Thursday, April 10, 2008

Revisiting Title IX

Recently, I posted a student's letter regarding Title IX. I am thankful that a commenter came out of the woodwork to bring up many complaints and generalizations about the law, even though we disagreed on some issues. His comments inspired me to finally sit down and write about Title IX and women's athletics- two areas I feel strongly about and have been wanting to write about for some time.

See, as a girl, I was sort of a tomboy. Hard to believe, I know. I grew up in a relatively small working-class city where girls didn't have the multitude of soccer, softball, basketball, and other sports leagues that they had and currently have in other cities. Even though I played these sports with the boys (and other girls) in neighborhood games, when it came to organized teams, I was often relegated to sitting on the sidelines watching my boy friends wear their fancy uniforms and win trophies.

A couple of the leagues allowed girls to play, and I played on a couple of such teams. Yet, looking back, I think I was seen as sort of a curiosity. I wasn't really a "player." I was that girl on the boys' team. At the time, I had no words to describe this unfairness since I, and everyone else, at the time just took it as a given that girls didn't have sports teams of their own. The interest wasn't there, people said.

But now... girls' teams have been created. And the girls have shown up.

But back when I was a kid, most girls didn't play organized sports until junior high or high school. And even then, our teams were relegated to using the inferior "girls' gyms," the crapp(ier) locker rooms, and the dorky polyster uniforms from like the 1980s. During gym class, our male gym teacher, when lining us up to play basketball, would take two basketballs, drop them both, and make an obvious point of giving the boys the ball that bounced better and giving the girls the flat one. In high school, my volleyball team would hop on a school bus and, without complaint, ride a few hours to a tournament while the football team hopped on their comfy charter bus to travel the same distance. When we won tournaments, our victories were buried in the middle of the sports' page. When the mediocre boys' basketball team happened to win, their victories were front page news. And always, always, girls sports' scores were listed after boys' scores in the sports section. A small but telling detail that girls' sports always came in second.

And, in spite of this all, I and other girls were still interested in playing sports.

See, there is my story. And then there are the stories of countless other girls who thrived in athletics in the face of similar unfair circumstances. These experiences make the argument that "girls aren't interested in sports" a pretty tough sell.

In fact, it is nothing short of incredible that women organized teams at all in pre-Title IX environments that were far less amiable than the ones I faced growing up. Such women are, I believe, heroes to future generations of women. At the same time, they, and we (meaning female athletes), are sometimes scorned, hated, and mocked by those who see us as "taking" opportunities away from boys.

In my previous Title IX blog, I said:

"If there is a blame for the demise of smaller men's teams, it lies with the messy implementation of Title IX and the privilege of "big time" men's sports, not with women who were never given the opportunity to compete pre-Title IX."

I stand by that statement.

Title IX was not created in any supposed "spirit of vindictiveness" as a way to "punish" men or mens' sports. First of all, Title IX exists for the protection of both women and men. It just so happens that Title IX often benefits women because they have been the ones most affected by discrimination. Historically, girls and women were denied access to education and athletics for much of our nation's history.

This is not to say that boys never have faced or never face discrimination. It is just that it happens less rarely. And, if a program discriminates against boys, boys can and do file complaints for discrimination. At the same time, in their aggrieved states of mind (sometimes for good reason), parents of male athletes have lost sight of the fact hat women are a historically oppressed group when it comes to higher education and athletics. That fact does not justify treating boys unfairly. But the fact that some men are now treated unfairly does not mean that we should throw the baby out with the bathwater. Title IX was enacted for good reason: to remedy gender inequality. If it has resulted in overkill, that is something that is fixable and does not require completely getting rid of the law or rolling back the gains that women have made in education and athletics.

In fact, when boys and parents of boys push back as is their legal right to do, the system has a tendency to "correct" itself. For instance, currently girls as a group are more qualified for college and have proven that they do better than boys when they get there (which, of course, is a whole other blog topic). However, in the interest of gender equality, college admissions offices have been implementing affirmative actions programs for boys where less-qualified boys are accepted over more-qualified girls.

Secondly, for those who believe that Title IX overprivileges girls, I grew up in a post-Title IX world and still faced remnants of pre-Title IX discrimination in athletics. The unfairness in the pre-Title IX world was the lack of opportunities girls had in athletics. To blame the victims of this injustice for "creating" a perceived injustice against a privileged class of boys who never lacked such opportunities is odd. What is also interesting is that many of those who had no interest in gender equality when it was only girls who were suffering are the first to cry foul when they perceive gender inequality harming boys.

Gender equality in sports is not a zero-sum game, and it has never been under Title IX. Schools have three ways to comply with the law, none of which involve mandating quotas. In fact the agency charged with enforcing Title IX, the Office of Civil Rights, has explicitly stated that dropping men's programs to comply with Title IX is a "disfavored practice" and should not be done. What sometimes happens is that schools claim they have to drop programs to "save face" and distract from the fact that they've been doing very little to improve opportunities for women over the years. The quota myth is perpetuated by those who either misunderstand the law, are looking for someone to demonize, or who are actively trying to roll back the benefits of Title IX.

I also maintain that "big time" mens' sports (ie- basketball and football) are privileged over other mens' and women's sports, which contributes to the demise of smaller mens' programs. Statistics show that the majority of these Division I basketball and football teams spend more money than bring in for a school. That is, these "revenue sports" don't pay for themselves, let alone pay for other teams, as is often claimed. As one commenter suggested in my previous Title IX article, one solution would be to take football programs completely out of the Title IX equation. No other sport is of comparable size and it's not fair for other mens' sports rosters to be calculated with monstrous football rosters for purposes of Title IX equality. That is one workable solution.

In addition, football teams in particular have privileges that are unheard of for other sports:

"Some use chartered jets (instead of commercial planes) to fly their football teams to games, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Many house entire football teams in hotels the night before home games (true for virtually all Div. 1-A schools), citing the need to ensure that players get adequate rest, have quiet time to study, have their meals and fluid intake monitored, and are available for pre-game meetings.

One university spent $120,000 to repanel the head football coach's office in mahogany while it insisted that there wasn't enough in school coffers to add sports opportunities for women.

Another spent over $1 million to buy out the contract of the football coach -- and cut two women's teams to save about $60,000.

Still another institution cut its men's volleyball team to address a $2 million deficit in the athletics program, only to buy state-of-the-art titanium facemasks (and new football uniforms) for the football team four months later, becoming one of only two collegiate programs in the country to have such facemasks."

Perhaps those concerned about the demise of lower-profile mens' teams should shed more light on such budget unfairnesses rather than knee-jerk demonizing Title IX, women athletes, and feminism. Schools make choices. And, unfortunately, some choose to cut smaller mens' sports rather than addressing the ginormous elephant in the room that is college football and its 90-player rosters.

See, here's what I think this is all really about. Male athletes, their coaches, and their parents are understandably angry and bitter about their small sports' programs getting cut and perceived "lack of opportunities" for boys. Yet they have lost sight of the big picture. Boys grow up in an environment where most "important" historical figures, leaders, and athletes are men. Look at the gender composition of corporate boardrooms. Look at Congress. Look at the presidency. Look at college presidents. Look at coaches. Look at religious leaders. Past injustices against women are not the fault of little boys today, but something is still going on in our society that is working to the detriment of girls and women.

Title IX needs to be implemented better, many will agree. But the law has been in effect for more than 30 years. In light of the glaring fact that men are still in charge of most things that matter in the public sphere, I seriously question whether Title IX has resulted in a serious injustice to boys here or whether parents and male athletes are, due to their personal grievances, rather nearsighted about the issue of gender equality.

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