According to the Institute for Women's Policy Research, there is good news: we are moving towards closing the gender wage gap in the US. The bad news is at the rate we are going it will take until 2058.

One victim of the wage gap is Shannon Miller, head coach of the women's hockey team at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. She earns significantly less than her male counterpart, even though her team has performed much better than the men's team.

The university's website raves about Miller: "For a decade and a half the University of Minnesota Duluth has enjoyed unparalleled success and continuity when it comes to women's hockey. Much of the responsibility for that rare combination falls on the shoulders of Shannon Miller," reads the website.

She has led Duluth to win five NCAA championships, more than any other women's hockey coach in the country. Ms. Miller also holds the honor of having been the first female hockey coach to take a team to the Olympics, where her team took the silver medal.

But in the middle of this season, while her team was ranked sixth in the country, Coach Miller was given her termination notice. She was told it was for financial reasons: the university needed to cut costs and she was too expensive. In the male-dominated sports world, it would sound strange if a male coach with such brilliant performance were let go. But firing a female coach was somehow easier: people were not expected to notice. At Duluth it might have made more financial sense to cut costs on the men's side, but no male coaches have been fired.

We all live with unconscious cognitive biases, little differences in the way we think about men and their rights and women and theirs. If we want to live in a more just, more meritocratic and more productive society we need to fight these biases. We need to be outraged at Shannon Miller's firing and demand explanations.

She herself is so outraged that she plans to sue the university and wouldn't mind if her case becomes a landmark case for women's sports. The civil rights movement brought great change in the 1960s and '70s and ultimately led to the passage of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, promising gender equality in sports in federally funded universities--but we are still not there. Women are still fighting for an equal place on the basketball court, the baseball field, and the ice hockey rink.

Why is this fight important for everyone? We all know the value of sports: there are health benefits, there is discipline, and athletes learn leadership and teamwork skills that will benefit them in so many ways throughout their lives. Our daughters need these lessons certainly as much as our sons do, and they need positive role models. Young athletes grow to become productive members of the economy, and an economy is more productive if there is broad and diverse participation.

This civil rights battle still needs to be finished, for our daughters as well as for our sons.

Published on: Mar 26, 2015
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