The Miller Verdict; Justice Served? Women Advanced? PART 1…

Marc Elliott

DISCLAIMER; the views and opinions contained in this column are those of the writer, not of the DULUTH READER WEEKLY…

BIG SANDY… Last Thursday afternoon I sat down to do some reading on the internet and it caught my attention immediately. A headline stated that not only had a jury reached a verdict in the Shannon Miller discrimination case, but that they had also concluded that a $3.74mil award was in order for damages. The breakdown was $744k for lost wages and benefits and the $3mil was for “emotional distress”. First off, let me say that I am in favor of equal rights for all people everywhere, no matter who or what they may be. It simply matters not to me if someone is black, Muslim, female, gay or whatever. My parents raised me to be inclusive and that everyone should be treated equally and fairly. The old saying “treat others as you would like to be treated” was in full force at our house. I have met and/or worked with people from all over the world and of just about any persuasion you could think of. I can’t sit here and tell you that I became close friends with all of them, but if I didn’t, that didn’t mean that I would be rude or uncivil to them, that’s just not in me. A great many of them became close friends, both work-wise and socially.

I have to say that I sat up pretty quick and began reading text. Being analytical, my first thought was that the jury reached a verdict in a brief manner. I mean, these types of cases can be pretty complex can’t they? For those that might not know, Miller is a female hockey coach, a native of Canada, and has made it public that she is gay. After coaching Team Canada at the 1998 Olympics she was hired on to become the Head Coach of the inaugural UMD Bulldog Women’s Ice Hockey team. She coached the team for 16 seasons, winning National Titles 5 times in her tenure. As of this writing she ranks 6th All-time nationally with a 383-144-50 record. In her final 5 seasons the team did not qualify for the NCAA tournament, and in her last three seasons her teams posted an overall record of 49-43-15, with two of those seasons featuring sub.500 records. The team was no longer winning against rivals Minnesota and Wisconsin, two major hockey powers. That’s the on-ice factoids. 

The off-ice stuff, from what I can assemble, seems to be a mixed bag. There are many fans and alumni that are not in her corner. They have said that she is abrasive, hard to get along and work with, was not a polished public speaker, thus perhaps not a good salesperson for the school or program, seemed to have a world-is-against-me attitude that permeated all that she did and was constantly complaining about the “conditions” that her team had to operate under. On the other side of the coin many of her former players were and are fiercely loyal to her as well as close friends of hers. So, what in the heck happened that took us to a Duluth courtroom and last Thursdays verdict?

Early in her tenure at the school there were hints that something about Miller rubbed people the wrong way. According to an article in The Zenith/November 2017, the nametag on her door had been removed once and replaced with a sticker that said “dyke”. She claims that a man in the Athletic Dept. once claimed that “women suck all of the money out of the Athletic Dept.”. She claims there was other name calling and derogatory requests for her to go back to Canada. There was also a claim that a male colleague in the Dept. said that he would be the one to “bring her down”. Then finally the claim that shortly after current AD Josh Berlo replaced former AD Bob Nielsen that he said that there were “too many Canadians” around here in reference to Miller and a small group of others in the Athletic Department. Miller had also made continual comparison and reference to her Men’s Hockey counterpart Scott Sandelin relative to pay, won-loss records and amenities, especially highlighting a situation where the men’s team apparently received more workout equipment then the women’s team did. Finally, it was determined that Millers contract wouldn’t be renewed and apparently Berlo didn’t communicate that to her in a good way. He claimed that there was financial reasoning involved and that the school couldn’t afford her salary anymore. She was asked if she would step down and it went downhill from there.

The name calling, the negative comments and actions are crude, classless and un-professional. But in considering all of this I had to ask myself; are there that many ill-mannered people in the AD at UMD, or is this the atmosphere that Miller’s own actions and behaviors created? I don’t know. I’m an outsider and I don’t know her. It has been several years since I’ve known anyone on the inside of the Department. It seems odd to me that several people would “gang up” on one person in an institutional work environment, not impossible, but I am wondering. But, the major question, as distasteful as what she allegedly had to endure may have been, does it constitute discrimination? That’s a huge question. The men’s team got some extra workout equipment, did she consider sitting down with the men’s coach and the AD and seeing if there was a way that that equipment could have been shared by both teams? I mean it seems to me that some personality types always find ways to make what they have been given work out in the end, and some turn it into a problem…. PART 2 and conclusion Next Week….

MINNESOTA WILD UPDATE; THE ATHLETIC, 10th with a 94% probability of making the playoffs. THE SAGARIN, 11th on a 41-32 record, 12-11 vs the top ten and 18-19 vs the top 16. NHL STANDINGS by percentage of points available; 9th on a .616-win pct., 3rd in the CENTRAL with 90 pts and 9 games remaining, and in a playoff position. Also, currently in contention for a playoff spot are the SJ Sharks, 2nd in the Pacific, 89 pts, 10GR. LAK, 3rd in Pacific, 86pts, 9GR, COL, 1st Wild Card spot on 86pts, 10GR and ANA, 2nd Wild Card, 86pts, 9GR. Within contention are DAL on 84pts and 9GR, and STL with 83pts and 10GR. The WILD do not have a spot locked down yet and have the 2nd toughest remaining schedule out of all playoff contenders. Can they do it?? PEACE