Monday, June 23, 2008

Dear Myles Brand: Title IX is HOW old?

As a girl in the 1960's, I was a huge baseball fan, falling asleep on muggy summer nights listening to the Yankees on the radio. Mickey Mantle was the undisputed star but my favorite was the shortstop Tony Kubek. To this day, listening to a baseball game on the radio is guaranteed to relax and entertain me at the same time.

I loved playing catch with my dad, brother and cousins. Once I even manged to break my cousin Rich's nose with a hard throw! (I don't remember ever playing catch with another girl or a woman.) But I never thought of myself as an athlete and instead put my physical energy into modern dance, which I also loved.

When I was 18, Title IX - the federal law that illegalized gender discrimination in any educational institution that receives federal funds - was born. I didn't hear anything about it at the time.

Well-known now for its dramatic effect on equalizing athletic opportunities for girls and young women, Title IX stayed totally off my radar screen until a good 20 years later when my friend Emily, a rabid hockey player who took up the sport in her twenties, started fighting for the creation of girls' hockey teams in Minnesota high schools. She and an equally passionate group of women made it happen, against many odds. And Title IX was the key they used to open the door of ice arenas all over the state to girls. Emily's daughter Laurel went on to play Division I hockey at Boston University, a great testament to her mom's vision.

So by the time Title IX turned 36 years old earlier this week (June 23), I had become a huge fan of it. That was a quick 1/3 of a century! The results of Title IX's ban on gender discrimination in education are all around us in girls' high school & college teams, and in the WNBA. Less well-known but just as important is how Title IX pried open the door for admission of many more women to medical schools, law schools, engineering schools, architecture school and traditionally male-dominated careers like auto mechanic and computer programmer.

While there's been resistance to Title IX in many educational institutions, the NCAA has become a strong supporter of Title IX under the leadership of Myles Brand. When the Bush administration mounted a full court press in 2003-05 to weaken Title IX, the NCAA joined the Women's Sports Foundation and many others to successfully defend Title IX.

So imagine my surprise and dismay when I saw this NCAA psa while watching the underdog Fresno State team win the College World Series. The PSA shows 10 athletes playing basketball, dressed as professionals ranging from doctor to judge to police officer, making the point that most NCAA athletes "go pro" in something other than sports. (Of course, that's especially true for women since there are still very few sports that even the most talented women can "go pro" in!)

The thing that irked me is that only 3 of the 10 athletes on the court in the PSA are women. The message that sends to both girls and boys is painfully clear - even 36 years after Title IX became law, things still aren't fair to female athletes and professionals. I have to admit that's reality, but I hate to see the NCAA present a powerful vision of inequality that will stick with both girls and boys sub-consciously. It's the subconscious "realities" and biases that are the toughest to change.

Mr. Brand, it's unworthy of the NCAA to create and air anything giving a message of inequality. I'm very disappointed and hope for better next year. I know you can make that happen.

Note: Readers can help by emailing Myles Brand with your Title IX stories and your suggestions for future NCAA PSAs.

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