By Dan Bauer
Has Title IX created equity in sports?
If someone would have asked me when Title IX was passed into law, I would have guessed 15-20 years ago. I would be very wrong—it was in fact 1972. I was still in high school and quite frankly a little afraid of girls. And while girls may have been on my radar, Title IX was not.Fast forward a decade or so and my first two daughters were born a bit too early for the girl’s hockey scene. It really was not much of an option when they were young, so they both turned to figure skating. They played volleyball & ran a little track, but equity in practice time with the boys’ sports was never really an issue. There was of course the running feud between hockey and figure skating. I always tried to preach tolerance and understanding to my hockey players. If they thought figure skating was easy, I challenged them to watch a skater learn to land their jumps. Fall, after fall, after fall, you had to admire their perseverance.
When my two youngest daughters decided to be hockey players, I fell in lock step with most everyone else and just accepted poor and infrequent practice times. After all girls’ hockey was new to the scene and they were expected to “pay their dues.” I knew Title IX existed and had a general idea of what it was supposed to do, but as a parent I complained and questioned, but my words mostly fell on deaf ears.Time travel forward from 1972, forty-seven years later and equity between male and female athletics has surely been achieved. Or has it?
At the WIAA State Tournament, the girl’s championship always precedes the marquee boys’ game. It doesn’t necessarily change in college where my daughter’s UW-Eau Claire team always plays an afternoon game when the men’s team is at home on the same day. Twice last year, my Wisconsin Valley Union team played weeknight 8:00pm games on the road. In both cases boy’s games were played ahead of us and the road teams had a crosstown, or less than thirty-minute commute home. Some of our girls got home after 1:00am.
The year before my daughters were to join the Central Wisconsin Storm, Title IX made its first confirmed appearance on my radar. As I asked and dug into their future practice schedule it was easy to see that it was constructed on ice that was left over when almost everyone else had filled their requests. The only consistency was late start times and a disturbing number of off days. When I asked why, the response was basically that they were so grateful and excited to get the program going that they were willing to sit back and just take what was left over for ice.
They didn’t want to rock the boat. It was as if Title IX did not exist.
To the credit of all the coaches involved in Wausau, within a couple of months the inequity was addressed and corrected. Once everyone recognized the responsibility to make this right, it was quickly solved. Unfortunately, not all equity situations have a similar happy ending. I learned that when you are on the boy’s side you truly are king and everyone else picks ice after you take what you want. Turns out being queen doesn’t have nearly as many advantages.
At one point in my coaching career I thought the changes in the athletes would drive me from coaching, then I believed it would be the menacing helicopter parents and now scheduling has become public enemy number one. It is time consuming, frustrating and something I seldom had even the slightest issue with as a boy’s coach. I thought Title IX would be the solution, but I find that when you try to invoke it, the context of the situation dramatically changes. Being a co-op only magnifies the problem, because essentially you have no home rink, so no one really feels obligated to give you any ice. In most cases rinks are not school owned and you are succinctly told that Title IX doesn’t matter here. I am constantly assured that the ice time struggles have nothing to do with gender, but the ultimate actions say otherwise. There is an animosity that comes forward from the timeworn stereotypes that still exist among too many males. The secluded belief that female sports should “not be treated equal” and that “girls shouldn’t be playing hockey at all” are more widespread in the male dominated hockey hierarchy than you might believe. Those chauvinistic beliefs are defiantly uttered in private conversations, but not at public board meetings.
Add it all up and you are trying to complete a puzzle with a lot of missing pieces.Hilary Knight, the de facto spokesperson for women’s hockey offers this disclaimer, “People need to stop assuming that female athletes are weaker, slower, not as physical, not as good or as skilled.” And I would add not as deserving of prime ice time, good quality coaches and simple respect.Like racism, sexism is alive and well.
Since making my move to coaching females, I have quickly learned that building their confidence is perhaps my biggest priority. It is a culturally inflicted wound that many females struggle to heal. It isn’t difficult to figure out how it has happened. The ice time discrimination is just another clear message that girl’s athletics aren’t quite as important.Look no further than the daily headlines of professional sports to see just how twisted our moral compass has become when it comes to women. Sexual assault and abuse of women is treated as a misdemeanor by professional sports in general and for the most part the NCAA. Michael Vick received much harsher treatment for running a dog ring. Abusing animals is considered a more serious crime than domestic abuse. The recent struggles of the Women’s Olympic Hockey Team is further proof that the job is far from done. Peruse social media and the women’s sports bashers are as prevalent as amusing cat videos. If you have taken the time to watch high level female sports, I believe you will find that the quality of entertainment is in the same zip code as the men’s version. But if it isn’t on your radar, you haven’t even made the effort to compare.
In my hockey world, Title IX equity is far from a reality.
This is a crippling storm and embarrassing reality that should be on everyone’s radar. For those of us with daughters who have been affected by this prejudice it is our duty to raise the awareness and continue advocating for the type of change that doesn’t see athletes in terms of gender, but in terms of equal opportunity to chase their dreams.
Former NBA player and father of two daughters, Jason Terry, said, “As a father, raising children, it is my duty to protect their dream.” You shouldn’t need a daughter to have that on your radar.
Dan Bauer is a free-lance writer, retired teacher & hockey coach in Wausau, WI. You can contact him at email@example.com