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Women in Sports

Saturday, July 17, 1999

ANNOUNCER: Brought to you in part by ADM, feeding the world is the biggest challenge of the new century, which is why ADM s conducting research into aquiculture and other new food sources. ADM, supermarket to the world.

Additional funding is provided by the John M. Olin Foundation, the Lilly Endowment, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, and the Smith Richardson Foundation.

(Musical break.)

MR. WATTENBERG: Hello, I'm Ben Wattenberg. Suddenly women athletes are sports heroines. Women tennis matches get higher television ratings than men's. The WNBA now in its third season of basketball is drawing good crowds, and has become a fixture. And, of course, America's victory in the Women's World Cup was page one news above the fold.

Many credit the increased popularity of women sports to Title IX, legislation passed in 1972 that promoted gender equity in America's schools. But Title IX has critics who argue that it's gone way too far and is now doing more harm than good, and not just in athletics.

To sort through the conflict and consensus, Think Tank is joined by Mary Jo Kane, professor at the University of Minnesota and Director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sports; Jessica Gavora, who launched the Independent Women's Forum Play Fair Project, and is currently working on a book examining Title IX; and Marcia Greenberger, founder and co-president of the National Women's Law Center. The topic before the house, women in sports, fast break, this week on Think Tank.

(Musical break.)

MR. WATTENBERG: Women's professional sports are, indeed, riding a wave of popularity in America, but is this just a spectator phenomenon? No, say many experts, the case is made that it is a marker of a vast cultural shift, boosting female self-esteem and competitiveness with no loss of femininity, an example of feminism at its very best.

Let's start with the numbers. Participation rates have skyrocketed. In 1971, 300,000 girls participated in high school athletics. By 1996, that number was eight times as high, 2.4 million. There were about 30,000 female college athletes in 1971, by the mid-1990s that number topped 100,000. How come? Some trace this increased popularity to a federal law passed almost three decades ago called Title IX. The statute was crafted to combat sexual discrimination. It read: No person in the United States shall on the basis of sex be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. It sounds perfect.

But the devil may be in the details. Some colleges and universities are finding it difficult and expensive to comply with some of the criteria of Title IX as it is now interpreted by the courts and government agencies. Critics argue that Title IX is akin to quotas, taking from the boys to give to the girls, 320 NCAA men's programs were cut between 1993 and 1997. This year, 1999, the Providence College Baseball team made it all the way to the college World Series only to find that the school is cutting the team next year, citing the need to comply with Title IX.

These Title IX legal battles are a backdrop to something more significant. Some recent studies have linked girls athletic participation with higher self-esteem, better leadership, teamwork skills, and better health. To find out more about the changing state of women in sports, and in America, we turn to our expert panel.

Ladies, welcome. Let me ask you an opening question. Five years from now, will this Women's World Cup Soccer victory be remembered as a great, symbolic breakthrough like Rosa Parks not giving up her seat on the bus, or will it just be some dim memory of another exciting sporting event?

MS. GREENBERGER: I think it will be remembered as a great achievement, not just the symbol of it all, and I think the symbol is important, but the practical win, the very concrete accomplishment of those women. Their physical strength and grace, their wonderful personalities, their teamwork, their spirit, and the fact that they are the kind of role models that moms and dads want to have their daughters, as well as their sons, aspire towards.


MS. KANE: I don't think it will be a one shot deal. I think it will be a watershed moment for a number of reasons. I think that, first of all, because of many of the very significant issues you just raised in your introduction, we have a grassroots movement that's already in place, and we have an infrastructure that's already there. In other words, these young women were essentially sort of the babies, the first generation after Title IX. So, we already have in place at every college, at almost every college and high school in this country, facilities, coaches, uniforms, schedules, access to stadia. So, you have an infrastructure that's there.

And I also think that in many ways one of the most important things is that the U.S. Women World Cup proved, I think, once and for all, to all the nay-sayers, that there is a market for women in sports. Corporate America can make money off of this.

MR. WATTENBERG: Jessica, what do you think?

MS. GAVORA: I agree that it will be regarded as a watershed event. I hope that it is regarded as a different kind of a watershed, though, an event in which marked the change from women being regarded basically as victims, as they are today in federal law in the implementation of the federal law, Title IX, to being what these women are, plainly in the eyes of the public, heroes on and off the field.

MR. WATTENBERG: We had on this program a few years ago Tom McMillan, who was an All-American basketball player at the University of Maryland, and then an All-Star in the NBA, and then a Congressman, and we were talking about sports, and he was talking about the transcendental moments that come from athletic activity, where you really get this high, endorphin, opiate kind of a high. It's a great event. And it occurs to me, at least when I was growing up, the vast majority of women were denied this, not denied, didn't participate, keep it neutral, in this sort of incandescent kind of activity. And that, insofar as that has changed, and we all saw the data, that is pure, and simple, at least to a pro-sports point of view, just a good thing. Do you all buy that?

MS. GAVORA: Oh, I agree, I was an athlete.

MR. WATTENBERG: What sports have you played?

MS. GAVORA: I played basketball from the year after Title IX was passed in Fairbanks, Alaska. We didn't have much notion of what was going on in Washington, D.C., but we did know that it was good for girls. And I had that opportunity. I was fortunate to.

MS. KANE: For me, as somebody who is 48 years old, and didn't get to take advantage of Title IX, but I was a tomboy growing up and played football, basketball with my brothers and the neighborhood boys, and who spent my whole life having great passion and love for men's sports, which I still do. And I have actually been to the Rose Bowl to watch a Big 10 fight for the Rose Bowl victory, it was a religious experience for me because, in those kinds of spectacles in sports, in terms of a sea change --

MR. WATTENBERG: Women's soccer.

MS. KANE: What just happened. That the most that women could ever hope for with those transcendental moments in sports was to quite literally, and figuratively, be cheerleaders on the sidelines. We were never what the event was about. We were never the key players in this spectacle. And this is the first time that we've seen America catch this --

MR. WATTENBERG: You've had great women athletes before in tennis players and golfers, and Alice Marble.

MS. KANE: Yes, you did, but not team sports, though. And this is a real sea change, this is team sports. And that these women, as you pointed out earlier, aren't just great role models, because in the final analysis the women to be taken seriously in this country as athletes, they have to be great athletes, and this team they were not only great athletes, they had the hearts of champions.

MR. WATTENBERG: Yes, but previous great women athletes were, by definition, great women athletes. I mean, they didn't get there just because they were women.

MS. GREENBERGER: But they were often seen as aberrations, and something unique, and aside from what most young women did, or most women did. And that's a part of what's so different now. Now, lots of little girls expect that they're going to play sports. It's not unusual. It's nothing to have to justify. You don't have to be defensive about it.

MR. WATTENBERG: In the old days, it was said that athletics were really good for you, not just because you learn to shoot a basketball better, or whatever, but because the coaches would say in this locker room, this builds character, it builds the ability to compete in the world, it shows team work.

MS. GAVORA: It unquestionably does. Sport teaches you discipline, you're genuine limits, for men and for women. I think what's interesting is what we're seeing now with Women's World Cup Soccer, the coach has been making some statements about how he has to coach women differently, women don't respond as well to the direct criticism, particularly in front of their peers. They need more time with their families. They're a little less --

MR. WATTENBERG: Men don't much like criticism in front of their peers also, let me --

MS. GAVORA: But they're more motivated by that, and women, they have more of a team ethic, which I think is a little bit of a different message than what you've heard traditionally with regard to women in sports, which is that women are just like men. And I think we're seeing here that they're not.

MS. GREENBERGER: Actually, I think that women have never said they were just like men. They said that they deserved the same opportunities, but one of the traditions about women's sports, and I think that Title IX reflects is that there can be women's teams, that the women's athletic program doesn't have to be a mirror image of the men's. It doesn't have to have all of the downsides that men's athletics has had.

MR. WATTENBERG: What is your research showing about the relationship of women who are involved in sports versus not?

MS. KANE: Well, on average, their grade point average is higher, not tremendously higher, but on average higher than a typical female in college. Whereas, in men's athletics, it's just the opposite. The other thing that has just happened is, we've finally had some pretty solid, at least preliminary data, that young women who are involved in sport and physical activity are significantly less likely than female non-athletes to have unwanted pregnancies, they're more likely to delay intercourse, and so, you know, it helps in just a myriad of ways. Again, as you mentioned earlier, in terms of physiologically, in terms of mental health, in terms of self-confidence, having a commitment to a goal. It does so many of the things for young girls and women that it's always done for boys and men.

MS. GREENBERGER: One of the things that's quite extraordinary about this soccer experience that we've gone through as a country over the last few weeks is that men and women are both talking about it to each other in a way that's very affirming. There's been so much media attention about how this phenomena of the U.S. Women's World Cup Soccer has been fabulous for young girls in terms of the role models, and all of the wonderful things we want, and I don't ever want to underestimate that kind of impact, but the thing that you touched on I think we haven't focused on a lot, which is, from my experience, there are very few things that men in this culture love more, respect more than great athletes in sports. So, it's not just the little girls who have benefited from watching this, it is young boys and men all over this country who see women be physically tough, emotionally tough, mental strategy, who compete at the most intense levels and come through.

MR. WATTENBERG: And athletically graceful.

MS. GREENBERGER: And athletically graceful. And most men walk away thinking its fabulous.

MR. WATTENBERG: Let's cut to the chase. Jessica, you have a problem with Title IX, why don't you tell us.

MS. GAVORA: Well, I have a problem with Title IX as it's implemented. I think we've been discussing how these women are genuine heroines, genuinely athletic, tremendous athletes, which I think makes it all the more tragic that their success is so often laid at the feet of federal judges and bureaucrats who essentially treat them under the law as if they were victims. This is the way Title IX is being implemented today. Title IX, as you mentioned, was an anti-discrimination statute, and as such the statute itself is a wonderful, good thing, it's done a lot for women's sports. The implementation today is something very different.

MR. WATTENBERG: Give us an example.

MS. GAVORA: A good example is occurring today at Miami University of Ohio, where they're dropping three of their men's teams, men's wrestling, men's soccer, men's tennis, to achieve gender equity, what we call gender equity, a proportional representation of men and women, equally, in their athletic program. Miami University has a 55 percent female undergraduate student body, so the law says they have to have 55 percent of their athletes that are female.

MS. KANE: I think that you, in many ways, raise the crux of the issue and the controversy about Title IX, but as somebody who is an advocate for Title IX and women's sports, I think it is unconscionable that the way that athletic directors and presidents and members of boards of regents make a decision to implement Title IX is to drop men's athletics, it is an outrage. What opponents of Title IX never talk about is, how big is the football team at Miami University, are there 100 players on the football team, because you don't need 100 players on the football team. At the division one level all over this country in football men's football teams and basketball teams and their staffs stay in hotels the night before every home game, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

MR. WATTENBERG: Yes, but they are filling arenas that are bringing in millions of dollars.

MS. KANE: I understand that, but if it's all about money --

MS. GREENBERGER: Not most of them.

MS. KANE: Wait a minute, they're not going to fill -- people aren't going to stop coming because there's only 60 players on a team versus 120 players on a team. Here's the crux, if an athletic director can sit down and say to the parents of a young girl, we don't have the money in this athletic department to add a soccer team, or to say to the parents of a young boy, if we have to add a soccer team, the only way we can do this financially is to drop men's wrestling, but what we can do, and what we can find money for is to let the men's football team, 120 strong, stay in a hotel the night before the home game, that's unconscionable. So long before they ever drop the wrestling team, tell the athletic director you can't do it.


MS. GANVORA: It's interesting that we're discussing money here, because money isn't really the crux of the issue, bodies are. Numbers of women and men that participate in athletics. A good example Providence College Baseball, you mentioned it in your introduction. The alumni of Providence College baseball team got together after it was dropped and said, look, we will raise the money, we will support this team. This team cost $300,000 a year to support, we will raise that money. The university said, no, I'm sorry, that's less than 50 percent of the money you would have to raise to support that team, because you would also have to support women. If we keep the 54 men of the Providence College baseball team, we'll have to have 54 more women on campus, and you'll have to double your costs.

MR. WATTENBERG: Isn't it true, I've seen this in something that Jessica wrote, and in other places, that at the college level, notwithstanding all the wonderful things that have happened in the last couple of decades, women are less likely to be interested in playing varsity sports than men?


MR. WATTENBERG: It's not true?

MS. GREENBERGER: I don't think it's true, and that is exactly what people said when Title IX was passed, it's exactly what people said when those regulations went into effect, that why should we be opening up all these athletic opportunities for women, they're not interested in playing. Everything we just --

MR. WATTENBERG: But, there are women's teams in college that can't find recruits to play.

MS. GREENBERGER: Wait a minute. There are a couple of things I want to say. First of all, everything we just talked about in the beginning part of this program was about the burgeoning interest, the expanding number of young girls who are playing. What we have seen --

MR. WATTENBERG: Of giving people options, options, not force feeding.

MS. GREENBERGER: Exactly. And let's be serious about what we're talking about with athletics, which is a very different thing than lots of other programs. The schools decide how many options they're going to provide by sex.

MS. KANE: Can I just say what's to me is the most ironic thing about what I think of this canard, this argument that we shouldn't be doing all of this, and big government is forcing all these programs because women aren't interested, the reason --

MR. WATTENBERG: Nobody said that.

MS. KANE: Or as interested, I'm sorry, as interested in many men's sports. I just think it's so ironic, because the only reason that Title IX really exists at the level that it does is because young women and their families had the guts and I guess the deep pockets, sometimes not, to go to court. So I mean you have women and their supporters in these institutions who want so desperately to play sports that they're willing to go to -- to drag their university into court.

MR. WATTENBERG: Going to court for equality of opportunity is not the same as going to court for equality of results. You can go to court for good things and you can go to court for bad things.

MS. KANE: It's not equality of results.

MR. WATTENBERG: Let me ask one question, because we are running out of time, am I correct in understanding that some of this mentality that the boys and the girls have to be matched is now moving into spheres other than athletics?

MS. GREENBERGER: Can I say also, just before we move on, that that's not even true about what Title IX says. When you talk about how many opportunities a school has to offer, under the law there are three ways that the school can demonstrate that it's been fair. One way is to show that the numbers that it has decided to offer reflect the number of students, by sex, in the school. But, that's only one way. There's actually a second way, which is that the demonstrated interests of women, presumably, but of either gender is different. And that --

MS. GAVORA: How often is that demonstration upheld in law?

MS. GREENBERGER: The reason it isn't upheld is because most of the schools have women begging -- the people who are bringing these cases are dying to play. It makes our point exactly. There is the interest.

MS. GAVORA: The only time the school becomes immune from lawsuits or federal investigations is when they have achieved the quota, when they have achieved proportionality.

MS. GREENBERGER: That's not true. It's absolutely not true.

MS. KANE: That's not true. I think, again, I think the key to go back to what I was saying earlier is, unfortunately the way that college administrators and presidents have chosen to implement Title IX, and it is a very clever strategy, is when women are saying we want you to add more opportunities for us, the decision is to say, well then, we have to cut opportunities for young men, and what -- let me finish. What that then does, by definition, is pit men's minor or non-revenue sports against women, and it takes the focus off of the excesses in men's football and basketball. And that's the problem. The irony of this is that if men's minor sports like wrestling would bond with women's sports and say to athletic directors --

MS. GAVORA: I love the notion that there's a conspiracy, a patriarchal conspiracy in the American academy against women, to pit them against men's non-revenue sports. I mean, there are more women in colleges today, there are more women than men graduating from college, there are more women than men getting degrees, masters, bachelors degrees. The notion that there is a male dominated conspiracy to keep women down in American colleges and universities I think is almost laughable.

MR. WATTENBERG: Is it true that this general view, that there has to, should be, ought to be some proportionality in terms of men and women in various fields like athletics is now in the Clinton administration being considered for things like science and math, and saying there aren't enough women math majors, we've got to do something about it, there aren't enough women biologists, we have to do something about it, and there you have big daddy?

MS. GAVORA: The president made this promise two years ago on the 25th anniversary of Title IX that he would do that.

MS. GREENBERGER: That is so not true.

MS. GAVORA: The Department of Education is about to promulgate a rule that says that standardized tests that show disparate impact in terms of gender will be violations under Title IX. So it certainly is sexual harassment, which is something that is probably beyond the scope of this discussion today, is another area in which the wrong application of a good law is spreading.

MS. GREENBERGER: I have to say that there are so many inaccuracies. When Title IX was passed over 25 years ago the statue said every department in the government that gives money to education programs should have Title IX regs and enforcement. And as of today there are only four that do. And what President Clinton --

MR. WATTENBERG: Hold on, because we really have to get out. But, do you think if there are more male math majors, by ten to one, and more women literature majors by ten to one, that something is wrong and Bill Clinton ought to do something about it, and the Congress?

MS. GREENBERGER: Well, the regulations that Clinton is talking about don't have anything to do with that issue.

MR. WATTENBERG: I'm asking the specific question.

MS. GREENBERGER: But, with respect to that, what I would say is, not necessarily that something is wrong, but I would say if we've got that kind of imbalance is the school sending out some message or doing something that's keeping those young men out of literature, and keeping the young women out of math? I would say --

MR. WATTENBERG: Isn't it possible that men and women, being of different genders, have different likes and dislikes?

MS. GREENBERGER: Right, that's why I wouldn't say it means there's automatically something wrong.


MS. GREENBERGER: I wouldn't.

MR. WATTENBERG: Okay. Thank you very much, Mary Jo Kane, Marsha Greenberger, and Jessica Gavora.

And thank you. We encourage feedback from our viewers, particularly via email. It is very important to us.

For Think Tank, I'm Ben Wattenberg.

ANNOUNCER: We at Think Tank depend on your views to make our show better. Please send your questions and comments to New River Media, 1150 Seventeenth Street, Northwest, Washington, D.C. 20036, or email us at thinktank@pbs.org. To learn more about Think Tank, visit PBS Online at www.pbs.org. And please let us know where you watch Think Tank.

This has been a production of BJW, Incorporated, in association with New River Media, which are solely responsible for its content.

Brought to you in part by ADM, feeding the world is the biggest challenge of the new century, which is why ADM is conducting research into aquiculture and other new food sources. ADM, supermarket to the world.

Additional funding is provided by the John M. Olin Foundation, the Lilly Endowment, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, and the Smith Richardson Foundation.

(End of program.)

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