Woman Coach Wednesday: Laura Burnett-Kurie

Throughout the 2020-21 academic year the Gustavus Sports Information Department will highlight stories from Gustavus women in coaching.
Posted on November 18th, 2020 by

By Laura Burnett-Kurie, Head Women’s Soccer Coach

It’s the second-to-last game of the season and playoff hopes rest on the shoulders of this game. The top eight teams in the conference are all within five points of each other, with only six teams advancing to the playoff tournament. Everyone knows the importance of this game: the teams, the coaches, the refs, the fans, the administrators. The respect for that importance however varied. 

The center referee blows the whistle to start the game and the ensuing kick-off incurs. To most it would appear to be a normal start to a game. However, an administrator from the home team is now on the field, jumping up and down waving his arms and heckling the referee in regards to “not seeing the game.” The administrator then shifts his attention to converse with the sideline referee about the previous men’s game and NFL standings, as the referee answers the questions politely without furthering the conversation.

The game ensues. Halfway through, the ball goes out of bounds by the center scoring table. The administrator stands to collect the ball – a new ball has already entered play from the ball person. As the administrator gets back to the field, he tosses it to the ball person and then pretends to be “tripped” by the sideline referee. Falling onto his back on the field of play – thrashing his body around, yelling “Red card! Red card!” 

A 50-year-old male, administrator at the college, is laying on his back, throwing his arms and legs around, in the middle of a crucial conference game. 

During the debacle, the administrator’s phone falls out of his pocket onto the field, waiting for a player to step on it. Eventually, a student-worker at the table gets up, picks up the phone off the grass, and hands it back to the administrator, who begins to laugh that his phone had been on the field for several minutes. 

At halftime, I send my team into the locker room with my assistant coach, then jog to catch up with the administrator as he walks across the field. I calmly let him know that I feel his actions in the first half on the sidelines were unprofessional and distracting from the game and would appreciate him not distracting the sideline referee in the second half and to stay off the field. He immediately disagrees with me and tells me his actions were perfectly fine. During this entire conversation he continues to walk away from me – refusing to respect me and the conversation. At this point, he turns, while walking backwards away from me, and starts pointing at the scoreboard (we were down 1-0) and taunts, “scoreboard, scoreboard, scoreboard!” 

Imagine this happening during a basketball game. Imagine this happening during a football game. Imagine this happening during a men’s soccer game. 

This behavior might seem like an anomaly to you. It might seem as though this is an extreme. But, this happens more than you think. These actions, comments, coverage, etc. are disrespectful to women’s sports and to our student-athletes who are striving to achieve their dreams. It is the culmination of daily behaviors and body language that feed the destructive narrative that women’s sports are inferior to men’s. 

It’s the refereeing assignors who make the comments during the conference coaching call about how it’s hard to find referees who want to work women’s games. It’s the coaches of men’s sports who believe they should have the right to host playoff games every year over the women.

Certainly, progress has been made over the past 40 years in raising the stature of women’s sports, which were once an afterthought at many institutions. But now the battle has moved from the letter of the law to the arena of attitudes. We can’t stop fighting for gender equality in athletics until a true equilibrium has been reached, and not just between the lines, but between minds.

We have seen these steps in the past eight years within the athletic department at Gustavus. With our athletic director hiring many female head coaches, encouraging us to hire female assistant coaches, and adding three female athletic trainers to a staff that previously was all males. We have female strength and conditioning coaches who are working with men’s sports and our nationally ranked men’s tennis program has a female coach on staff. 

According to the important research by the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport (note, the Tucker Center Director, Dr. Nicole LaVoi, is a Gustavus graduate), only ~40% of NCAA Women’s Sports teams are coached by females, which is a troubling statistic. Luckily, 58% (7 out of 12) of the women’s soccer programs in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference have women at the helm and BV United Soccer Club, whose technical director is also a Gustavus graduate, has all of their girls teams led by an all-female staff (only club in Minnesota to do so). So, yes, there is light for women in the male dominated world of coaching, refereeing and sports; we must grab ahold of that light and use it to guide us in this fight to change the narrative of women’s sports, women coaches and women leaders. 

This fight was started long before our current players were born; long before I was born, and it’s important to remember how far we have come. It’s important to praise and admire those who have paved the way for female athletes, but the fight must continue. And as a role model and one of the leaders of this program, it is my responsibility to fight for my team, my players and my coaches. To stand up for what we believe in and what is right. Even if others tell us we are exaggerating or overreacting, it is still our responsibility, for those who paved the way before us, for our current female athletes and for future generations, to bring attention to how we are treated – good and bad – small and big. 

No matter how hard the moment of conflict is; no matter how difficult the conversation is to hold – here at Gustavus, our women’s soccer program will never stop striving to be the best we can be. We vow to always run a program where we will bring attention to the moments of inferiority or lack of respect that female athletes and sports experience. We will always fight to say it’s not just about intent, it’s also about outcome. In our program, we endeavor to instill confidence in our players and provide them a platform to fight and stand up for their rights to equality. 

 


4 Comments

  1. Suzette Soboti says:

    AMEN! LBK you’re a light leading the way towards the rights and equality of women in sport! Thank you for all you do and continue to do to fight for the women who play out their dreams on the field, court, pool or track…and then in every aspect of their lives moving beyond. Your passion is a fire which will help to light the way. From an old coach to a young one- keep it lit and continue to burn!!

  2. Troy Banse says:

    Wonderfully written Laura! You are a true leader in athletics! Keep working hard for what is right!

  3. Neal Hagberg says:

    Thank you, Laura, for this powerful article and for your leadership on and off the field.

  4. Dan says:

    Red Hot Chili Peppers!

Leave a Reply