I loved being the quarterback. I had a strong passing arm, a good eye for quickly reading the players on the field, and fast legs to sprint when I had to. My college football team didn’t play on the stadium field, since girls weren’t allowed to play intercollegiate football, but the intramural teams got us in the game.
On Christmas break, back home my father seemed to listen with enthusiasm as I described the best plays from our games. He introduced me to football, after all, through weekend TV, teaching me to recognize a screen play or a defensive blitz. So when I asked for a football for Christmas, I expected no surprises when we opened our presents. The tiny package for me held a football, yes, but sized for a small child, or for a dog, maybe. My father was puzzled by my tears.
I transferred into a college in its first fully co-educational cohort. Title IX was beginning to change athletics and all education for women, and I felt its benefits in more ways than I recognized at the time, joining the college’s first women’s basketball team. They’d even hired their first female coach.
The college fired that same coach just a few years later. She believes they cut her because she’s a lesbian, based on the hostile treatment she received from the male coaches. But this also occurred during years when the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) consolidated control over athletics programs and many cost-constrained colleges and universities began trimming athletics jobs, typically keeping male coaches and cutting the women despite Title IX’s say-so. Sexism was a factor, but also homophobia: Cindy Brown, former deputy director of the U.S. Office for Civil Rights, remembers speaking to female coaches from around the country who believed they were fired for being lesbians but were afraid to sue because the expected character assassination during a trial would ruin any remaining hopes of a career.
A new study from the Women’s Sports Foundation reports that too little has changed since Title IX became law 44 years ago this month (June 23, 1972). It’s backed up by multiple other reports from previous years. Men still hog most of the coaching and athletic director positions in higher education. The current survey of more than 2,500 active and former coaches suggests that systemic gender biases still plague athletic departments, and lesbians still don’t feel safe being out on the job. In a twist, though, only 12% of female coaches thought they’d been denied a job because of their gender, compared with 40% of male coaches. “This is an interesting pair of statistics that I think says something about gender and entitlement,” Law Professor Erin Buzuvis wrote on the Title IX blog.
Athletics inequities persist below the college level too: Last year federal complaints forced the New York and Chicago school districts to add hundreds of more opportunities for girls to play sports. Although recent news reports involving Title IX highlight sexual assaults on campuses (more than a few involving athletes as rapists), the problem of athletics inequities still crops up so regularly that I find myself blogging about it again and again.
I like to think that my alma mater is more enlightened than most, but a quick look at Amherst College’s website shows that men hold 34 of the coach or athletic coordinator titles, compared with 9 for women. Among athletic director positions, four are filled by men and one by a woman. Thirty-eight years after I graduated, women can claim only 21% and 20% of those positions, respectively. Lower-paid assistant-coach slots are split, 17 filled by men and 18 by women.*
Although it revolutionized nearly every aspect of education, Title IX is best known for its positive impact on women’s athletics. The Women’s Sports Foundation study reminds us yet again that we’re at least 44 years into overtime in a game that’s never going to end until equity and fairness win.
* Some staff members hold more than one position. Numbers do not include staff for athletics communications, sports medicine, equipment room, or Amherst LEADS. Numbers are based on a quick count and may be off by one or two.
Graphic courtesy of Women’s Sports Foundation.