Time to Rewrite Title IX

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

I participated in a panel at UCLA last night on Title IX, a subject which in my experience usually inspires citings of long-winded mind-numbing statistics. But this discussion was surprisingly passionate, even unique, in that both the men and the women agreed that the law intended to mandate gender equality in schools was never intended to deny men their sports experience, which has happened in a myriad of cases.

Pete Vidmar, the most decorated American male gymnast and a former superstar Bruin, said it wounded him deeply, the day he learned that men's gymnastics and men's swimming would be dropped at UCLA. The men's gymnastics team were reigning national champions when they got the axe. That was 1994. The Bruins are proud of touting the fact that they have won 100 National titles in all sports. John Wooden's basketball-dynasty teams are best known, but UCLA has a Hall of Fame of volleyball, track and field, softball, crew and other sports champions. Yet mandated equal opportunity for women shoved male gymnasts and swimmers out the door.

The many-time national-champion softball coach of UCLA's women’s teams, Sue Enquist, was there last night. She recounted the immediate effects when Title IX boomed into being in the early 70's. Enquist’s teams pre-Title IX had no uniforms. They were given the track athletes' practice jerseys--used, but they didn't complain. The UCLA track team was legendary, boasting many Olympians. Enquist was tossed a torn jersey one day and, as she slipped it on, she saw the initials W.B. imprinted inside the back. That was Willie Banks, three-time Olympian triple jumper.

As Enquist told it, there were memorable, nostalgic moments, pre-Title IX. But when the law came into being, 1972, it was an overnight boon. Uniforms were fitted, a travel schedule implemented, the women's field was manicured. Money came in for scholarships, recruiting, assistant coaches. It was a heady time for women's sports. And the explosion of women's athletes is regarded by both men and women on America's campuses as a largely positive thing. After all, looking back at the history of education, sports and physical education were supposed to be part of the whole campus experience, adding to health of body and strength of character. Sports in school weren't supposed to be about a huge revenue stream from television contracts and ticket sales.Title IX was necessary at the time of its passing, to ensure that young women in both high school and college weren't denied participation in mathematics and engineering and the sciences.

Sports are never mentioned in the 37 words of the law itself. But it turns out that sports were the area of most egregious discrimination so Title IX became the battleground for women’s sports.

In 1972, only one in 27 high-school girls played sports; 35 years later, one in 2.5 high-school girls play sports. That’s an increase of over 900%. But Sue Enquist lamented last night that she was as dismayed as Peter Vidmar when men's sports were slashed to make room for women’s programs at their school.

As it stands now, if a school has a ratio of 55% women to 45% men in its general population, then it must use its federal dollars to offer athletic programs in that same ration. But in many schools, there are men ready to play, and not enough women interested in playing, to substantiate the number of teams created for them.

Because of Title IX, not only have sports served to give millions of young women purpose, but sports have prepared them to better our society at large. But now the time has come to rewrite the law, to come full circle and make sure future progress for women doesn't diminish sports opportunities for young men.

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



Diana Nyad