Nicole LaVoi is the co-director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota. With several interesting topics coming to the forefront lately, she chatted with the Star Tribune’s Michael Rand:
Q First off, there was news this week that the University of North Dakota is cutting its women’s hockey program because of budget concerns. When you have a women’s program that has had that much success getting cut, what message does that send?
A I was shocked, to be honest. … I went right to where you went: Isn’t that where the Lamoureux twins [Monique and Jocelyne] played? It’s a pretty successful program. Why women’s hockey? It didn’t make any sense to me.
Q Another big recent story was the U.S. women’s hockey national team fighting for equality and threatening a boycott of the world championships until coming to an agreement to play. As that story was developing, what was your take on it?
A Well, I thought the women from the top down — almost to the youth level given that’s where USA Hockey was starting to try to recruit players before the settlement — showed great solidarity. Everyone basically said, “No thanks.” It was a very powerful message to say “we stand in solidarity.” I really liked that component of it. I thought the national team leveraged the world championships in a very effective way. Had there not been any play on the line, it may not have got as much traction. And the fact they got so much support across so many layers, from professional male athletes to other players’ unions to the national women’s soccer team to politicians, it pushed the needle faster, I think.
Q Do you think people are surprised when they find out what some of these national team athletes get compared to what they give?
A Yes, I think it’s shocking. I’m someone who has quite a bit of knowledge about women’s sports, and I found some of the disparities and lack of resources toward the women’s national team appalling. I’m glad they brought it to light. When you compete like they do at the highest level and have one of the most successful teams in the sport, and that’s how you’re being treated compared to your male counterparts? That’s embarrassing.
Q At the Tucker Center, are these issues that rise to the surface for you, or are you looking more big-picture at issues of women in sports?
A Both. We try to be proactive in terms of advocacy, but certainly when high-profile issues like this come up it gives us a platform. It helps us continue that advocacy around a specific issue, even if these are things we talk about and teach about every day.
Q To that end, how do you evaluate where we are with women in sports as a big-picture subject?
A It depends on what you’re looking at. If it’s women in leadership, we’re stagnant. Women in coaching, we’re stagnant. Media coverage? I think it’s getting better. You look at ESPN and the high production value of the NCAA basketball tournament [and other sports], it makes me optimistic. But in terms of participation, when you hear about the hockey program at UND getting cut, I’m troubled.