Athlete activism all about men, apparently

WNBA player Tina Charles (via Danny Karwoski/Wikimedia/ Creative Commons)

A new Institute for the Study of Sport, Society and Social Change at San Jose State University launched yesterday, but media coverage of the kick-off event gives the impression that only men are athletes and activists. A featured panel of “leaders and legends” in sports was all men, a slap that stings extra in 2017, the 45th anniversary of Title IX.

The half-day program focused on activism against racism, which was wonderful (though a bit confusing at first, since nothing in the Institute’s name or description suggested limiting the topic of Social Change to race issues). The program did include an earlier panel that was half men and half women, but the second panel — the one that got covered by the Associated Press and the San Francisco Chronicle — kicked women off the team. Why?

Racism affects female athletes as much as the men. High-profile female athletes have been as active (or more so) as men in denouncing discrimination. Just one example: Dozens of WNBA players in a league that is approximately 70% African-American risked fines and more in 2016 to state that Black Lives Matter. Eventually, half the league’s teams joined the protest, something no other sports league can boast, setting “a new standard for sports activism,” according to

Despite the imbalance of its initial event, the Institute itself hasn’t yet defined the inclusivity or exclusivity of its endeavor, so there’s still time for it to become more balanced. It’s very much “a work in progress,” University spokeswoman Pat Harris told me. “A concept like this will be reviewed” by the university’s Academic Senate, and by the Office of the Provost, and eventually must be approved by President Mary Papazian.

Billie Jean King (via David Shankbone/Wikimedia/Creative Commons)

Even if the many dozens of WNBA players weren’t available for the event, plenty of other women could have been invited to participate. How about Venus Williams? (Okay, she’s busy right now.) Or, if the Institute will include other forms of discrimination in its focus, how about Billie Jean King? Or Carli Lloyd and other U.S. Women’s Soccer players who right now are fighting for equal pay? Or Jennifer Azzi, who came out in 2016 as the first openly gay coach of a Division I basketball team (male or female)? Or Diane Milutinovich, who won an epic Title IX battle at California State University, Fresno? Or the University of California, Davis activist wrestlers Arezou Mansourian, Christine Ng, and Lauren Mancuso?

Sports sociologist Harry Edwards and the university’s Paul Lanning put the panel together with staff help. The all-male panel at the kick-off was “the best we could do” at the time, Harris said. “The thinking is, the next event” will be about women.

Women deserve to be more than an afterthought in any panel about sport, society, and social change. Society, after all, comes in more than one sex. Let’s hope the Institute studies all athlete activists.



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