Today on River to River, we explore the controversy surrounding the firing of the University of Iowa’s former field hockey coach, Tracey Griesbaum, as well as take a broader look at what the playing field is like for female coaches in both men’s and women’s teams in the U.S.
Griesbaum led the UI field hockey team through 169 wins in 14 seasons. She posted 12 winning seasons and made six appearances in the NCAA tournament.
Last summer, Iowa athletic director Gary Barta launched an internal review of Griesbaum's program. The review was in response to a student-athlete, who asked to remain anonymous, that submitted a complaint to the athletic department. The player cited Griesbaum as verbally abusive.
"[Griesbaum's firing] is about a pattern of mistreatment that athletes complained about over the years, that is not happening in any other program,” says the University of Iowa's Vice President for Strategic Communication, Joe Brennan.
While the report includes anonymous complaints and that several student athletes “sought treatment from a therapist due to their mistreatment by Coach Griesbaum," it also says “they have not witnessed student athletes mistreated by the coaching staff.” According to the university, Griesbaum did not commit any violations of school policy.
In August, just days before the start of the season, Griesbaum was fired. The specific details behind the firing still remain unclear.
Griesbaum says that the university's actions are the result of double standards for female coaches.
"Every time I watch Fran McCaffery coach, his actions are more egregious in a matter of an hour and a half, than mine have been over 22 years…there’s no comparison," she says. "Why aren’t I allowed to hold my athletes accountable, when I know the men’s coaches are holding their athletes accountable?"
Griesbaum and Brennan made their comments today on River to River. Also joining the discussion to provide greater clarity on this story: Des Moines Register sports columnist Bryce Miller, and Marlene Bjornsrud, Executive Director of Alliance of Women Coaches.
"The traditional profile of a coach is someone that’s loud and assertive," says Bjornsrud. "When a woman coach meets this traditional profile, she is called abusive...that is a very clear double standard."
Bjornsrud also believes there is a double standard when it comes to complaints from female and male athletes and their parents.
"It seems to be socially acceptable for a female athlete to say something like ‘the coach was mean to me,’ but it is not socially acceptable for a male athlete to do that," says Bjornsrud.
"Female athletes and parents seem to have a direct line of communication with athletic directors, which would be like going to a governor for a speeding ticket. It makes no sense that they're not having conversations with the coach first."