To Be A Title IX Dad

runnerIn The American Prospect, Matt Schmitt offers a love letter to Title IX--and the social transformation it ignited, far beyond what was originally envisioned. Schmitt's eight-year-old daughter (who reminds me of a young Carly Welch) catches on a Little League baseball team; she's the only girl on the team, she was voted Most Valuable Catcher by her coach last year, and she wants to play for the Major League someday. Because, she just discovered, there's not actually any rule or law to keep women from playing pro baseball. It just hasn't happened yet.

In the meantime, Schmitt's heart--and my own--swells just at seeing the girls play.

When it's her long-awaited turn to play an inning behind the plate, I rush over to my daughter and help her strap on her leg guards, chest protector, and mask and then watch as she does her best imitation of Jorge Posada, crouched unsmiling behind the batter. When there's a chance of a play at the plate, she whips off the mask and positions her glove exactly where it's supposed to be.

It still brings a tear to my eye. I didn't expect to be much of a Little League dad -- I never played organized baseball myself and don't have much of a competitive streak. But I'm very much a Title IX dad. My 8-year-old is the only girl on her team this year, but that's mostly a trivial fact. She's hardly conscious of it, and the only time I've ever heard any of her teammates mention it was to worry about whether she was going to switch to softball, as other girls have done -- something she has no intention of doing. ...

Schmitt goes on to point out that the authors of Title IX in 1972 actually didn't mention athletics at all when it required federally funded educational programs to not discriminate by gender (albeit a few exceptions, like single-sex colleges). It reads, quite simply,

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...

Field hockeyThe association Title IX has with sports came when a year later, the National Organization for Women "launched a case that would ultimately lead Congress to change the Little League's congressional charter to refer to 'young people' instead of 'boys' and to eliminate its reference to promoting "manhood."

The proud Title IX dad once again:

As one watches these kids round the bases and cheer one another on, it's also obvious that there's a lot more to it than just athletics. This generation of children is unfailingly decent to one another, respectful of one another's different personalities, and attentive to and proud of one another's successes. ...

What can we take from these moments? First, that small gestures toward equality and fairness can have vast implications into the future. Title IX, with all its limits, was a nudge that set off a chain of social transformations. We often think that big changes can only come from big actions ... but more than one social transformation has been spurred by a change whose implications seemed modest at the time.

Young relay runnerWe may not see all the implications of our actions, but acting--however modestly or abruptly--for fairness and equality is always the right thing. That is such a sound of hope. I am a sports fan born in 1980, and though I never had any particular talent, I spent years playing softball and soccer, running track and cross country, playing in the once-a-year football game for girls at my school. I loved playing. Through countless college intramural softball games and the Detroit city soccer league I'm about to join, I love that I still feel like I can. All along, I took for granted that I could have a place on the field. I had parents who encouraged me to go for it and who helped me practice, even when (especially when) I was only okay. Because playing sports for the sake of playing sports was reason enough.

Let's not underestimate the importance of parents. Joe Kelly, author of Dads and Daughters, writes eloquently of his support for Title IX:

Dads of daughters believe that Title IX is a huge advantage for fathers, a boon for our daughters, and good for our sons, too. It's smart to reject the notion that helping girls requires short-changing boys, or vice versa. To our eyes, Title IX is a great example of this.

First, even though females in high school and college still receive less than their fair share of athletic resources, girls' and women's sports have exploded since the passage of Title IX more than 30 years ago. The evidence is overwhelming that this trend is positive for our daughters' physical and mental health, across the board. Title IX is among the most successful civil rights initiatives in our country's history.

In addition, since we fathers grew up steeped in the culture of sports, sports participation by our daughters gives us an invaluable arena through which we can connect with them, strengthening our relationships. This arena wasn't nearly so available to previous generations of fathers—because there was no Title IX. That's why Title IX is one of the best things that ever happened for fathers of girls.

Title IX is also good for our sons, because the growing number of female athletes helps boys and men see girls and women as real, multi-dimensional people, rather than toy-like, pseudo-sexualized objects. That's particularly important in a culture which encourages our sons to value a woman's appearance over her inner qualities and accomplishments. As fathers, we know that successful long-term relationships are built on quality and accomplishment, not on outward appearance—and Title IX helps us teach this truth to our sons. ...

Girl soccer playerA better world is possible, and indeed, we're living in it. And many are working to help us take the next step.

In the fascinating Title IX Blog, Erin Buzuvis, associate professor of law at Western New England College teams up with Kristine Newhall, a Ph.D. candidate in women's studies at the University of Iowa, to cover Title IX news and lawsuits. It also has in impressive reading list of books that look at Title IX in-depth, Supreme Court decisions, and other resources. While Title IX Blog seems to deal mostly with college athletics, it also looks at impact on youth--for example, a Connecticut boy who plays field hockey on a girl's middle school team (because there is no male counterpart) but, because of state law, he is not permitted to play on the high school team. And also good news: a California school that improved its poor softball facilities in response to a Title IX complaint that the female athletes weren't getting the resources or opportunities to play.

Another great advocate: the Women's Sports Foundation. The organization is dedicated to the participation of girls and women in sports as it "advocates for equality, educates the public, conducts research and offers grants to promote sports and physical activity for girls and women."

Our work shapes public attitude about women's sports and athletes, builds capacities for organizations that get girls active, provides equal opportunities for girls and women, and supports physically and emotionally healthy lifestyles.

It was founded by Billie Jean King in 1974--just two years after Title IX passed and just as, perhaps, its full implications were beginning to be realized.

 

About the Images:

First image pictures a young runner in Chicago; via Kate Gardiner /Tim Taliaferro at Flickr Creative Commons. 

Second image pictures a college field hockey game; via the AP.

Third image pictures a young relay runner; via emrank at Flickr Creative Commons.

Final image pictures a young goalkeeper on the soccer field; via EpicSurfgt at Flickr Creative Commons.

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