on my mom and my partner, and so we just laid low for a few days and got some rest. And just today I actually traveled to Palm Springs California where I live here as well and have a business here. And I’m kind of excited about this weekend because everyone that I know has been texting me. When are you coming back to Palm Springs. We want to celebrate. And so driving into Palm Springs today my mood changed to a little more joyful. My shoulders were back I was listening to some music I was excited to do the interview and I feel really good about this weekend. So I want to celebrate with a lot of friends. And I also have relatives here and we’re going to do that for the next three or four days. And then I really want to buckle down and start trying to heal. I need to work out I need to meditate I need to read and I need to just heal and start the healing process day by day and the crazy thing is though is we still have another fight on our hands. We still have a state trial which we can talk about in a bit with the three coaches combined but yet I do need to start trying to let this sink in. What I just went through what happened. I have so much gratitude of course for the jurors and the judge and yeah start healing.
[00:31:52] What’s the timeline for the state trial, do you know?
[00:31:57] Well it’s quite an interesting legal process we have here in the United States, I’m certainly learning a lot about it. So we filed our motions or paperwork to go to state trial for three coaches and three claims each. Then the university immediately files papers that say; ‘oh there’s no evidence here and you should throw the case out,’ and that’s where we’re at again just like we did with the federal case. But interesting is this federal judge he was the one that separated the claims and he said our state claims are our strongest claims. So he’s told the lawyers that on both sides he’s told us the plaintiffs that. And so the media knows that some of the public know that and so a lot of people strongly believe that the university should settle those claims versus doing this again for three years and driving everyone through it for another three years or two years whatever it’s going to be and not because they care about us three plaintiffs because clearly they don’t. But for everybody that’s involved specifically the university the community in the state of Minnesota. So when a judge a federal judge says hey those are your strongest claims I hope the Board of Regents is listening. And you know maybe they’ll be wise and make a good move. I guess we’ll see.
[00:33:20] What do you think’s going to happen, do you have a sense?
[00:33:22] Well, what I’d like to believe is that the Board of Regents would be very open to the verdict that just came in and make some leadership changes and then settle or try or settle I guess I should say with the three coaches instead of dragging this out for a couple of years and like I said not for us but for everybody. As a betting woman now that I’m not in the NCAA, I’m allowed to bet, I would bet that we go to trial and I would bet that all three of us go to trial and that all three of us win. And this could go on for another couple years and I don’t feel bad for myself I feel bad for the university and the really the community of Duluth.
[00:34:03] Right, because it’s a fairly small community right?
[00:34:06] Yeah, it’s less than 100,000 people and it’s a small campus and it’s it’s… the community is divided and it’s been a fight. I’ve had community members who are supporting me cry and say I was born and raised here or live here forever and I’m just sick by this. It’s divided us it brings such a negative worldwide attention to our city and she’s just like I just don’t understand what they’re doing the leaders and the Board of Regents are like.. what are they doing and these people are in pain.
[00:34:38] Yeah, it’s very difficult and I imagine or suppose the Board of Regents have not reached out to you at all at this point.
[00:34:46] No they haven’t. And you know I do try to remain hopeful that there is some good human beings on the Board of Regents. I really only know one woman and I thought she was fabulous. I spent some time with her when she flew to Washington to come to the White House for us to be honored by the President of the United States. And she’s the only one I really know. And like I said I think she’s a very strong intelligent woman. I doubt she’s OK with all of us. But I’ve never heard from any of them. So you kind of hope that maybe now that some of the truth is out and we’ve been vindicated. Yeah you hope that they’ll do the right thing and you hope that they might even have enough courtesy to apologize.
[00:35:27] Yeah, and then you know also to make the decision to not drag folks through another trial I think that’s so important based on you know the factors that you identified. But it feels like to me the university has backed itself into a corner by saying we still didn’t do anything wrong. And so then to settle with you on the state trial kind of feels like they would be perhaps tacitly acknowledging blame even though that’s not necessarily what settling is. Right. And so I wonder whether stubbornness and perhaps stupidity will prevail. Like like you anticipate.
[00:36:05] Right. Like I said I know I would place my bets. But I also am a kind and compassionate human being and I will stay open to what may happen or could happen and try to be optimistic.
[00:36:20] Yeah and I think some of the struggles here we’ve talked about this on Talking Point before is that it’s it’s really easy to blame a person right. And to say this this person is the bad apple and so like the person in H.R. who didn’t do anything they should get fired or the president or chancellor of the institution. They didn’t do anything. They should get fired. But it’s not just about individual action. Right. Certainly individuals have had moments and have contributed to the inaction and the lack of accountability. But going back to that point about systemic oppression is that this is a system that needs changing so the University of Minnesota as an educational system needs to shift right. It needs to have a monumental shift about and a really long hard look at the climate that they’re creating for folks who have been historically oppressed on college campuses and in college athletics.
[00:37:19] Well exactly and this is where I hope the Board of Regents understand the opportunities that they have like here in the spotlight now more than they probably possibly even realize based on because they don’t know what all the conversations I’ve had with people that have contacted me and not just from across the country but around the world. And there this is happening at all of these institutions and so to bury your head and deny any responsibility and to not apologize and to act like nothing, we did nothing wrong and there’s really nothing going on here then you’re just getting in line with everybody else which is the problem. And if you acknowledge while we have an opportunity here we can actually be the leaders in this in this domain. And we can step up and say hey the jurors have spoken 12 of them unanimous in four hours. They have spoken. We are the people, these are the people, and the judges said the strongest claims have yet to be heard, will be heard at state court with these three coaches. So this opportunity they have to say hey OK we were wrong we are going to correct this and we’re going to lead the way for other institutions. Instead of being the villain for the rest of their lives they’ll be applauded as as heroes and heroines and they really do have that opportunity and other institutions will follow they will other boards of regents other presidents other chancellors and athletic directors and they have a chance to to make a shift here and create change. And these are academic institutions that are we about education aren’t we both accepting responsibility aren’t we about positive change.
[00:38:57] Yeah I think that’s that’s the rhetoric certainly. But you of all people can acknowledge and have witnessed how rhetoric and talk differs often from action and behavior. Right.
[00:39:10] Well absolutely. Hey I want to share so facts with you that you may not know and I love the viewers to know. So a lot of a lot of people watch the Olympic Games in South Korea. Well Team USA for women’s hockey won the Olympic gold medal OK. And so here’s an interesting tidbit. When I was at UMD coaching the year we got fired in November we had signed an NCW they signed these documents with players coaches sign these documents with players signed – her name is Matty Rooney she’s a Minnesota gal but she was the starting goalie for Team USA at the under 18 level a junior program when we signed her. So we signed her in November. We were fired on December 9. OK. So the athletic director knew that we had Matty Rooney coming in to be our goalie for the UMD Bulldogs with the already young strong team we had that was ranked 6 in the country at that point when we were fired and so then to watch her a couple years later playing at the Olympics for the senior team – Team USA she’s now the Olympics starting goalie. She’s a net for not only the gold medal game but the shootout and the win of the gold medal for Team USA. And that was our goal that we recruited and signed and the athletic director knew she was coming. That’s just courtesy.
[00:40:28] It is. I mean that’s amazing in terms of a testament to your coaching and your team and that she wanted to be a part of that and then to be so. I don’t even know what to call to call it in terms of the athletic directors behavior in face of all of this evidence that would. I mean it is. It’s just I’m kind of lost for words honestly about how how to articulate that based on not just that fact that you just shared but just everything that you’ve shared about how problematic and troubling and heinous and horrific their behavior was in the university is just complete and utter negligence and failure to act to support you and your staff and your students.
[00:41:13] Well exactly. It was when they when they fired me in July when we talk to them they never talk to you again until December 9th and they go into a meeting on December 9th with the Chancellor and athletic director and I actually think I’m going to get a new contract because I’ve been asking for one since March and humiliatingly enough I had crunched numbers and I was ready to negotiate for myself. And I am fired. And me and my staff were told were being terminated. I mean you can’t even imagine what happens inside your body and your heart and your mind when that happens but every conversation I had with them they said it’s financial. We have a budget deficit. We can’t afford to pay you. And it’s financial it’s financial it’s financial and then when I said I was going to sue then six weeks later they come up with these other reasons. And one of the other reasons they started to list was performance. Well I’ve won five division 1 national championships more than any other coach in the country and I am not at a big ten athletic institution with all the resources and staff and money so that’s quite remarkable. The year we were fired it’s the strongest coaching staff I had ever had ever and that includes when I coached the Canadian Olympic team. It’s the strongest coaching staff I ever had and I told him that and fortunately I put that in writing to him annd the chancellor before I was fired. And we had this great team where we had great seniors on the team and we had these nine young freshmen were doing really well and then then he knew we have this goaltender coming in. So for them to say performance and hope that people will buy that. And that’s the second reason they gave him after he said I was going to sue, it was just asinine. And then they started talking about attendance so attendance was slipping. Well we were ranked third or fourth in attendance constantly in the country out of 36 teams. So what are the reasons? The reasons are discriminatory sexism, homophobia et cetera.
[00:43:11] Yes. It certainly seems that way. And obviously the jury agreed with you and most likely the state trial if it goes that way will also agree with you because it seemed so transparent and now retrospectively looking back on it it’s clearly not financial. It’s clearly not about performance. So what else is it about. Yeah.
[00:43:29] I’m comfortable saying this if this had been presented as evidence at court yet it will be at the state trial. But my story has been out there ever since they fired me so I’ll just say it. They targeted six openly gay lesbians. There were only six openly gay lesbians and we all were identified and targeted. And he either fired – he got rid of all six either he fired them or he ran them out because he treated them so horribly and three of us one of the six are going to state trial. And the evidence is very strong is very clear.
[00:44:03] Ad the other three just decided not to participate; they were done?
[00:44:08] Well you know the three that decided to go to trial are the head coaches. So you’re the leaders, you’re the ones that are targeted and then they say well you’re others, your assistant coaches are getting fired but that’s because we’re just making a coaching change in an athletics is common when we make a head coach change. The assistant coaches are changed as well but that doesn’t get them away from the fact that they identified and targeted six women only women, all the same budget so they’re not doing anything to the men, it’s just the women. And then we just happened to be the six openly gay women in the athletic department. And the female head coach that is actually straight. She was not affected and she was not targeted. So I just wanted to get that out there as well it’s rather obvious.
[00:44:54] No that does seem, it’s very compelling what you shared and I think that that’s part of the struggle is for folks who are you know looking on at this is to understand that there was what seems like a calculated strategy to either create a climate that was just so hostile you’d leave on your own or fabricate reasons for you all to be fired and then now that that hasn’t really worked out for them. They’re not even able at this point to acknowledge their missteps and issue an apology to you all. And that is what is perhaps the most disappointing of all of it.
[00:45:37] Yes utterly disappointing.
[00:45:39] Yeah. So you said you need to take some time to heal and you know thinking beyond this. Well maybe it’s it’s hard to think beyond the trial to state case that’s pending but what do you hope to do in the future in the next several years. Do you have an idea where you want to continue coaching. Do you want to become an advocate for women coaches nationally internationally to be given much thought to your future?
[00:46:08] I’ve given a little bit of thought to it every day for the last three years because people in the know that you know the professionals tell you you’re not going to get another coaching job because you’re suing and then it breaks your heart and your hearts are broken and your you don’t want to believe that and you don’t believe it and you apply for jobs you apply for jobs in the halls. And I mean I’ve called Europe, Canada across the US and it’s hard. And so when the when the lawyers told us that in a lot of professional people that called us representing women who had sued before groups women’s groups organizations sports groups and they said you know you need to figure out what you want to do because you likely won’t get a coaching job. So just to be clear I do want to coach again. It’s my passion. It’s who I am it’s how I’m wired. There’s no question that I want to coach again… I want to coach at the highest level possible for women. Or at the highest level possible in the game which means I’ve knocked on the doors of NHL teams and it’s not that I think that male athletes are better than the female athletes but the coaching jobs that have come open those athletic directors have chosen not to hire me even given the successful track record I have. So I decided I’m going to go start knocking on other doors.
[00:47:23] I’ve applied for men’s college coaching jobs I’ve applied for the NHL I’m going to keep knocking on those doors. I do want to become an advocate no matter what my career and future brings. I do want to become an advocate for females for sure for LGBT people but definitely for women in other ways and I’m really proud of this. We started a business so my partner and I said OK everyone’s telling us that we’re not going to get coaching jobs. This thing can go on for two or three years. We don’t want to sit around and you know, we’re doers we’re active people and we love it when you’re a team you’re surrounded with people all the time and it’s high energy and it’s fun and you set goals together and you’re involved in the community all the time. And we decided OK we lost all of that but what can we regain if we start a business. So we’re like We started small business in the community of Palm Springs. We are really going to meet the other small business owners. We join seven organizations and we’re out and about the community all the time and so that’s been very positive. So I’m proud to say that we haven’t just been sitting around applying for jobs and getting rejection letters. We’re running our own business and we’re trying to not lose ourselves in all of this. But yes I want to coach again at the highest level possible. I am not ready to retire or take a less than coaching job. I have earned the right to coach at the highest level and I want to continue to try to do that but could also be a leader for women in sport wherever I needed
[00:48:56] Yeah, and that’s just the thing you have. You have the right to be coaching at the highest level and you’re obviously a phenomenal coach given your track record and the number of wins that you’ve had with your teams that you’ve coached and is maddening to me to hear that. Because of the fact you sued due to a great injustice that was done to you and others that other organizations entities colleges are not willing to hire you when you didn’t do anything wrong. Right. That’s what’s so maddening about it.
[00:49:31] Yeah. Where are the people that are athletic directors whether they be male or female that say well this is outstanding coach she’s got this great career this great track record her student athletes took the stand federal trial and spoke about the relationship they had with her and how much they love her and respect her and how great of a coach she was brave a mentor she was and how great of a friend we are now friends. What kind of athletic’s director doesn’t want someone like that to be their head coach? And so where are these people? I just don’t really understand. I really don’t because I always… I guess what you’d like to believe is the people that get those positions are people that have courage people that are have a very strong sense of right and wrong. People who want to lead to mentor and they want to get the best head coach they can possibly get for their student athletes but they’re not returning my phone calls I’m not getting the jobs and it’s even though I was told this will happen. It’s a bit mind boggling to me.
[00:50:32] I know and I feel like, yes, you were told this would happen but that’s troubling in and of itself right in terms of again we think about that system. So even though you kind of quote-unquote won in this first this federal case there’s this the system the athletic system is still pushing back against you in that it’s shutting you out of these future opportunities which is just another …it’s a retaliatory behavior. In many ways. Right.
[00:51:00] Exactly .
[00:51:02] It’s not one person that’s doing it it’s like a whole…it’s the you know I’m kind of thinking like with Colin Kaepernick and the NFL and you know and how he got ousted because he stood up for something that he believed in and then not every single team in the NFL would turn that back on him.
[00:51:18] Yeah, and that’s the system.
[00:51:20] Yes, and it’s discrimination again on another path with other people and it grows like that burden and the pain and it grows with each passing day. And it’s really difficult to deal with this. Come on people. Where are the current leaders out there that really want to have their rhetoric match their actions when they see so many other people that doesn’t. And they’ll step up and do the right thing. And I guess I just keep believing that there is going to be somebody over there that you know is strong enough intelligent enough, and my God you’re not even taking a risk when I have. I’m so grateful I had alumni fly in from everywhere. I had I’m an American woman who’s originally from Alaska play for me. She was in China playing professional hockey. She flew from China to take the stand. I had people from Switzerland, Finland, Sweden, Germany, Canada offering to be witnesses for me. But you have to you know only have a few people. My parents and we’re the university the only university employees or experts. So we literally only had university employees taking the stand for them that were being paid and then their bosses Chancellor Block or Athletic Director Berlow or experts they hired outside of the university. Whereas on our side there was people coming from all around the world. And so I guess I’m hoping that a president of a university or an athletic director will actually notice that and say hey you know what. She’s a prize and we’re going to go get her.
[00:52:49] Yes. And I think with that and with a kind of glimmer of hope that someone or something will do the right thing. I would like to thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today and share your experience. It’s been frustrating. I’m angry for you. And I really hope that things turn around and that you get that coaching job that you deserve and that you’re entitled to because it would be a great loss to women’s athletic coaching to not have you in anything.
[00:53:21] Well I’m very grateful for your comments and your support. Thank you. And I would just like to say I didn’t know what your program and your organization until this so there is a positive that has come out of this. And I’m just grateful to have met you even though it’s over the radio and I’m going to follow your organization and donate to your organization. And I wish you guys the best because it’s awesome you have a phenomenal program and people need to know about it and voices need to be heard.
[00:53:49] Thank you Shannon and your dog agrees apparently.
[00:53:52] Yeah isn’t that great, on cue they just started to bark.
[00:53:56] Perfect. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today we really do appreciate it and we look forward to a continued friendship and partnership and we support you as you move forward in your career and in your fight for justice.
[00:54:09] Thank you Lisa. Happy Easter everybody.
[00:54:11] You too.
[00:54:13] Thanks again to Shannon Miller for sharing her experiences with us. We are so grateful she made the time in her busy schedule in the aftermath of winning the court case. For show notes including related links and a full transcript of the episode. Please visit wispsports.com. You can also find hundreds of additional podcasts on Wisp Sports Radio. Subscribe to us using your preferred podcast player. And don’t forget to leave us a review on iTunes for more conversations from the world of women’s sports including blogs, articles and videos visit wispsports.com. Post your comments questions and suggestions on our Facebook page or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow us, share or like @wispsports on social media. You can reach me Lisa Ingarfield directly @tritodefi on Twitter and on Instagram. Thank you so much for listening and supporting women in sport everywhere.
[00:55:09] We’ll be back next month with another in-depth thought provoking conversation.