The NMFishbowl Podcast: Linda Estes

By Daniel Libit

In her 32 years as an administrator in the University of New Mexico’s athletic department, Linda Estes burnished a reputation for forthrightness. Given her charge as the purveyor of gender equity for Lobos sports, and guardian of the school’s so-called “non-revenue” programs, Estes kept on her toes all the way until she retired in 2000.

“I saved every piece of paper in my career, because I thought I would eventually end up suing the university for sex discrimination,” Estes tells me in the latest episode of The NMFishbowl Podcast. And had it not been for former Athletic Director Rudy Davalos, who Estes “loved” working for, she said she probably would have ended up filing suit.

You can click to listen to the podcast below (or find it on iTunes here):

Despite her reputation for unvarnished candor, it was still quite eye-opening, last April, when Estes’s name appeared beneath a letter to the editor published in the Albuquerque Journal, which called for UNM to fire then-Athletic Director Paul Krebs and reallocate some of his salary to the skiing teams. Krebs had, just weeks before, announced the school’s intentions to do away with the program, claiming that it would save his financially strapped department $600,000 annually. To Estes, this decision carried the familiar whiff of scapegoating. Throughout her career, Estes had routinely run up against the athletic director’s impulse to spare himself and his precious football program and pass the burden elsewhere.

“I had been gone, by that time, almost 17 years, and that was the first time I had weighed in on anything that happened in the athletic department,” Estes says. “I was annoyed by it and I didn’t think it was fair…You had an athletic director who exceeded his budget year after year, to accrue a deficit. He made poor hiring decisions, which cost countless dollars for UNM. And there was just a lack of financial control. And instead of getting it under control, the answer was: let’s drop skiing.'”

Krebs would resign (“retire”) in scandal, and skiing survived the moment, but the blame-shifting and the butcher board would soon be summoned once more. On May 31, UNM released a 39-page report, which acknowledged that it was woefully out of Title IX compliance in terms of providing proportionate opportunities for female athletes. The report declared the school’s best option to trim its deficit and meet its gender-equity obligations was to terminate not only skiing, but also men’s soccer and women’s beach volleyball.

“I think it’s really easy to blame the women — we see that in a lot of phases of society,” Estes says. “I think it’s real easy to do that as opposed to (acknowledging) the mismanagement of the athletic program, which went millions of dollars over its budget. It’s a lot easier to say Title IX. I don’t buy it.”

Here are some other key takeaways (click the relevant links to jump directly to that portion of the audio)…

Estes on Paul Krebs’ tenure at UNM“The way I looked at it from an outsider was that his claim to fame was he had hired at Urban Meyer at Bowling Green. And I think everybody thought that was a great qualification for the job. I think he came in ill-prepared…I think Rocky Long was a pretty good football coach. And I think he left because he sensed a lack of support. And I think Krebs, and I’m only speculating…I think Krebs thought he would make a name for himself by hiring a big-time football coach, and of course it blew up in his face.”

Estes on a Title IX issue UNM’s recent report didn’t address“When I was there they had a great weight room in the Tow Diehm building. It was for all the athletes. At some point in time, they decided we are only going to have that weight room for football…So, they moved the women to a weight room which they put on the stadium tennis courts, with a tent over it. I would definitely call that a Title IX violation…I was shocked they would do something like that, that Krebs would go along with something like that.”

Estes on her initial experience of implementing Title IX requirements at the school:“I was very naive. Title IX passed and I thought, ‘God, our problems are over. That’s the law and they’ll have to do it.’ Well, it’s like the 55 mile-per-hour speed limit: it means nothing unless it is enforced. And getting it enforced was an uphill battle. When the men realized that Title IX was going to apply to athletics, they went crazy all over the country.”

Estes on golfer Nancy Lopez’s trailblazing efforts to play on the Goddard High School boys team: “Nancy wanted to play and they wanted her to play and the New Mexico Activities Association said, ‘No way, no girl can be on a boy’s team.’ Nancy’s parents, to their credit, came to the ACLU…At that time I believe I was on the board…ACLU took the suit and they assigned a lawyer by the name of Roberta Ramo…She was an attorney in Albuquerque, and she later became the first woman president of the American Bar Association. She is brilliant, takes this case, but they can’t get any women to testify on behalf of Nancy — anyone involved in athletics. Because, they were saying: if girls play on boys teams, then boys will play on girls teams. Well, there were practically no girls teams in the state. So, I went and testified before the (NMAA) on behalf of Nancy, that she should have the right to play. But Roberta was the one who was brilliant: she got up and said, when you discriminate against girls, you are discriminating against tax-paying parents who happen to have daughters instead of sons.”

Estes on her clashes with former UNM Athletic Director John Bridgers“John Bridgers had been fired as the football coach at Baylor. And then he went to Florida State as the athletic director, and his claim to fame was he hired Bobby Bowden, the football coach at Florida State. Then, he and Bobby Bowden kind of crossed swords and Bridgers was looking to get out of Florida State. And his brother, Frank Bridgers, was a businessman in Albuquerque, and he put on a press to get John hired as [UNM’s] Athletic Director…[To Bridgers], women’s athletics was a pain in the ass. The only thing he cared about was football, and he was going to make (UNM) a great football program. I put on my boxing gloves every day I went to work.”

Estes on the myth of football at UNM: “They have always tried to sell football as a revenue producer. It is not. I don’t believe there has been a single year in history where football brought in more money than it spent. So, that whole thing about it as a revenue producer is a farce…This whole thing: ‘If we just get an indoor practice facility. If we just have our weight room.’ I am not saying we should drop football. I think it should be made to come within its budget. And I don’t think we should be giving it a blank check.”

Estes on why she strategically decided to eliminate women’s basketball in 1987“We had a president who didn’t really know much about Title IX, and he was into this stuff about how we didn’t have enough money. They eliminated men’s baseball and I believe one other sport…I made the choice. They pretty much said you can do whatever you want. I would have had to go eliminate another sport if it wasn’t basketball…I eliminated women’s basketball because I knew they would have to bring it back because of Title IX. We were in a conference, and there would be pressure for it to be brought back…I knew it wouldn’t be permanent, whereas if I eliminated, say, skiing, that would never have come back.”

Estes on a distressing encounter she had with notorious basketball coach Dave Bliss: “This is a hard story to tell. One of his basketball players raped a woman on the ski team. Now, when I heard about that, the woman was totally traumatized. She came to me, they made her come and see me, and she didn’t want to do anything. And that is when I learned about rape victims. Basically, all you’re doing is asking to hold their coat, and they have to go through the whole thing over in terms of whether they are going to press charges, make it public, etc. It was heart-breaking. I had to hold off the ski team because they were going to go off and break this guy’s knees. Eventually, I tried to talk to Dave about it and he was totally nonplussed. It wasn’t a concern. And, of course, there was nobody to file a complaint, nobody to charge the guy. That was my relation with Dave Bliss…I thought his attitude was callous. But if you have a person who won’t file a complaint, who won’t say anything, I don’t know what a coach can do. I felt he was unsympathetic, but without somebody stepping forward, I’m not sure he could have done anything.”

Estes on Lobo soccer coach Jeremy Fishbein’s efforts to save his program from elimination: “All I can say to Jeremy is: more power to him. He has built a great program, there is wonderful support for soccer in New Mexico. And the fact that he is not just turning over and playing dead, I admire him greatly for that.”

Estes on why she started depositing the Olympic sports programs’ funds at the UNM Foundation: “When John Bridgers was the athletic director, our teams went out and had to raise money. They had different projects and they had to raise money. And then, at the end of the year, when his football program was in the hole, he would take away this money that these teams had sitting there. And I was looking for a way to protect it. And I found out that if we put the money that we raised into the UNM Foundation, instead of into the athletic department, that he couldn’t touch it.”

Here are some additional reading materials and useful links…


Featured Image by Camerafiend / Wikimedia Commons