Saturday, June 23, 2012

06/23 (Title IX) Quickie

Exactly 20 years after Title IX was established, my wife entered college athletics -- something that would have not been possible before the groundbreaking 1972 legislation. She wore her college gear proudly today.

20 years after that, we walked along the Potomac River with our 3-month-old daughter (we have two other older kids, both boys who will never have to deal with gender issues in sports, except maybe their little sister kicking their ass.)

It is astonishing to think about where women's sports was in 1972, then 1992 and now in 2012, when a generation of women following in the footsteps of my wife's generation (which includes folks like Mia Hamm) who themselves followed in the footsteps of the original Title IX generation, along with the women who spent the first 20 years after its passage just trying to create a bit more opportunity for female athletes -- just a chance.

Over the next 20 years, it's hard to say what will happen. The infrastructure for our daughter's sports career has never been stronger -- the girls' youth soccer leagues in suburban Maryland are enough to make you think equality is here.

The number of girls participating will only increase, along with their confidence. The competition will be greater. It will become a lot more like boys' sports, where that increased competition means more girls don't get to reach higher levels.

But along the way, they get to experience the competition and teamwork and self-reliance and self-confidence and every other thing about sports that has less to do with sports itself than what it engenders in the athlete, what it gives them for the rest of their life. That is the legacy of Title IX.

It's not the US women's soccer team. It's not the WNBA. It's not -- and never has been -- about the professionalization of women's sports. It is about the aspiration for women's sports and what it might do for its participants. A college scholarship, maybe, but more importantly, a system to create a generation of even more talented women than the post-Title IX era has created.

My hope for our daughter isn't a college athletic scholarship -- in 20 years when college football has been reduced by insurance liability to a glorified version of touch football, the unintended consequence of all that money evaporating from the system is the hit to collegiate women's sports.

My hope for our daughter is that the Title IX system's trickle-down effect -- the local athletic institutions that get created and bolstered to feed the Title IX pipeline -- allows her to participate in sports as a girl and get all of the wonderful life lessons out of it that women have since 1972.

-- D.S.

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