When women win, praise the coach When men win, praise the team

uconnEven if you don’t follow sports it’s uplifting to find women’s basketball in the spotlight.

My cell phone buzzed when the University of Connecticut trounced Notre Dame to win the NCAA title, thanks to my New York Times app.

But when I read the story I thought the editors made a mistake.

The lead begins with praise for some guy:

His record ninth NCAA title secured, Geno Auriemma climbed a ladder Tuesday night, snipped the final strands of the net and pumped it in his fist, literally standing above everyone in women’s basketball.

Turns out the story’s focus by Jere Longman is on the coach, not the team.

The writer gives details of the 79-58 women’s win and continues with the coach’s success:

He now has one more title than his former nemesis, Pat Summit of Tennessee.

Did I link to a feature story about the coach rather than the main story about the women’s basketball finals?


The news story turns out to be a valentine for the coach.

In social science research we call this the fundamental attribution error.

That means humans—and even journalists—fall victim to bias in our thinking.

We are quick to credit our successes and failures according to our biases, ignoring some other factor that might be the real culprit or angel.

For example, if we are skipped over for a promotion, it’s because the boss is a sleaze-ball who doesn’t see our talents.

And if a beautiful colleague lands the promotion we figure it’s because of her looks or because she’s sleeping with the boss.

In the case of the Connecticut team, the coach gets the credit.

But take a look at the Times coverage of the men’s win one day earlier.

The lead features player Shabazz Napier then segues into the team: the team that began…as outsiders before rumbling through the NCAA tournament.

Focus of the story in on the team, not the coach.

They stayed. They endured…their belief never wavered.

By now my question should be painfully obvious.

When the women’s team wins, why does the coach get the credit, and when the men win, why is the team praise-worthy?


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About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in authenticity, journalism, native press, ncaa, neuroscience, news bias, propaganda, writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to When women win, praise the coach When men win, praise the team

  1. Thanks for this thought provoking post. He is an exceptional coach. He also would be the first person to put the focus on the team. He and Pat Summit are apparently close friends, and he has tried to redirect questions about his record as compared to hers. My guess is the writer was writing for men (perceived as more likely to follow sports) and decided to focus on the one man who had something to do with the team. I must side with you though; I believe the focus should have been on the team, while acknowledging the amazing record of the coach. Both were instrumental in the win; neither could have accomplished the feat without the other.


  2. MaryJean says:

    I’m not sure I can respond to this without falling into risk of a fundamental attribution error of my own. Yet the New York Times is a hugely influential newspaper, and its journalists should be held to a high standard of objectivity. it sounds like their sports department needs some diversity training.


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