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How resilience through COVID, sexism helped Stanford women’s team win NCAA championship

In a trying year, the annual college basketball tournaments offered a welcome feeling of the familiar. The Baylor University men won their first title. But as Amna Nawaz reports, it was the women of Stanford who scored the big win, capping a difficult season amid COVID-19 restrictions, and gender disparities that recently came to light. Coach Tara Vanderveer joins us to discuss the team's journey.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The nets are down and the champions named.

    In a trying year, the annual college basketball tournaments offered a welcome feeling of the familiar.

    The Baylor University men won their first title.

    And, as Amna Nawaz reports, it was the women of Stanford who scored the big win.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Stanford's win over Arizona on Sunday came down to the final seconds of the game and a single point, with a final score of 54-53.

  • Announcer:

    Stanford is your national champion!

  • Amna Nawaz:

    It marked the team's first NCAA championship title in nearly 30 years, further cementing coach Tara VanDerveer's place in sports history, now the most winning coach in women's college basketball.

    But it also capped a difficult season during the pandemic. COVID restrictions in their home county of Santa Clara forced the team to live on the road for weeks. And just before the men's and women's NCAA tournaments kicked off in March, a long list of deep disparities came to light, from less reliable COVID tests for female players to an embarrassingly sparse fitness room compared to the men's facilities.

  • Sedona Prince:

    This is our weight room. Let me show you all the men's weight room.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The NCAA apologized and upgraded the women's workout room, but it didn't escape national outrage, including from coach VanDerveer.

    In a statement, she called the differences — quote — "evidence of blatant sexism."

    And coach Tara VanDerveer joins me now.

    Coach, welcome to the "NewsHour."

    And, firstly and most importantly, congratulations. How are you doing today?

  • Tara VanDerveer:

    Thank you very much.

    I'm doing great. You know, you just — I kind of woke up, and you have to remind yourself, we're national champions, and it feels great.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, let's talk about that championship, because, before this, you have won national titles before, right, two of them.

    But the last one was a while ago, 29 years ago. This win, after this particular year, especially in the pandemic and everything you have been through, what does this win mean?

  • Tara VanDerveer:

    You know, it might have an asterisk by it because of kind of the COVID championship was a little bit different. It was in a bubble and everything.

    But, in some ways, I think it was it was the hardest championship to maintain your health, number one, with all the issues that are going on and the challenges of that.

    For this particular team to be out of Northern California for 10 weeks, about, not — I think the hardest thing, honestly, was not going home for Christmas. How we survived that and stuck together I think, is a real testament to the resilience, of the determination, the passion of the young people on our team and I'm very proud of them.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    When it came to the tournament, of course, a whole 'nother conversation was sparked after some deep disparities between the men's and women's tournament were just revealed for all to see.

    There's sort of this idea that there's been a pervasive of less than for the women. And you yourself said that this looks like blatant sexism, this is evidence of that.

    But you also called this moment a watershed moment. What did you mean by that?

  • Tara VanDerveer:

    I hope that — I hope this is not going to get swept under the rug.

    We're living in a time where we're really evaluating everything. We're evaluating whether it's with how police work with communities. We're looking at all the — all the different viruses, not just the COVID virus, but the virus of racism, the virus of sexism, and how that is pervasive in our world.

    And basketball is just a microcosm of our society. But to serve — to dumb it down, to serve hot dogs to the girls and steak to the boys, my parents would not do that. And, hopefully, in other families, people have to look and say this is not right.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The NCAA, of course, as we reported, did apologize. And under pressure, they opened their books when they were trying to explain why the budgets for the two tournaments are so different.

    And they basically said, look, the men bring in net income more than women. What did you make about this response. Is this all about the money?

  • Tara VanDerveer:

    I don't think it should be all about the money.

    On the conference level, our — football does bring in more money than any other sport. You know, in terms of the tradition that they have had, the head start that they have had in being competitive and being on television, and the promotion that they get every day, and whether it's on podcasts or in the newspaper, so — but what — women's basketball, what's kind of interesting, actually, is, with social media, women and women's sports are the ones that are being filed by more people.

    And I think that, looking to the feature, you have to evaluate what you're doing. And, yes, they do bring in more money, the television contract can bigger, but does that justify what they have been doing?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Coach, I have got to ask you.

    We mentioned you are the most winning coach in the history of women's basketball.

    So, I'm curious, in all the games, when — the tournaments, and you came not quite there, you almost won it, but you didn't, what kept you going year after year?

  • Tara VanDerveer:

    One of my favorite coaches was a coach, Pete Newell, who won an Olympic gold medal, won an NCAA championship. He coached at Cal, actually.

    But he's just like: The game is overcoached and under-taught.

    I want to do a good job teaching the game of basketball. And I get pleasure from watching the improvement of my players. But it is fun when you do have a team that is at this level, and you win it. And it is motivating.

    And I hope that it motivates our players to work hard in the off-season and become the best players they can be.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Coach Tara VanDerveer, thank you so much for your time.

    Congratulations again to you and your team.

  • Tara VanDerveer:

    Thank you very much. My pleasure.

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