Jewish World Review July 19, 2005 / 12 Tammuz
Women Athletes Don't Need Big Brother's Help
Case in point: I once again just came across the oft-repeated line of tennis star Jennifer Capriati, who was asked by a reporter back in 2002 about Title IX, the civil rights law passed thirty years earlier that eventually morphed into a quota system for college women and athletics. Capriati said she didn't know what Title IX was. (This time the quote was part of a Wall Street Journal adaptation of the new book, "Let me Play," by Karen Blumenthal.)
Capriati's quote has consistently been taken as an indication that the success of Title IX has been so complete, gals who benefited from it like Capriati and of course, she must be a product of it, right, because how else could she possibly have been so successful? don't even know what it is. As in, "You've come a long way, baby!"
The irony is that Capriati, like most top women athletes we admire today, wasn't a product of Title IX programs. (Gasp.) Capriati was privately trained from the time she was a young child. Now, she had sports minded and affluent parents who could tutor their daughter in tennis, but that's another story.
Title IX is in the news again because a) Justice Sandra Day O'Connor is retiring from the United States Supreme Court and she was the swing vote on more than one occasion in Court decisions expanding Title IX, and b) President Bush has recently issued regulations making it easier for universities to comply with Title IX.
Now, instead of actually having to provide varsity sports programs at parity with those of the men whether women wanted the programs or not as in, if women are 55 percent of the college population they have to make up 55 percent of the sports rosters colleges may be able to comply with Title IX by meeting the actual desires of women, if they carefully survey them to see what the women themselves want or don't want.
So-called women's groups are screaming about this plan because by their lights they've got a problem: Girls and boys now eagerly compete in similar numbers in sports programs throughout middle and high school. But despite 30-plus years of Title IX pressure, sports activism, and heavy recruiting by college athletic teams, something happens when women hit the university level far fewer women than men choose to compete in organized athletics programs. (At least, those deemed acceptable by women's groups. Dance training, for instance, doesn't count with the sisterhood.)
For that matter, far fewer men than women want to be involved in campus drama programs, but no one thinks the Feds need to get involved in that one.
But, over the decades, court decisions which didn't even resemble the original Title IX legislation said it is "not okay" that women don't choose to compete in "approved" college athletics at the same rate men do. (The sisterhood is not for choice here.) So, historically the easiest way for universities to bring their sports rosters to parity has been to cut men's sports programs. Across the country some 400 men's teams like track, wrestling, and gymnastics have been ditched.
I am all for women and athletics. I have three girls, and I want them actively involved in organized and individual sports because it's great for them in so many ways.
But while it's true there were only a handful of college sports scholarships given each year to women before Title IX, I just don't believe for a minute that that wouldn't have changed except for the wisdom of the United States Feds. I mean, nobody had to tell universities to offer high-speed computer hook-ups either, but once that's what the market demanded, that what universities produced.
Now, if a woman gets an athletic scholarship, she's often robbed of that achievement because it's so often viewed (and sometimes rightly) as a Title IX quota spot.
It may even be that Title IX helped to advance the cultural shift already under way decades ago that saw a growing emphasis on the importance of sports for women. I don't know. But I do know that at least one important cost of Title IX has been that it again coached women in the destructive lesson of the sisterhood that we women need Big Brother to take care of us.
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