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Expect More!: Dare to Stand Up and Stand Out

Muffet McGraw
Published by Ave Maria Press in 2021

Famed ND coach shares lessons on path to greater gender equality

Originally published in The Journal Gazette, February 14, 2021.

The numbers are staggering – 936 career wins, 26 NCAA tournament appearances, 17 Sweet Sixteens, 10 Elite Eights, nine Final Fours, seven national championship games, two national titles and “a perfect 100-percent NCAA Graduation Success Rate score from 2004-2014.”

When Notre Dame hired Muffet McGraw in 1987 as its women’s basketball coach, the success those numbers represent was not imminent. While Title IX – the law prohibiting sex discrimination in educational institutions receiving federal funds – had been passed 15 years earlier, parity between men’s and women’s sports was far from a reality. When McGraw began her coaching career at St. Joseph’s University, for example, women did not have scholarships, practice gear or even shoes.

Title IX’s promise has yet to come to full fruition. The gains female student-athletes made during McGraw’s tenure at St. Joseph’s and then at Notre Dame, however, may prove more staggering than her numbers.

In “Expect More! Dare to Stand Up and Stand Out,” McGraw details what it took to make those gains, as well as what is needed to bring Title IX’s promise of equality to reality.

As one might expect, McGraw wrote her book “to encourage women – from school-age to those entering or in the midst of their careers – to not be satisfied with the status quo and to instead reach for the top in whatever organization and whatever field they find themselves, be it business, health care, politics, athletics, and more.” McGraw also wrote this book “for fathers who are looking for ways to encourage and bolster the opportunities for their daughters in the same ways they have done for their sons.”

Rooted in wisdom McGraw has gained over the years, “Expect More!” is a quick yet challenging read for anyone who cares about making the promise of equality a reality.

McGraw’s effort to demonstrate how that promise can happen begins with an introduction then moves through six fast-paced chapters. McGraw opens with details from a news conference that occurred as part of the 2019 Final Four.

McGraw was asked a question that day about her pledge to hire only women for her staff. By 2019, McGraw acknowledged she “was confident enough to speak out for the absence of female leadership across the country in every field.” Regardless of how important basketball was to McGraw, basketball was a means to cultivate “more women in leadership in all areas, not just sports.”

Her book is arguably an extension of that news conference and that message.

The chapters that follow not only motivate women and men to consider what defines the promise of equality, but what that promise will cost to achieve. For example, in Chapter 2, “Bring Your Swagger,” McGraw takes her message directly to the parents of daughters.

In a culture which often focuses solely on the MVP, McGraw encourages parents to “praise their children for their effort, dedication, and improvement. They should notice the way their daughter interacts with her teammates and how she listens to her coaches.”  Such responses build character, which helps a daughter believe in herself and her abilities.

McGraw’s message concerning the character that comes by focusing more on effort, dedication and improvement is one she also applies in Chapter 3, “Assume You Are the Best.” In particular, McGraw is concerned with the social pressures that communicate to women that their voices are not valued.

She used basketball as a means “to get the players to see that their voices would be heard. [She] wanted them to know that [she] was listening to what they had to say and that [she] was interested in their opinions.” She challenges groups such as parents to do the same.

McGraw hopes her message instills within women the desire “to fight harder for what they want.” Even more important, McGraw wants women “to identify what exactly it is they want.”

For McGraw, such decisions are rooted in character – character which exercises such as basketball can teach. If such decisions are rooted in character, McGraw is quick to note the promise of equality will become a reality.

Todd C. Ream serves on the higher education and honors faculties at Taylor University, as a fellow with the Lumen Research Institute, and as the publisher for Christian Scholar’s Review.