Oh my. What a shocking turnaround. And what an unfortunate way for a group of women players to go about sending a message to their coach. It’s one thing to be pissed off with the woman. Who has not had their share of irksome feelings towards a pushy coach? But to gang up on her collectively and send out these negative messages through the media? Yikes! Problem-solving 101 this is not.
I’m referring of course to the ugly, nasty, messy situation involving female tennis coach Dawna Prevette, and her team of disgruntled women at Penn State. And yes I am emphasizing the gender on both sides because the passive-aggressive and mean-spirited nature of this attack is distinctly feminine. As a straight-shooting, straight-talking woman myself, I often feel out of place in the world of nasty subtle innuendo -- the kind that women often specialize in, the kind in which they join forces to bring down another woman. It makes me sick to my stomach.
I have never met Dawna Prevette. I do not know her personally. I am not defending her. I am however criticizing the process by which she is being criticized. And I am thinking about the implications of this nasty, messy, ugly process for all women tennis players who aspire one day to coach tennis at the college level or beyond.
It is a hard enough struggle to try to break through the barriers of top-level success, a sphere that remains dominated by penises and testosterone. But the truth is that if you are brilliant -- because good isn't good enough, you have to be far better than good -- so if you are a brilliant woman, along the way you will always run across the odd man or woman who are willing to lend you a helping hand. But sadly, it is always women who will conspire behind your back to bring you down.
There are very few women coaching tennis at the college level or beyond. Most tennis coaches, even in the world of women’s tennis, are men. Those few female tennis coaches who break through the ceiling -- women like Dawna Prevette -- inevitably help to pave the way for others simply by being there. They are no different from female astronauts, soldiers, or lobbyists -- women who penetrate a bastion of male success and occupy it, sometimes defiantly. Even if they are bitches, in fact, especially when they are bitches, they help pave the way for others.
Even if one assumes that she might have gotten the odd helping hand here or there, it’s hard to discount that Dawna Prevette seems to have earned her success the hard way. As an undergraduate at North Texas, she was the No. 1 in singles during her junior and senior years, serving as team captain in her senior year. She earned other accolades as well, including the Big West Female Scholar Athlete of the Year, was named to the Raptor All-Eagle Academic Team, and served as the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and Scholarship Director. Notably, Prevette also twice won the North Texas' Team Eagle award for best work ethic and team spirit.
After a five year stint as head coach at her alma mater, in 2006 Prevette was invited to serve as assistant tennis coach at Baylor University. A year later, in the fall of 2007, she accepted the offer to coach at Penn State. Prevette acknowledged in an interview that she was not looking to leave Baylor but that “Penn State's tradition and strong school spirit made the job more appealing and made me want to come here to coach.” The Collegian, Penn State’s student newspaper, wrote a warmly welcoming profile on her, acknowledging that Prevette had introduced new training routines that emphasized overall fitness, strength-training, and a focus on team-building both on and off the court.
A year and a half later, and apparently the worm has turned. The same Collegian has become the conduit for some of the nasty, petty, ugly complaints against the coach. One woman’s father claims that his daughter got suspended for removing pepperoni from a slice of pizza. Another woman, recruited from Europe but already chock full of American entitlement, claims that she got dismissed for not making eye contact. Others say that the coach is abusive, bullying, and constantly threatens to take away their scholarships. Players seem to be practically accusing Prevette of being a tennis terrorist.
Was there no other way for a group of women to express their dissatisfaction with a coach? Was there no other avenue for a group of parents to encourage their daughters to develop and practice the skills of communication, problem-solving, and conflict resolution? Would many of these complaints have been made were Prevette a man and therefore not expected to be sugary sweet, kind, and nurturing all the flipping time? Points to ponder, no?
Prevette’s response? “If they don't want to work hard and be competitive and fight and improve, then maybe this isn't the place for them.” On paper I do not at all disagree with her. If your vision is that of preparing players for the blood sport called professional tennis, then you really have no use for whiners wanting to run home to their daddies to complain about their entitlement to slices of pepperoni.