Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Thoughts on a Coach for President of the United States

For much of the past two years when the question about voting for President of the United States came into the conversation, I found myself redirecting the topic toward sports. I would tell folks that I was considering writing in the name of Steve Kerr as my candidate of choice. Though largely joking about believing an NBA coach ought to serve as our commander in chief, the more I thought about the qualities that make Kerr an excellent leader, the more I almost started to believe...well, maybe I was on to something. A recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle "Warriors' Steve Kerr is Presidential Material," confirmed my suspicion and yet it helped me realize something more....that you need not be female to understand. Before you continue reading, I recommend reading this piece linked above.
Kerr is extremely likable. And if there's one thing I know about Americans, it's that they want, and almost need to like their President. No wonder this year has been such a challenge. Kerr has an incredibly personal story—from his family background to his self-made career that began at Arizona, continued with the historic Chicago Bulls, extended beyond the broadcast booth onto the hardwood at Oracle Arena, where he now leads the Golden State Warriors. Moreover, it's no secret that Coach Kerr surrounds himself with good people. He is an excellent communicator, known to go the distance (literally, not just metaphorically) to help those in his care understand how important they are. I love his four tenants of coaching and that square jawline— does that account for much?

So, it should be no surprise that when one of my favorite sports writers, Scott Ostler mused about Kerr in the same way I have, I took notice. Ostler got all of San Francisco to start thinking in a fun and playful way about some of our favorite leaders. These men are on the front lines night after night, so naturally, we evaluate their skill set....the way they inspire...we praise them for the great decisions they make and ridicule them for those they don't. Coaches invite us to consider different styles of leadership, they prove that preparation is paramount and we have to come to grips with the fact that some want it more...while others have the ability to transform a group to something much greater than the sum of its parts. Many invite magnanimity and encourage us to do the same.  
I excitedly shared his words in my Sports and Spirituality class with my seniors, half of whom are able to vote. I asked them to respond and react, hoping they might enjoy his insights, "get" his humor and yet catch a glaring oversight. With their silence, I realized that another teachable moment came to be. 

Ostler knows his sports, sports personalities and he writes well, but I find it unfortunate (if not unforgivable) that he failed to name a single female coach—or with a nod to Stephen A. Smith—reference a female announcer. One student shrewdly replied that the now deceased Pat Summit would have been a logical choice. I concur. And though it may be difficult to rally around a stoic personality like Stanford women's basketball coach, Tara VanDerveer, it's not a stretch to cite a woman like Muffet McGraw. 

Yes, I have an equally unforgivable Notre Dame bias, but she is also the winningest coach in all of ND sports. Considering that football, built, sustained and the school and that women have comprised the student body for just a little over 40 years, that is quite an accomplishment. Did I mention she has over 700 wins?  Or, if college women's basketball is a stretch, the long-standing and highly respected Hannah Storm is a worthy nominee. In reality, I don't need Hannah for President...I love having her on SportsCenter where she is a great stateswoman and orator for athletics. Regardless, history was made when the Democratic nominee for President was for the first time in the history of this country, a woman—a mother, a grandmother, a wife and a bit of an athlete herself (Hillary played baseball and was a swimmer). It's time that we have more female leaders and that's not just in politics...but in coaching as well.
I know at the school where I teach, all but three of our girls' varsity sports have a male head coach. As the salaries for women's coaching positions at the collegiate level increased, so did the number of male applicants for those positions. One of the winningest coaches in female athletics, Geno Auriemma also served as the head coach of the USA women's basketball team for the Rio Games. He had one male assistant and two female assistant coaches. No woman, however, served on the men's basketball Olympic team staff.

The way I see things, we need to continue to encourage girls to not only play sports but seek leadership positions in sports and beyond sports.

The Case of Athletes in Office states that "women make up more than 50% of the population but only 19% of Congress, and according to a number of studies cited in a recent story in The New York Times, a large part of that disparity occurs because women are far less likely to run. An exception is emerging however: athletics. A 2013 study from the Women & Politics Institute found that women who played sports were 25% more likely to express political aspirations than those who did not. 
I'm sure Scott Ostler he was just having fun with a timely topic. After all, we love our coaches and we should. I credit that future Hall of Fame manager Bruce Bochy as a key reason—if not THE reason—that there are three World Series trophies in San Francisco. His leadership forever changed the narrative of Giants baseball and colored some of my most cherished of memories with family, friends and my students. I hope he never pays for a drink or a meal as long as he lives in the Bay Area....and I'll throw Steve Kerr in that mix too. I just wonder if there could ever be a time that I could rally around a female leader with that same enthusiasm and gratitude. For many Americans, tomorrow may be the day....

Thank you Lord, for the ability to use our voice and exercise a great freedom: the right to vote. We pray for a safe and peaceful transition of power. Bless our leaders—those who serve and feel called to do so on the local, state and national level. In our schools—with students and athletes too.

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