Through grit, talent, and an uncanny ability to elicit excellence from her team, women’s ice hockey coach and Ivy League Hall of Famer Digit Murphy has amassed enough accolades to fill a room.
Over the last 30 years, she has broken records and shattered stereotypes in a male-dominated sport, never wavering in her commitment to rewrite the rules for female athletes. Now she’s using the strength of her achievements and experience to help members of the next generation become catalysts for change.
“I grew up in the 1960s and Title IX [which outlawed discrimination based on gender] didn’t even exist yet, but I always loved sports, so to be able to have this journey is just really special to me,” said Murphy. She now feels a duty to pay it forward. “In 2019, the question is, ‘How do we get there faster? How do female athletes become part of the conversation on an equal footing?’ It’s not about being male or female, but being human.”
As an ice hockey player at Cornell University in the 1980s, Margaret Degidio Murphy, better known as "Digit," was named the 1981 Ivy League Player of the Year and was inducted into both the Cornell Athletic Hall of Fame (1994) and the International Scholar Athlete Hall of Fame (2010). She went on to become head coach of Brown University’s Brown Bears women’s ice hockey team, where she became the winningest coach in Division I women’s ice hockey history during her 18th season on the job.
During the 1998 Nagano Olympics, Murphy was the first American female color analyst for a women’s ice hockey game broadcast on television. She coached the U.S. National team in 2004 at the Lake Placid Olympic Festival, cofounded the United Women’s Lacrosse League in partnership with a leading equipment maker, and later served as the head coach of the Boston Blades and then the Kunlun Red Star in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League before taking a break from coaching in 2018.
But she’s wasting no time reminiscing. There’s work to be done.
As Murphy embarks on the next chapter of her career, she’s doubling down on her mission to advance female athletes and change the business model of women’s professional sports.
“I feel like there’s another road to take in helping women,” she said. “When you’re coaching, you are hyper-focused on the team. You can’t lead in a broader way. In my career now, I want to create more opportunity for female athletes. I want to be more impactful.”
Murphy has multiple irons in the fire already. In 2015, she started a nonprofit with partner Aronda Kirby, a former general manager of the Boston Blades, called Play It Forward Sport Foundation , which promotes gender equality in sports. The group pairs top female athletes with businesses that seek positive role models and brand ambassadors.
“Women are living, breathing examples of good in the community,” said Murphy. “We built this model because we found female professional athletes were getting paid so little that they couldn’t make a living. We’re using this as a business model for all pro sports, not just hockey.”
Starting in 2019, the Play It Forward Sport Foundation is also launching a HERstory wall, a virtual museum to share the stories of female trailblazers both inside and outside the sports arena.
“I think women really devalue wealth and influence and that’s why our stories don’t get told,” said Murphy, who balances work and the demands of six kids between her and her partner. “We put our emphasis on taking care of other people.”
In 2016, Murphy also founded United Women’s Sports (UWS), a business venture that is still evolving and aimed at creating financially viable women’s professional sports leagues. UWS specifically seeks to improve opportunity for more women to work in sports business management and sports media, including broadcast, marketing, production, and finance operations.
“Former college and professional athletes are so capable and competent, but they’re undervalued,” said Murphy. “I’m hoping to change that model and mindset.”
As one of the most celebrated coaches in women’s hockey history, Murphy plans to continue using her legacy to effect change. But her biggest contribution to the field of sports may be the mentorship she provides to young athletes every day.
“My legacy is empowering women,” said Murphy. “I’ll go to the grocery store and see this kid working and say, ‘Hey, tell me about yourself. What’s your story? Do you play sports?” If she plays basketball, I tell her that I know the athletic director at some school down the road. I’ll say, ‘Go get a pen and write down this name. Tell her Digit Murphy sent you.’”
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