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The former San Diego State coach reminded us that gender discrimination is alive and well — and that challenging it can pay off.
Often when San Diego State athletics are in the news, there’s a framing of the school being given short shrift by outsiders. Because they’re not part of a premier conference, Aztec teams are often underrated. Their star running back didn’t get the consideration for the Heisman trophy he deserved.
This year, we heard about a different kind of bias facing Aztec sports programs: unfairness from within.
Beth Burns, the winningest coach in Aztec women’s basketball history, was forced to retire in 2013 when the school told her she’d otherwise be fired. SDSU said it was because she’d hit another employee; Burns said it was because she’d spoken out about the inequality between the men’s and women’s teams at SDSU.
Some of those inequities, revealed during an excruciating month-long trial, included “a clause in Burns’ contract about a bonus for season-ticket sales when you allegedly couldn’t buy season tickets for women’s basketball, or the athletic department’s Twitter feed trumpeting the fifth set of uniforms for the men’s team while the women’s team had yet to get travel sweats months after being ordered (and it was getting ready for a trip into the frigid Rockies with several players suffering from the flu),” noted the Union-Tribune’s Mark Zeigler.
In the end, a jury sided with Burns – bigly. It awarded her more than $3 million.
“It is … hard to miss the signal a verdict like this sends to schools and coaches across the country,” Burns’ attorney said at the conclusion of the trial.
While the lawsuit itself was a depressing reminder that gender discrimination isn’t going anywhere, the verdict drove home the fact that there are people like Burns willing to call it out and say, “Enough.”