My niece Amelia, age 9, is one busy and very smart girl. Just recently, she won her school’s science fair by having her soccer teammates taste and quality-test bottled and tap water. Her next step is to represent her school in the regional science fair.
But that might be something of a challenge for her and her parents…the regional science fair is the same day as her cello concert. But, as her father says, they’ll manage. It’s a good problem to have!
As you can see by the picture, she honored her soccer team’s participation in her science project by wearing her kit to the awards ceremony.
Scientific studies indicate that children who participate in sports do better in math and science. They also enjoy better health and well-being than their more sedentary counterparts, and are better equipped to manage pressure-filled situations.
In other words, life is only made better and healthier when allowed to participate in sports.
Small wonder that one of her life’s ambitions…and they change frequently…has been to help her daddy at his environmental law firm.
My niece’s life was brought to you, courtesy of Title IX.
Title IX was passed on June 23, 1972, and declares the following:
“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.”
Before 1972, the only women’s sports available for professional public consumption were tennis, golf and bowling. Every four years, we were reintroduced to track and field, swimming, diving, gymnastics, and figure skating, courtesy of the Olympics. And in the 50’s and 70’s, there was roller derby, which is currently enjoying a renaissance. (Thanks for a fun Saturday night, Windy City Rollers).
Since 1972, according to the Women’s Sports Foundation, female participation in high school sports has increased by more than 900%.
Amelia, born in 2002, lives in a vastly different world than the one her father and I grew up in. She has a confidence and maturity I didn’t develop until much later. She has choices and abilities that were unheard of a generation before. Today, women and girls everywhere have more freedom that ever before to use their uniquely God-given talents.
When I was Amelia’s age, I was a left-handed, red-headed, feisty tomboy whose tiny, feisty, former ballerina mother bravely battled pre-Title IX village bureaucrats for girls to have the right to play Little League ball. In Pre-Title IX days, there was no SOFTBALL team, either. At the same time, I was struggling to love a game that was my only outlet in our local park district …tennis. And trying to look as graceful as my swan-like good friends at our weekly ballet lessons. (Never happened!)
Don’t get me wrong. I love tennis. And classical ballet. But it still wasn’t my heart. And I was trying to figure out some exercise that I could love that involved a good throwing arm and footwork.
Oops, couldn’t play football either!
Title IX changed my battleground from winning the legal right to access to ensuring that the rights were exercised. The only other law that has had as many challenges, I think, has been the Voting Rights Act of 1865 and the Civil Rights Act of 1965.
As any civil rights lawyer will likely tell you, changing or adding federal laws to legally change the rules is one thing. Changing a culture, a set of values, an entrenched system, and a social environment is, at best, an ongoing work in progress.
There is a Pre-Title IX generation, I find, who truly doesn’t believe that women’s sports will ever be a force in this world. They don’t believe the game is interesting. And as the Women’s Sports Foundation points out, “Typically, athletic departments have refused to “tighten the belt” of popular men’s sports like football, and have cut men’s non-revenue producing sports instead and blamed it on Title IX.”
Three points, says the Foundation, should be made in this regard: (1) it is dysfunctional to “pit the victims against the victims” — men’s non-revenue sports against women’s sports, both of which have been traditionally underfunded, (2) over 80% of all college football programs and almost all high school football programs lose money, and (3) nothing negative would happen to men’s revenue-producing sports if their budgets were decreased across the board with all schools and all teams lowering expenditures simultaneously so the playing field is kept level. In fact, football expenditures have continued to increase at rates higher than inflation.
NBA Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman, one of the first recipients of an athletic scholarship under Title IX, remains committed to the cause. “I’m a lifer,” she told me last summer. “My son grew up watching the WNBA. So did a generation of other girls.It’s most gratifying when I see girls of six (years old,) at a WNBA game, who are seeing that they can work hard and make a profession out of something they love.”
My niece Rosie, 7, is another one who is witnessing professional women’s sports firsthand. I took her to her first Chicago Sky game last year. “Aunt Alison, do those girls get PAID for playing basketball?” “Yes, honey, they do, ” I said. “Then I wanna do that!” She’s visiting me again this year. What does she want most in the world? “Can you take me to a basketball game again?”
I also find that every new generation needs to be educated about Title IX, and just generally, to have respect for both male and female participants in sporting activities.
I experienced this firsthand with Amelia and her brother a few years back.
I was in Palo Alto to cover the NCAA Women’s Regionals at Stanford University’s Maples Pavilion, where the Cardinal, led by first-round WNBA draft pick Jayne Appel, demolished the University of Iowa Hawkeyes for the Regional Championships. While visiting my brother and sister-in-law, I found out that UC-Berkeley was hosting the Women’s NIT Regionals. After talking to my brother and sister-in-law, I bought tickets for the kids and I to see the Regionals.
This was our first sporting event together, and I was excited to take them. We were walking down a nice, tree-lined street pre-Regionals when I told Matthew, Amelia’s younger brother, that we were going to see girls play basketball that night. To my surprise, he started crying and stomping his feet. (really reminded me of his father when he was the same age!) .
“I DON’T WANNA SEE DUMB GIRLS BASKETBALL,” sobbed Matthew. “I WANNA SEE BOYS BASKETBALL!”
I get that gender identification is important for four-year-olds. And that Matthew meant no disrespect. It was out of his comfort zone and experience. But trouble like that can only grow if the perception lingers that it’s not legitimate if it ain’t boys (or men) playing. Nipping it in the bud is key.
“Matthew, honey,” I said, “Guess what? Girls play a great game of basketball. And it’s not nice to call anyone’s game dumb. How’d you like it if someone didn’t like boys playing basketball? You’d think that was pretty mean, right?”
Rubbing his eyes, Matthew nodded. “But I still want to see boys basketball!” he insisted. “Well, the boys aren’t playing tonight,” I said. “Only the girls. So we’re going to see the girls team. Okay?”
Lucky for both of us, UC-Berkeley’s mascot took a liking to Matthew, and started playing with him and dancing with him all over the arena, where dozens of people were gathered for the game. He came out of the game with his sister, smiling and happy. And having had fun.
Matthew’s dilemma, Amelia’s success, and the 40th Anniversary of Title IX all point to the same question…where are we today?
Some people consider it unfair to men’s sports, that they were “forced” into it; others, like me, have had the career we always wanted because of its benefits.
The Constitution and Bill of Rights notwithstanding, most Americans who have not been a) The Founding Fathers of our country. b) White males…have, at one point or another, had to stand up, organize and fight verbal, and oftentimes costly battles to claim their rights under the laws of the land. Leaving it to human nature hasn’t always worked out as well as expected. See: the 19th Amendment (Voting rights for women, 1920), Plessy v. Ferguson, (“Separate but equal” overturned, 1954,) the Civil Rights Act of 1965 (extended the Voting Rights Act), and so on. Over the years, various groups have challenged its constitutionality and fairness.
“Fairness” is only achieved when all groups have equal representation and a place in the process of decision making.
That is why the preservation of Title IX is so important. Naperville native and LA Sparks’ Candace Parker’s comments on the 15th Anniversary of the WNBA were telling as to the impact of Title IX on her life. “I was 10 years old when the WNBA first came into existence,” she said. “I don’t know a world without it. And without believers like NBA Commissioner David Stern, the WNBA, all three women’s profesional soccer leagues, the Canadian Women’s Professional Hockey League (which boasts a team from Boston), and even the LPGA…exist because of the faithful few who, for some reason, never gave up believing women’s sports would find a place in popular culture.
Here’s a news flash…the same thing happened with the NFL, NBA, the NHL, and every other sport introduced in this era. They grew in a time before most of our parents were living. We did not see their growth. We have a firsthand look at the growth of women’s professional sports teams. In another generation, like Parker, I see a day when women’s sporting events will be as popular as men’s sports. I may be old and crochety by that time, but I will live to see it.
And what good does it do for us to continue to fight the Title IX fight? For one, it strengthens our communities. It brings families together. And finally, to quote the social anthropologist Margaret Mead:
“If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place.”
Just one month shy of his 35th birthday, “Woody” (born June 16, 1977) leaves a controversial legacy in his 13-plus seasons as a major league pitcher.
In his fifth career start, on May 6, 1998, he threw a one-hit, no walk, 20-strikeout shutout against the Houston Astros, tying Roger Clemens’ record for strikeouts in a nine-inning game and breaking Bill Gullickson’s single-game rookie record of 18 strikeouts in 1980. (source: Wikipedia)
For that, Wood was named the 1998 National League Rookie of the Year. In 1999, Wood missed the entire season after undergoing Tommy John surgeryto repair damage to the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.
Wood recorded over 200 strikeouts in four out of his first five seasons, with a high of 266 in 2003. He also set MLB records as the fastest to reach 1000 strikeouts in MLB history (in appearances): 134 games, and the fastest to reach 1000 strikeouts in MLB history (in innings pitched): 853 innings
He was twice named a National League All-Star and pitched in the post-season five times.
However, as great a heater as he threw, Wood’s legacy for many is a controversial and bittersweet one. Like Roger Maris, whose 61 home runs had an asterisk til 1991, Wood left many with a sense that he never quite lived up to his potential: No one ever saw Wood pitch a perfect game or a no-hitter, nor did he ever win more than 14 games in a season. And he has no World Series ring.
I believe that people overlook how much he had to overcome serious injury to make his mark. All but one of his professional years in Major League Baseball was spent throwing on a surgically repaired arm. Many pitchers would barely have tried coming back from Tommy John surgery…or, tried and failed. Same thing as he spent part of several seasons battling injuries to his back, knees, triceps, and rotator cuff.
Therefore, let’s give him this: Wood leaves his greatest mark in his endurance and ability to reinvent himself year after year. Over the course of his career, he’s been a starter, a closer, and a middle-reliever. I think we underestimate the difficulty of the starter’s overcoming his ego to become a middle-reliever. Nor his ability to come back from so many devastating injuries. I don’t remember the last time Wood was healthy an entire season. And yet, he toughed out the most agonizingt of injuries.
Let’s celebrate that. And wish him, his wife–Waukegan, Illinois native Sarah Pates Wood, and their three children well.
My friend Elizabeth Hess, of WDWS’ morning show in Champaign-Urbana, is known for the quick-witted, timely quote.
As she reported on Facebook, I just found out the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Her son asked her an interesting question the other day:
“Mom,” he said. “Is it better to have a penis or a vagina?”
Ahhhh, kids…love the honesty. Hate the responsibility of having to come up with a plausible answer! I want to get him together with my niece Amelia, who has her aunt”s tendency to blurt out questions without regard for the “edit” button. At the breakfast table last year, she asked me the following:
“Aunt Alison, why do you have a man-voice?”
I told her that my voice developed richer tones because I used it a lot. And now, I was paid for having the man-voice on the radio, so it was all good.
Elizabeth came up with a great response. “Sometimes life is easy for people with both, and sometimes life is hard. You just have to take care of the one you were given.”
Solid point. During this Marian month, it’s probably a good idea to examine the virtues of womanhood as it relates to manhood, especially when driven by a collective agreement known as sports.
Let’s start in Arizona, where, as reported in the Arizona Republic and the Huffington Post, let’s all congratulate the undefeated (11-0) Mesa Preparatory Academy, 2012 Arizona Charter Athletic Association State Baseball Champions.
What’s different about this championship is that nary a pitch was thrown, no outs were recorded, no home runs hit, to achieve the championship. Our Lady of Sorrows, run by the Society of St. Pius X, an traditionalist church that broke away from the Catholic Church over Vatican reforms in 1970, forfeited the championship game rather than allow a game to be played with a girl on the opposing team.
The ultra-conservative Catholic academy, which had broken from the Archdiocese of Phoenix, told the Republic that it had a strict policy prohibiting participation in co-ed athletics, and had set a precedent earlier by bowing out of a flag football game that had females on competing squads. They also asked every school they competed against for a roster, to scan for girl players.
Multiple news sources say second baseman Paige Sultzbach, 15, had sat out the two regular-season games played between Mesa Preparatory and Our Lady of Sorrows, out of respect for the school’s religious beliefs. That said, this was the state championship, and this little girl wasn’t going to miss any opportunities to play in the state championship. Especially, in the home of MLB Spring Training Camps everywhere. Where a woman had made history a year ago by pitching batting practice and impressing the likes of the Cleveland Indians and Oakland Athletics. And pronounced good enough by the players and impressing the General Managers, including the Oakland A’s Billy Beane, of “Moneyball” fame.
Maybe the game should have been scheduled for “Surprise” Arizona?
“I respect their views, but it’s a bit out of the 18th century,” Amy Arnold, Mesa Prep’s athletic director, told the Republic.
In a statement obtained and reported by Fox News, the academy explained its reasoning for refusing to play the team.
Teaching our boys to treat ladies with deference, we choose not to place them in an athletic competition where proper boundaries can only be respected with difficulty … Our school aims to instill in our boys a profound respect for women and girls.
Her parents were equally baffled. “This is not a contact sport. It shouldn’t be an issue. It wasn’t that they were afraid they were going to hurt or injure her, it’s that (they believe) that a girl’s place is not on a field,” Pamela Sultzbach told the Arizona Republic.
Our Lady of Sorrows’ reasoning made less and less sense to me. If by “profound respect,” they mean “treat women like porcelain dolls,” or “treat women as if they were Marian Saints ,” that would be the only definition of “respect’ that I could see.
I ask you: What good does that do a healthy, talented, eager high school student? Especially one who at some point, presumably, could use their gifts to glorify God and inspire others?
Another way to examine this conflict is to take a look at the movie “Chariots of Fire.” Eric Liddell, a missionary, was expected to take his place at a mission in China. His sister, the most ardent of Christians, takes him to task for choosing to train for the Olympics instead of reporting to the mission for duty.
Why? “Jenny,” the Rev. Liddell says, “God made me FAST! When I run, I feel His pleasure.”
As the movie artfully describes, the Rev. Liddell refused to run in a heat held on Sunday (the Christian Sabbath) and was forced to withdraw from the 100-metres race, his best event. (source: Wikipedia).
That said, God’s reward and His pleasure, it would seem, for Liddell appeared to show up in the 400-metre race. Liddell was the winner of the men’s 400 metres at the 1924 Summer Olympics, with an Olympic record that stood for 12 years.
In the matter of the individuals who seek God’s will in their lives, it is truly a matter of interpretation as to what would best please the Almighty. Would God have been happier with Paige sitting off the field? Would Eric Liddell have had more success as a missionary if he had not run for God and country? Both Ms. Sultzbach and Rev. Liddell knew that they had talent, they were both respectful and mindful of the respective rules of their game, and they felt good in using it to the best of their abilities.
But circumstances, rules and rulings based on the interpretation of the Scriptures mitigated what might have been for both parties. Our Lady of Sorrows believed that they were following a strict interpretation of God’s laws for men and women participating in sports. Though Rev. Liddell wasn’t allowed to compete where he could best shine a light on his running talents…in the 100-metre race, he achieved his goal of winning for God and country through a race that wasn’t known as his best. And Sultzbach is a State Champion, though the means by which she and her teammates won the title left much to be desired in the way that was handled.
Who’s right? I don’t believe that any religion has the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, exclusively. I believe God gives us all talents and abilities that we can use on this Earth, to serve as an example to others, and to build bridges between people, where chasms existed previously.
And perhaps, the best quote of the day as to how to manage matters of interpretation comes down to this example out of the 1924 Paris Olympics:
When the day of the Olympic 400 metres race came, Liddell went to the starting blocks, where an American Olympic Team masseur slipped a piece of paper into his hand with a quotation from Samuel 2:30: “Those who honor Me I will honor.” (source: Wikipedia)
Happy New Year…and a delightful, healthy and prosperous 2012 to all of you!
As this new year dawns, I am more excited than ever to cover women’s sports and sports in general. From the 40th Anniversary of Title IX to the Women’s NCAA Finals in Denver, Colorado to the London Olympics, in September, this year is going to be special….
It certainly started out with a bang. On New Year’s Day, reporters were tipped off by the Chicago Sky’s Media Director, Matt Robbie, that a “major announcement” was happening at 10:00 am January 2 . And it was. Swin Cash , the 10-year WNBA veteran and three-time All-Star who won titles with the former Detroit Shock and 2010 champion Seattle Storm, was aquired from the Storm along with Le’Coe Willingham. Last year, Cash averaged 13.2 ppg and 6.9 rebounds. Eight-year veteran Willingham, who has won titles with the Phoenix Mercury as well as the Storm, averaged 6.4 ppg and 4.2 rebounds. The Sky also acquires one of the two second-round picks of the Seattle in the 2012 WNBA draft.
In return, Seattle receives the Sky’s #2 overall pick in the 2012 WNBA draft.
I like this deal. After last year’s sixth failure to make the playoffs, with a 14-20 record, I believed the Sky needed to acquire veterans who knew how to win, and help create an environment among the talented roster of current Sky players–none of whom have won a WNBA championship. Cash has led her teams to the playoffs nine times. She’s very aggressive on the boards. Most important, Cash knows how to dominate during crunch times. She learned that at the hands of her old coach, former Detroit Shock coach and Piston Bill Laimbeer.
Seattle benefits as well, because they have a team deep in talent, including veterans Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson. The move provides the Storm the ability to acquire younger talent, such as Stanford forward Nnemkadi Ogwumike (considered the probable No. 1 pick), or Tennesee’s Glory Johnson.
More about the Sky later. In the meantime, let’s recap 2011 on the Women’s Sports Scene:
Quick, who was the last team to win a championship for Chicago?
- Aided by a four-team league and led by newly acquired pitcher Monica Abbott, the new “face” of the Chicago Bandits following Jennie Finch’s retirement in 2010, delivered a second World Championship to the city with a 10-3 victory over the USSSA Florida Pride in the decisive game two victory of the NPF Championship Series.
- The Bandits also opened the 1,600-seat Rosemont Stadium, on 27 Jennie Finch Drive (Bryn Mawr and Pearl Streets) drawing a reported 1,000 fans per game.
- In 2012, Rosemont Stadium will host the NPF Championship Series.
Chicago Sky: Improving the Odds and Attendance:
- Expectations were as high as the Sky improved their chances of making the playoffs by hiring a proven, no-nonsense talent in 2010 European Champion Team Spartak and former LSU coach Pokey Chatman, who drafted Gonzaga’s Courtney Vandersloot (who averaged 30 ppg in the Zag’s improbable run as a #11 seed to the Elite Eight) and reunited with 6’6 LSU center Sylvia Fowles.
- The Sky posted the largest attendance increase in the WNBA, drawing 29% more to the Allstate Arena.
- As a reflection of their increased attendance, the Sky had three players in the WNBA’s All-Star Game–more than any other team in either conference, including Fowles making her third appearance, sophomore sensation Epiphanny Prince, and Vandersloot.
- Despite these improvements, the Sky’s record was the same as the previous year, 14-20 and failed to make the playoffs.
- The Sky may need to take a lesson from the Minnesota Lynx, who finally won a championship in 2011 with a roster of #1 and #2 draft picks. The Lynx suffered years of underperfoming teams before the combination of Seimone Augustus and Maya Moore provided enough firepower to beat two-time bridesmaid Atlanta Dream and take the crown.
The Changing of the Guard in NCAA Women’s Basketball:
- For the first time in a long time, UConn, Tennessee, and Stanford were all eliminated before the Championship game .
- The 2011 Final, a nail-biter at a capacity-seating Conseco Fieldhouse from the home state Notre Dame Lady Irish (who had eliminated UConn) and the Texas A&M Lady Aggies (who defeated Stanford), seesawed, providing 10 times the entertainment received from the Men’s Final featuring fellow Hoosier Butler University and UConn the night before.
- Aided by 30 points from future WNBA star Danielle Adams, Texas A&M prevailed and came from behind to put away Notre Dame, 76-70.
- This year’s final is in Denver, Colorado. It’s almost anyone’s game, folks. Look for Baylor to advance to the championship round, on the strength of 6’8 center Brittany Greiner.
Women’s World Cup and the Future of Women’s Professional Soccer:
- There were no better game highlights this year than “headbanger” Abby Wambach’s last-minute goals to lead the US Women’s National Team to the WWC Finals, before losing in an electrifying final with Japan, who some argued needed the win more because of the country’s recent devastation.
- However, the highly rated Cup series could not adequately boost attendance for the three-year-old WPS. The league was also embarassed by the financial improprieties and later revoked the license of the magicJack, the former Washington Freedom franchise.
- That said, the WPS isn’t dead yet. Several proposals by longtime soccer proponents are being considered to keep the league going.
Resolution; ‘Like” The Weekend Sports Report on Facebook and Join Us!
Finally, I’d like to invite everyone to join Les Grobstein, Steve Leventhal and me for the Weekend Sports Report every Saturday morning from 7-8 am on WKRS-AM 1220/WKRS.com. I speak the truth when I say there is no other show like this in the Chicago area. Three passionate individuals, one encyclopaedic mind, one sports technician…and one redheaded spitfire! We have a lot of fun…join our party! We also podcast our show every week, so you can find us at www.yoursportsfan.com if you sleep in!
For example, last week, we talked about Week 17 of the NFL regular season, and perhaps the last week of Mike Martz as Bears offensive coordinator. On the other hand, the Packers will be playing more games in January, on their way to the Super Bowl? Plus some NBA, NHL, and college football news.
Happy New Year everyone!