March Madness

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March Madness

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

Now I-m officially annoyed. March madness has been mad as a hatter this year. Gutsy, double over-time nail biters. Close-up shots of young people, such as the Stanford center after her gut-wrenching last-second loss to Michigan State, where you are filled with empathy for her obviously deep disappointment. To come so close to the pinnacle, the Final Four, to have sweated so hard all season long, and now to pack and head home while the winners celebrate in your face and look forward with hope--the final week of the college basketball season is ripe with drama, emotion, and, as the old ABC Sports phrase so aptly coined it, &quotThe; thrill of victory and the agony of defeat." And it-s all the more poignant because, while the schools and coaches are getting rich, these kids truly do play for honor alone.

So what I-m so annoyed about is that, while March Madness has become a nearly gender-equal event--the women-s tournament brackets and individual player stories reported with just about equal space and respect, from the New York Times to USA Today -- the raison d-etre behind women finally rising to equal billing, Title IX, is once again fighting for its life. It was back in 1973 that Billie Jean King and other women sports advocates lobbied Washington and pushed Title IX through, the law demanding equal opportunities for boys and girls in all areas of education in all schools that receive federal funding. It is Title IX that made college scholarships possible for women such as soccer phenom Mia Hamm. It is Title IX that has enabled Coach Pat Summitt of Tennessee to recruit great players with scholarship offers and just this week become the winningest coach, among men and women, in the history of the college game.

I-m not a sexist myself. I love watching men-s sports. And the climax of this year-s men-s college hoops season has been nothing short of breathtaking. Top seeded Illinois faltered against Arizona but in the final minutes the desire on the Illinois players- faces was palpable and they pulled it out. Little West Virginia strutted in and slayed giant after giant. So many tight, beautifully played games. It-s been wonderful.

But while generations of women basketball players past played in total obscurity and can now pat themselves on the back for the ground they laid for these current hoopsters, the Bush administration is working hard to weaken Title IX and force us to regress to a time when we weren-t allowed to pursue our dreams. If you are a parent of any of the outstanding women muscling and finessing their way through the madness of March, you are outraged by the assault on Title IX.

If you-re Roderick Jackson, you-re outraged to the point of spending five years fighting for the tenets of this law to remain in tact. Jackson was girls- basketball coach at Ensley Magnet High School in Birmingham, Alabama. His team had broken rim baskets on wooden backboards. Had no hot water after a tough work-out. Had no ice to treat swollen knees and ankles. They were the school-s second-class citizens. Jackson complained and was fired. He decided to sue the Birmingham Board of Education. He didn-t have much money, especially once he lost his job, so he took on his own legal defense. The Women-s National Law Center got wind of his case and dived in. Jackson-s case went all the way to the Supreme Court and this Tuesday, five years later, he won and is now back to coaching the girls at Ensley Magnet High.

Let Coach Jackson-s resolve and the skilled women-s teams of the March Madness fury serve as a wake-up call to Washington. There are too many of us women athletes who live the power of the pursuit of excellence in sports now, too many parents who want full lives for their daughters--and one Coach of conviction in Alabama--to ever step back from the progress we-ve earned.

Wake up, Washington: don-t make Billie Jean come after you again. You know you-re going to lose that fight.

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that-s The Score.



Diana Nyad