Tuesday, July 17, 2012

4 comments Frank Deford May Have Misunderstood the Purpose of Title IX

Before I get to the Frank Deford article for today, I wanted to very briefly comment on a Drew Sharp article I stumbled upon. In this article he suggests that Isiah Thomas should receive a gold medal as atonement for being left off the 1992 Dream Team. Pretty much everyone knows the story by now. Thomas was left off the team because it was perceived that Michael Jordan (and apparently Scottie Pippen) didn't want him on the team and that team went on to win a gold medal in the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. I agree that talent-wise Thomas deserved to be on the 1992 Olympic team, but he wasn't on the team, so he doesn't deserve an honorary gold medal. Thomas can take pride in knowing he deserved to be on the team, but as foreshadowing events in his post-NBA life he experienced failure. Thomas was invited to be on the team. Isiah doesn't need a gold medal for "deserving" to be on the team and it is silly to suggest he should get one.

I've detailed before how Frank Deford seems to take on the less controversial issues in sports. Frank Deford wants to know why Title IX doesn't make women better sports fans. Or he wants to discuss the irony of Title IX ruining college football if universities start getting rid of their football programs. Or maybe he wants to talk about how women read more books than men. I do know this column is about women and is sort of about sports. This column is like one of those "Choose your own Adventure" books from the 1980's. The conclusion you take from this column is up to you.

Saturday is the 40th anniversary of Title IX, and although almost nobody anticipated it then, it resulted in women gaining the right to participate in sports in proportion with their numbers attending college.

Title IX didn't state this directly in 1972, but the 1979 Policy Interpretation of Title IX did state specifically as part of a three-prong test that college must be,

Providing athletic participation opportunities that are substantially proportionate to the student enrollment. This prong of the test is satisfied when participation opportunities for men and women are "substantially proportionate" to their respective undergraduate enrollment.

So Title IX didn't specifically give women the right to participate in sports in proportion with the respective undergraduate enrollment at the time it was written, but the purpose of Title IX as stated in the 1972 law was to ensure,

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

So while I can understand this specific rule about being "substantially proportionate" to the respective undergraduate enrollment wasn't outlined specifically in Title IX, I don't think it is a far leap to this conclusion when knowing the purpose of Title IX was to prevent discrimination for any education program or activity. Title IX was instituted so that women and men would be treated equally with respect to opportunities to compete in an education program or activity. Part of this was giving women equal access to sports teams at the university. At some point, women and men were going to receive equal opportunity to compete in athletics at a university in order to prevent the appearance of discrimination. So the three-prong test outlined the way a university can prevent this appearance of discrimination, which was to state the participation opportunities were proportionate to the school's respective enrollment. There are several degrees of separation, but once the law giving equal access passed, some sense of governing what "equal access" meant would eventually be defined.

In essence, Title IX stated men and women should get equal opportunity to participate in any education program or activity in 1972 and this was specifically interpreted in 1979 as meaning this standard was met if participation opportunities are "substantially proportionate" to the respective undergraduate enrollment. My long form response to Frank Deford's assertion women having the right to participate in athletics in proportion to a school's enrollment was unanticipated, is to say those who were paying attention to Title IX in 1972 could have anticipated there would be a standard needing to met based on either a school's enrollment or the number of sports teams at a school for each gender. It's outlined in Title IX that there can be no discrimination. Women were going to be given access to sports team. Later it was defined in the three-prong test how to meet the standard required to prevent discrimination and it resulted in the "proportionate to enrollment" part of the test. There was going to eventually be some hard standard set out ensuring colleges achieved the intended results of Title IX.

Title IX not only had a huge effect on women's participation in sports, but also it culturally influenced the way both men and women view the idea of women and athletics.

But now, what of the future effects of Title IX?

The future effects? Let's check it out!

(Bengoodfella jumps into his time machine and sets the date for June 2035. Then he realizes his time machine is simply a cardboard box he stole from a homeless man and will not function as a time machine. He gets out of the box and goes back into his mom's attic and continues typing on his computer.)

First of all I see the potential of a great, grand collision between the old law and a recent major medical revelation

I'm going to ruin it for everyone. This major medical revelation is that football players suffer concussions at a high rate. I'm not sure I would describe this is a major medical revelation any more than I would describe it as long overdue results from research that needed to be done on football players and the effects concussions have on their brains.

As the attendance of women in college has increased, so called "minor" men's sports, like wrestling and tennis -- even baseball -- have had to be dropped to keep in compliance with the law.

Herein lies many people's dislike for Title IX.

But now, as the number of women in college approaches 60 percent, while concurrently, evidence mounts that football damages boys' brains, King Football may be the sport in jeopardy -- especially as it's so expensive and has no female analogue.

This may occur at some colleges and universities, but universities and colleges that make money off football and use it as a recruiting tool are not going to do away with football. Now that we know how dangerous concussions can be, I think we've reached the point where colleges and universities can start to take measures to try to make football as safe as possible. I do see some colleges dropping football, but I would doubt enough colleges drop the sport to have a dramatic effect on the number of women's college teams across the nation.

Already in one prominent school district, it's been proposed that football should be eliminated, that schools have no business promoting a "gladiator sport."

One district has proposed this happen. It hasn't happened yet and it may never happen. It's just a proposal from one school district.

How ironic it would be that women's academic predominance would result in America's most popular sport being cut down at its roots.

Actually, America's most popular sport would be cut down at its roots because the sport is inherently dangerous and colleges are afraid of fielding a football field due to the prevalence of concussions in the sport. Women's academic performance wouldn't cause colleges to stop fielding football teams, the prevalence in concussions would lead to this end result. Concussions would be the cause of football programs ending.

But on the other hand, even as women's participation in sport has soared, there's been no corresponding interests in women watching other women play sports.

I say this from a completely sexist point of view...there is no corresponding interest in women watching other women play sports because men's major sports are generally more exciting to watch. This has very little do to with Title IX and has more to do with the fact when women watch sports they may want to be entertained and see sports at its highest level. I believe this higher level to be present mostly in men's sports. So men's sports will generally be more popular than women's sports when it comes to female viewership.

Women do tend to watch more women's sports compared to how many men watch women's sports. Did Frank Deford really believe because Title IX was put in place the interest in women's sports would equal interest in men's sports? I would hope not. That wasn't the intent of Title IX, to make interest in women's sports equal to men's sports. Title IX says women need to be given the same access to sports at an education institution, it doesn't say women's sports need to be given the same level of interest that men's sports receive. So the acceptance of Title IX by educational institutions doesn't mean women's sports will gain as much interest as men's sports have.

The only professional female league of any sustaining viability is the WNBA, which is allowed to serve at the pleasure of its NBA benefactor in basketball off-season.

The WNBA isn't really successful. I guess it is to an extent, but it's viability relies much on being affiliated with the NBA. Still, Frank is right this is the only women's sport that is even somewhat successful.

To be sure, yes, there are many women sports fans, but their numbers and passion are miniscule compared to the mass of male spectators.

Are they really though? I have no statistics supporting my contention, but I feel like when I go to athletic events and talk to people day-to-day in my life, women are very interested in sports. Maybe not to the extent men are interested in sports, but I don't believe the number of female sports fans and their passion are miniscule compared to the mass of male sports fans. I think more men like sports than women, but there isn't as wide of a gap in my opinion between and male and female spectators.

This is another instance where Frank may be confused by the purpose of Title IX. Title IX isn't going to necessarily make women enjoy sports to the same extent that men enjoy sports. Title IX isn't intended to be an end-all, cure-all to equalize the interest women have in sports. It is intended to give women the same access to sports when attending a college or university.

I would suggest Title IX has helped some women become bigger fans of sports, but that wasn't the intent of the law. Nearly every woman I know has a favorite sports team in a certain sport. Maybe that's just me. I would say I could count on one hand how many women I know who don't have a favorite sports team in at least one sport. Title IX has given women some ability to participate more in college athletics and has improved their awareness and enjoyment of sports. Can this awareness and enjoyment simply be chalked up to Title IX? Absolutely not, but I think over the last 40 years the gap between male spectators at an event and women spectators has narrowed drastically. So I think women have become more like a fan.

But so what? Androgyny be hanged. Sometimes the sexes simply have different tastes in amusement.

Obviously different people like different things. So why is Frank wasting time rambling about something that he believes seems so obvious? Sometimes different sexes like different things. Men like sports and women like books. That's right. Books. Men don't like to read, women do like to read. Men like sports and women don't like sports. I like being able to classify different groups of people so easily.

Women, for example, read the vast preponderance of novels.

Apparently some further set of data proving this statement is not needed. This must be universally regarded as true.

Novels are about imagination. Sports are literal.

Women have imagination and men are literal. Got it. It's probably women's imagination that helps them become such great cooks, so it is no wonder women love cooking and reading, while men love sports and fixing things around the house.

I feel very 1950's right now.

They keep score in games. Is it really necessary to have it, as Lerner and Loewe wrote in My Fair Lady for the misogynistic Henry Higgins:

Frank Deford then quotes "My Fair Lady" and since I am a man who has no culture and don't read, I don't get this reference at all.

Myself, I think we've already got quota enough of women being like men.

Frank Deford has had enough of women being like men? So in terms of discussing Title IX, is Frank Deford saying he doesn't like how Title IX makes women more like men? Or is he saying Title IX is good, but he doesn't like women who follows sports? Or he is just done writing right now and can't think of anything else to write?

But the question for the next forty years of Title IX will be:

Why can't a woman be more like a fan?

Women are more like a fan. Just because women's sports don't have universal popularity among women doesn't mean women aren't like fans. They like men's sports or only like some women's sports. I think Frank's conclusion is wrong and his interpretation of the purpose of Title IX is wrong as well.

The title of this article is, "After 40 years of Title IX, why can't a woman be more like a fan?" and the answer is that Title IX wasn't intended to make women more like male sports fans. Title IX was intended to give women equal access to participation in sports while attending a university or college. I believe an unintended consequence is that women have become bigger sports fans over the last forty years, but Title IX can't make women become more like a male sports fan because that's not what it is intended to do. It's about access, not about increasing the level of interest in women's sports.


HH said...

Women, for example, read the vast preponderance of novels

You can't have a huge preponderance. Preponderance is by definition a slight lean in one direction. It's like saying "Patriots Edge Jets in Blowout."

Anyway, the article is poorly written, so I won't comment on it. My personal opinion is that it's pretty clear that men are more interested in sports, mostly culturally but probably also due to some innate drive to band together in teams and compete. Title IX unfortunately assumes equality and probably is misguided. However, it's not an issue that particularly matters to me because there are bigger injustices to worry about.

Bengoodfella said...

HH, good call. Frank Deford seems like a pretty educated guy. I'm surprised he used those words. If anything, I would think with his experience as a writer, he would know not to write something like that.

Men like sports and Title IX wasn't going to do anything to make women enjoy sports more. It was about equality.

You are completely correct, there are bigger injustices to worry about. For me, I'm still waiting on that investigation by MLB into Eric Gregg's strike zone in Game 5 of the '97 NLCS.

Anonymous said...

I think the "Women like reading" comment was a little odd. There are tons of male authors, book store customers, etc.

Also, how does he expect a law to change a group of people's decisions on how they spend their leisure time? Whether that be reading more books or watching sporting events... That's the wonderful thing about the world we live in, one can make his own decisions. As you mentioned, Title IX was set up to provide access, not shape the viewing habits of the population (I would hope not).

Bengoodfella said...

Anon, I went to the beach recently and saw a large amount of men reading books. Frank Deford writes book, maybe he thinks only women read what he writes.

I do believe Frank Deford missed the point of Title IX. Maybe in some weird tangential way we could expect women sports to be slightly more popular, but I don't think this slight increase in popularity would necessarily be representative of more men loving women sports. I don't get how the law is supposed to affect entertainment either.