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Petrino’s Mistress Jessica Dorrell Hasn’t Hurt Women in College Sports

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When Latina reporter Ines Sainz caused controversy with her flirtatious antics at NY Jets practice, female journalists put their dukes up. They used Sainz as an example of why it’s just so darn hard for women to make it in sports journalism. Cause, you know, if women wouldn’t take those jobs or act that way then men would be forced to hire women based only on qualifications and intellect. That kind of faulty logic is maddening given the relative lack of power women have in sports media.

Unfortunately, a similar situation could be brewing as the facts about how former Arkansas Razorback coach Bobby Petrino and Athletic Director Jeff Long bypassed a number of the schools rules and policies to usher Petrino’s inexperienced mistress into a job for which others were clearly more qualified. One of the candidates who was passed over in favor of Dorrell has written a column in Sports Illustrated where she argues that Dorrell has make it harder now for women like her who want to succeed in college sports.

The woman, Christianne Harder, writes:

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I’ve worked in college football in recruiting and social media for three years. Since I earned my Master’s from the University of Washington’s Intercollegiate Athletic Leadership program, I have navigated a world where very few women land jobs other than administrative assistants. Thanks to Dorrell’s hiring, and the subsequent outing of an inappropriate relationship with Petrino, she has now unintentionally set all women who work in college football back. As if getting a job in college football wasn’t hard enough.

For the most part, college football is still a man’s world. While other college sports have some sort of female equivalent where both genders hold coaching positions, football does not. Though a few women work in team operations or recruiting, very few hold director titles. There are a small number of operations assistants who are women, and an even smaller number working in recruiting. I know of no woman who holds a Director of Player Personnel title in the country. So it was maddening when I looked at the press release issued by Arkansas about the hiring of Dorrell. One of the most sought after positions in the country, head of recruiting for Arkansas Football, had gone to a woman! This was unprecedented.

Full disclosure: I applied for this job. I wanted to know why I didn’t even get a phone interview. Naturally, I checked out Dorrell’s public bio. She had never worked in a football office in any capacity. She came from a fundraising background, which demands skills that translate very well to recruiting, but hands-on experience is a prerequisite. How do I know this? I worked in fundraising for four years. Clearly, if Dorrell hadn’t been engaged in a relationship with Petrino, there would be no story. People get jobs they aren’t qualified for in football all the time. But she was romantically involved with him, and that’s why she got the job.

The problem that Harder is alluding to is plain old nepotism. As Harder mentions, “people get jobs they’re not qualified for all the time” and that’s why it shouldn’t matter that Dorrell got a job because she slept with Petrino. All that matters is that she was hired solely for personal reasons and that the pull of personal relationships is so strong among powerful people-no matter the industry-that employment policies and even law become meaningless with frightening speed. That sort of disregard for employment rules absolutely needs and deserves additional scrutiny across the board.

But I fail to see how Dorrell’s situation in any way discourages men from participating in or valuing a non-sexual professional involvement with half the population. Dorrell isn’t some woman who filed a false sexual harassment report or otherwise used her gender as a threat against the men who hired her.  In fact, because Petrino is such a poor driver, she didn’t even have time to embarrass herself by doing a bad job. All Dorrell did is something that people, especially the white males who are so ubiquitous in sports, do every day-leveraged a personal relationship to get a job. That is something that both women and men will continue to do in future whether the relationship is sexual or not.

I certainly see how and why some men might try to use Dorrell as an excuse not to consider female candidates-but we don’t have to pretend that that’s valid.  I’d venture to say any man who might use Dorrell as an “excuse” to avoid strictly professional involvement with women—which is what Harder says one coach did to her—is making a laughable attempt to justify something they had no intention of doing in the first place  [Sidenote: I highly doubt the coach in Harder’s story wanted to hear a female business contact complaining via text about how she’s being held back as a woman by someone she doesn’t even know!].

I find it even more troubling that Harder’s argument feeds into the narrative that women’s actions determine male behavior. If one woman has the power to ruin things for women in college sports than how come thousands of women haven’t had the power to fix the problem completely. Or does female power only trend in the negative?

I understand the lens through which Harder views this case. She is hurt by the fact that she wasn’t considered for the job and is rightfully concerned about how women are regarded in the business. But it’s frustrating to see minorities choose to blame each other rather than remind the majority that, like them, we are all individuals not to be judged by the actions of one person.I think that would have been type-space better spent.

Besides, men in sports don’t need another excuse not to hire women, they already have one major impenetrable one-they don’t have to.




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