TAMPA — A second national title allows a coach to speak a little more freely, and Notre Dame’s Muffet McGraw knows she may never have more eyes and ears trained on her than she does now.
On Friday night, her top-seeded Fighting Irish, the defending national champions, will take on second-seeded Connecticut in the Final Four’s second semifinal. On Thursday, McGraw had some things she wanted to talk about.
McGraw, who won her first national title in 2001 before adding a second title last spring, recently discussed her hiring practices in an article published by ThinkProgress. The Hall of Fame coach, now in her 32nd year, has purposefully constructed an all-female coaching staff for the past seven years at Notre Dame. She told reporter Lindsay Gibbs that she never plans to hire a male assistant again to help even a playing field in which women, especially women of color, are often overlooked.
According to ThinkProgress, 90 percent of women’s collegiate teams were coached by women in 1972, when Title IX was enacted. By 2018, that number had dropped to 41.5 percent. In college basketball, 59.3 percent of women’s teams are coached by women.
And so in her pre-Final Four news conference Thursday at Amalie Arena, McGraw was asked how seriously she takes being a leading voice in women’s basketball. She all but launched into a stump speech.
“Did you know that the Equal Rights Amendment was introduced in 1967 and it still hasn’t passed?” McGraw said. “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.
“I’m getting tired of the novelty of the first female governor of this state, the first female African American mayor of this city. When is it going to become the norm instead of the exception? How are these young women looking up and seeing someone that looks like them, preparing them for the future? We don’t have enough female role models. We don’t have enough visible women leaders. We don’t have enough women in power.”
She wasn’t done.
“Girls are socialized to know when they come out, gender rules are already set,” she said. “Men run the world. Men have the power. Men make the decisions. It’s always the man that is the stronger one.
"When these girls are coming out, who are they looking up to to tell them that’s not the way it has to be? Where better to do that than in sports? All these millions of girls that play sports across the country, we’re teaching them great things about life skills, but wouldn’t it be great if we could teach them to watch how women lead? This is a path for you to take to get to the point where in this country we have 50 percent of women in power. We have, right now, less than 5 percent of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.
"When you look at men’s basketball, 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 I. People hire people who look like them. That’s the problem.”
McGraw is one of two female coaches at this year’s Final Four, along with Baylor Coach Kim Mulkey. Last year she was the only female coach in the Final Four.
McGraw also said she would like to see more “women supporting women” in terms of mentorships and networking and that men who have hiring power must do their part and hire women as well.
The longtime coach fielded a broad range of questions at her Thursday news conference, from queries about her school’s rivalry with Connecticut and the health of her team to her relationship with Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., who is running for president.
“Mayor Pete is a phenomenal guy. He’s around Notre Dame quite a bit,” McGraw said. “He emailed me yesterday just to wish me good luck and said that he was on MSNBC the night of the Stanford game. He said he really couldn’t concentrate, so distracted, because he kept trying to look for the score before he went on with MSNBC.”
But McGraw’s thoughts on gender inequality dominated her session, causing a series of national headlines. Why did she decide to speak up now, after 922 career wins, 834 of them at Notre Dame? McGraw had a simple answer.
“Enough,” she said. “I think women across the country in the last few years have just said enough. Time’s up. Time’s up. It is our turn.”