Categorized | Women in Sports

An Enduring Struggle

Members of the University of North Carolina women's soccer team celebrate after winning the national championship in 2009. (Associated Press)

After 38 years of Title IX, inequities persist.

By RYAN HATCH

On an afternoon in late November of 2009, Joe Duran made his way to the softball field as he did nearly everyday. A light breeze from the Pacific Ocean sifted though the northern cove of Maui, the sun was shining and temperatures hit 80 degrees. It should have been a perfect day for practice.

“I got down there and realized I couldn’t take it anymore,” Duran said. “I didn’t want the girls to play on a field I felt was too dangerous.”

The Baldwin High School field, Duran said, had “rocks the size of your thumb scattered throughout,” and wasn’t regulation size; outfield fences were missing or extended to 300 feet, and the infield was a makeshift conversion from a boys’ baseball field.

“I wouldn’t let the girls slide on it,” the head coach said. “You had to be careful about where you hit the ball so it wouldn’t jump up and hurt people.”

For years, the girls had played on a version of this field, while the boys’ baseball team practiced and played at Iron Maehara, a 1,500-seat baseball stadium less than 100 yards from the high school in Wailuku, a town of about 12,000 on the island of Maui in Hawaii. After months of complaints, Duran and the girls’ softball team formally challenged the State and County of Maui in a Title IX lawsuit.

They won. Fast-forward four months and on April 8, three weeks after a federal judge filed an injunction against the state and Maui County, both sides — the softball team and county officials — reached an agreement to give the girls better playing conditions. Rocks were removed from the Baldwin field, a proper outfield fence was inserted, and the batter’s box was improved by putting in new clay dirt. In addition, the state has agreed to spend over $1 million for a new softball complex to be completed by 2012. And while the victory for the team appeared to be a victory for the community, not everyone believed such actions were necessary.

“This whole thing turned out to be a win-win situation,” Maui County Parks director Tamara Horcajo said. “But I don’t see how anyone can say that field is unsafe or not fit to play on. I really don’t. It was fine.”

Horcajo was part of a group opposing the need for a new field in 2012, but said she’s “pretty confident” it will get done because of the community support and risk of going to trial again. Coach Duran isn’t as sure. He said he’s seen promises like this go unfulfilled in the past.

“I’m an optimist,” he said. “For a million dollars you think I’d be able to get a stadium built. But so far it hasn’t happened. They say it will but I don’t know. We’ll see.”

Title IX of the Education Amendments, commonly referred to as “Title IX,” is a U.S law enacted in 1972 that pertains to gender equality. Patsy Mink, a House Representative at the time from Hawaii, introduced the legislation and had the law renamed in her honor after she passed away in 2002. The spirit of the law was to set forth equal opportunities in extra circular activities for men and women in schools receiving federal financial assistance.

In 1979 The Carter administration expanded the law to have a more specific role in athletics. Since then, hundreds of thousands of women in high schools and colleges have gotten the chance to participate in sports that didn’t exist before. There are, however, those who say the law hasn’t gone far enough; that women are still heavily discriminated against. Men still often get the best of whatever’s available — coaches, fields, equipment, etc. — and tend to hold powerful positions within education institutions, like the case at Baldwin HS. But there are detractors of the law who say that men are actually the ones who are now discriminated against. They argue that men now have less opportunity to play than women, even though their interest is higher. Their belief is that an unfair quota requirement has clogged the system and that smaller, less popular sports like wrestling, baseball and tennis are being cut to accommodate for women’s sports.

Today at institutions of higher education, females make up about 55 percent of all student bodies across the country. And according to most research, including a 2007 study by the Women’s Sports Foundation, the percentage of female athletes was 44 percent in Division 1, roughly a 9.5 percent gap between men and women. Others claim the numbers are even more disproportionate, with men making up nearly 58 percent of all D-1 athletes. But compared to 1970, when men’s college enrollment dwarfed women by nearly 20 percent and athletic participation was nearly 3 to 1 in favor of men, things appear to have improved.

As set forth by the Department of Education, colleges can comply with Title IX rules in one of three ways: (1) providing athletic participation opportunities substantially proportional to student enrollment, (2) demonstrate a continual expansion of athletic opportunities for the underrepresented sex, or (3) provide full effective accommodation of the interest and ability of the underrepresented sex. In April of this year, the Dept. of Education closed a loophole in Title IX that allowed universities to conduct student surveys to determine which sports should be made available based on student interest.

“It’s appalling something like that even came out of the Department to begin with,” Donna Lopiano, former Univ. of Texas athletic director and longtime women’s rights activist, said of the loophole that was implemented by the Bush administration. “It’s good most schools didn’t use it anyway.”

What seems to be the most controversial issue surrounding Title IX right now is whether or not the current system encourages a quota system. That is, does the NCAA create an environment of unfair proportionality among male and female athletes, forcing some programs to be cut in order to keep an equal balance? Some say yes, speaking out against what they see as the precipitous dropping of men’s programs to accommodate women’s sports that have little or no interest among students.

“At the very least they could stop counting walk-ons as roster spots,” University of Chicago professor and head wrestling coach Leo Kocher said in an e-mail. “These guys get nothing except the opportunity to work their rear ends off, and they should not be told to clean out their lockers.”

A popular argument against Kocher is that women’s sports aren’t to blame in the reduction of men’s wrestling and baseball teams, but sports like football and men’s basketball soak up the majority of funding and roster spots.

“You don’t need 120 guys on a football team,” Kristen Galles, co-chair of the American Bar Associations’ Committee on the Rights of Women, said. “NFL rosters have what, 53? And you don’t need a coach for every position. You don’t see baseball or softball with a shortstop coach. Why do you have to have a tight ends coach?”

Some have also noted that for the past 10 to 15 years, salaries for big-time football and basketball coaches have become an arms race. The highest paid coach in college football right now is Nick Saban who signed an eight-year, $32 million deal in 2008 with the University of Alabama. The contract is laden with numerous six-figure incentive bonuses if the team wins a certain amount of games or competes in postseason bowl games. At the University of Kentucky, second-year head coach John Calipari signed a similar deal to coach the school’s men’s basketball program until the 2017 season, paying him nearly $4.1 million per year with similar high-dollar bonuses. According to americansbesonline.com, over 66 college football coaches make more than $1 million per year not counting bonuses. Pat Summitt, the University of Tennessee’s women’s basketball coach, is the all-time winningest coach in men or women’s college basketball, earning roughly $1.4 million per year. She is only one of a handful of coaches in the country making a $1 million or more coaching women’s teams. Title IX advocates say that if men want to keep smaller sports like wrestling and baseball, money being paid to high-profile coaches needs to stop. But how? Lopiano says it’s simple.

“It’s going to take getting people with better values and smart decision-making into positions of authority to make these decisions,” Lopiano said. “For many generations it’s been men in these roles [athletic directors and presidents] and that’s still a ceiling that hasn’t been cracked or changed. And as long as it isn’t, we’ll see these salaries only increase with time.”

The other issue dividing pro and anti Title IX advocates today is the debate about interest levels among women playing sports. Jessica Gavora, a conservative author and speechwriter has said the cutting back on football and men’s basketball spending won’t help, because no matter how much money is stripped from these programs, it isn’t going to affect the interest levels among women to participate in sports. In a June 16, 2002 opinion piece published in the Los Angeles Times, she said that women are less willing to go out for sports without a scholarship offer. Men, on the other hand, more often play for the “love of the game” and are much more likely to walk-on to a team without compensation. There are now roughly 1,000 more women’s teams than there are men’s, but she says men still outrank participation numbers because of interest levels. Gavora said that this has “little to do with football and everything to do with differences between women and men — differences feminists would rather try to legislate away than acknowledge.”

“And I’ve had walk-ons go on to be national champions and seen others in football go on to play in the NFL,” Kocher said. “Now we have to turn them away to maintain this quota system.”

But this debate about interest levels among women versus participation appears more complicated. It’s unfair, Title IX advocates say, to assess women’s interest level of a sport that isn’t being offered, or to say that women’s interest in sports wanes once they reach young adulthood. Galles says it’s impossible to gauge whether or not women are interested in a particular sport when it doesn’t exist to begin with.

“If I’m interested in, say, lacrosse or field hockey, I’m not going to attend a school where that doesn’t exist,” Galles said. “I’m going to go to Maryland or Johns Hopkins because that’s where the opportunities are.”

Lopiano echoed Galles, expanding the point by saying that when women are given the same amount of tools to succeed in fledgling sports that men are, rarely do they fall short of expectations.

“If it’s not already there then it’s going to be difficult to get girls out to play, yes,” Lopiano said. “But never have I seen a situation where a good coach was given the right chance and failed to recruit girls to his team. Not once. The opportunity just has to be there.”

But despite some shortcomings that still exist today, advocates say Title IX has had many bright spots and continues to be a positive change in the landscape of amateur athletics. More and more girls have the chance to play sports at a younger age, which, over time, should balance out the level of interest in playing sports at the collegiate levels. University of Minnesota kinesiology professor Mary Jo Kane, who is also the director at the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport, said that girls now grow up with a sense of entitlement about playing sports, something that wasn’t the case a generation ago.

“Growing up in the Midwest 40 years ago, these opportunities weren’t there for women like me,” Kane said. “Now, you see girls who not only play, but expect to play and don’t see why it would be any other way.”

Kane said the other benefit that exists today solely because of Title IX is now a critical mass of people fighting for gender equality. Parents of daughters want to see the same opportunities for girls as boys, and are willing to stand up to a system that many said was rooted in a “good old boys” network. She says the power struggle between men and women fighting for more time on the field is human nature, that when one group has had something for so long and is all of a sudden slipping away, they’re going to fight for it.

“That’s normal, that’s what we should expect,” Kane said. “But people forget universities and college sports are educational institutions first, not businesses. But in terms of civil right and liberties, we’ve come a long way.”

Joe Duran would agree. It had been a long year for Tayler Shimizu and her Baldwin teammates as the junior stepped to the plate in the bottom of the seventh inning on a Spring Tuesday. A pending lawsuit and no real place to call home threatened the teams’ streak of six-straight Maui Interscholastic League pennants all season.

No matter. With two outs in the last inning, Shimizu singled home the game-winning run to give the Bears their seventh straight MIL pennant, beating Lahaina High School 4-3 at Patsy Mink Field. Fitting.

2 Responses to “An Enduring Struggle”

  1. Good Read. I’ll be digging this.

  2. Good post. My son and I enjoyed it. Keep up the good work.

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