Texas Football and the Coach’s Wife: Ideology and Privilege

Since this is my first post, I will start by introducing myself and explaining how I came to be a part of this blog. I am deeply interested in the history of sports, not because it is my academic field of study, but because the history of sports directly effects the way I currently live from day to day. In addition to this interest, I am stricken by a duty to understand the location of women in sports. I do not have a desire to relate to the women who play sports; there is quite enough of that happening on their behalf. I also do not care to comment or discuss the women who coach sports as they are more than capable of speaking for themselves through the things they do to build equity. I am more concerned with the women who watch sports, support behind the scenes and are effected by the culture of sports. I am interested in how the history of sports, particularly Texas high school football, has shaped the role of women in Texas culture. I am also interested in the victories and defeats of Texas high school teams. With that being said, I found Andrew McGregor on Twitter (what a great world we live in) and submitted to him as a contributor.

I currently hold a Master of Arts in English with a focus on film and popular culture from Texas A&M University – Commerce. I am working on a Master of Education in educational technology and leadership from Lamar University. I work full time as an Advanced Placement Literature teacher at a Texas high school and adjunct at one of my local junior colleges. I regularly attend film conferences to present research while working on various projects for publication.

I live in a state, work within a system and live in a household that is both dominated by and privileged by the institution of Texas high school football. In 1971, Louis Althusser wrote On Ideology where he asserts “ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions” (37). Texas high school football is an Althusserian ideological state apparatus. Its culture is sheltered under the umbrella of the school; it is silent.

The University Interscholastic League was formed in 1913 as the governing body for extra curricular academic, athletic and music contests.  By 1945, 45,790 people were gathered to watch the Highland Park vs Waco state championship game at the Cotton Bowl. With roots in middle class white ideologies, UIL did not govern the African American schools at this time. That was done by the PVIL (Prairie View Interscholastic League) which started in 1920 and continued on a limited basis from 1965-1970 when it was disbanded. UIL decided to include African American schools in 1965 in the face of the civil-rights movement. Title nine later provided equity for female athletes and coaches. However, the prevailing ideology is still predominately male and white.

Shannon Sullivan writes about critical race theory and I think it is fitting to compare the early constructions of Texas football to her statements about middle class white women.

“Because of male privilege, white middle-class women tend to have gendered habits that lead them to downplay their own point of view. When a woman does this, it is not just her perspective as a woman that is hidden. Her perspective as a white and middle-class person are also made invisible. Her invisibility as a woman strengthens the invisibility of her classed white privilege, and the effect of male privilege on her gendered habits interfere with her ability to see or understand her raced and classed habits” (Sullivan 12).

This is the location of women who are privileged by the institution of Texas football, particularly the coach’s wife.

Highland Park, one of the oldest and wealthiest communities in the state of Texas, has long been a part of football history. Randy Allen, head coach of the Scots, is one of the most successful active head coaches in Texas. His wife Carolyn Allen has made it her calling to help support the community of coach’s wives as she has spent most of her life in that role. Her book, aptly titled The Coach’s Wife is a staple at coaching clinic tables, coaching school and marriage conferences. Many women have been provided this handbook by another coach’s wife or by their husbands returning from clinics. It is a well written book with interviews of over four hundred women who share their stories and trials being the woman behind the man. It is dogmatic and linear in its approach and it suggests that you are as important to his career as he is responsible for completing his job. It is also written from the privilege of wealth and whiteness. In addition to her book, she hosts a social network for coaches’ wives and blogs regularly. She is the Oprah Winfrey of the Texas coaching wife world.

Unfortunately, her work is juxtaposed to the work of feminists and the marching feet of civil rights activists. I do not mean to say that the book or her website is blatantly racist or sexist because it is not in any way. As a matter of fact, most of its suggestions rest in the biblical idea of marriage (minus the section on keeping up your appearance for the community). What the book highlights for me is what Althusser and Shannon Sullivan point to regarding prevailing ideologies and racial privilege. Although she is really trying to help women, she is also oppressing them by suggesting they are only an extension of the men they married. Carolyn Allen shares a moment in her life when she met her husband, Randy, as a pre-med student at Texas A&M University. This caused there to make a choice. “As soon as we became engaged, I redirected my career path to teaching … blessed and happy with my young family, it was an easy choice to sacrifice ‘things’ in exchange for time with those I loved” (Allen, 65).

Another part of the book that reinforces male privilege and hides under the guise of a woman’s perspective is an exchange between two other wives. In the same chapter on career and fulfillment Allen tells how “one young coach’s wife told her friend, “I just have not found my passion yet,” to which her friend replied, “Oh yes you have. Your husband is your passion!” There’s nothing wrong with that, either” (Allen, 64).

I am a coach’s wife. I am white. I am middle class. My children are all honors students and athletes. We attend a local Baptist church where we worship. In the state of Texas, that is all I need to get a job. It is all I have to be to teach other people’s children. I am very aware of this privilege. I do not abuse it. I work outside of it. To this extent, football “ideology has a material existence” (Althusser 37). I have turned down jobs at my husband’s school because I knew it was from privilege. I am driven and well educated. I want a job because of my professional qualifications, not my marriage bed.

I don’t mean to say that women who follow their husbands from place to place teaching what they are assigned are in some way inferior. On the contrary, a coach’s wife is fiercely independent, capable, and strong. She spends hours alone and even more time as a single parent due to his work schedule. She balances budgets that never seem to stretch far enough due to his pay. Coaches wives are not the stereotypical 50s housewife that felt ‘left out’ because they are very involved with his world. They attend games, sit next to their husbands at banquets, and shake hands at fundraisers. However, they are extensions of his identity in that role. For their work, they are guaranteed a place (a job) in his world (education). A place that might just as well be served by a highly educated minority.

With all of that being said, I will watch old game film this summer and attend two-a-day practices and watch from the car. I will read the sports page, make predictions about the games, read up on the screen pass and the odd front defense. I will do all this because I want to be informed about the games I will attend on Friday night, not because it helps my husband be a better coach (it doesn’t). I will use the knowledge I have to reach struggling readers in my classroom as I draw connections between narrative structure and defensive formations.

It is the way that I can continue the work of feminists who wanted equity not in spite of male privilege but because of male privilege. My hope is that my contribution to this blog will help to uncover the women behind the history of football in Texas high schools. I know that Carolyn Allen, in her own way, was half responsible for all of Randy’s success. I know that she made a name for herself from the location she lived. I also know that every woman is different and that not all coaching wives can just be an extension of their husband. And they should not have to be.

Moorea Coker teaches AP Literature and adjuncts at a Junior college in Texas. Follow her on Twitter @polypel88 or reach her by email: mooreacoker@gmail.com

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