Twisting and Tainting Title IX


The Times runs an Ira Berkow story headlined “The Other Side of Title IX.” PBS airs a program called, “Title IX and Women in Sports: What’s Wrong With This Picture?” And in a CNN/SI Web site piece, Sports Illustrated columnist David Fleming cries, “It’s time to deep-six Title IX.” And all within just the last few weeks. Look back a little further, and you’ll find men moaning in media all over the country that males, poor creatures, have become victims of the 1972 law that outlawed sex discrimination in federally funded educational programs. Jockbeat smells a conspiracy. And it’s stinkier than a postgame locker room.

Several right-wing public policy groups have seized on Title IX as the latest target of their campaign to undo civil rights legislation. Now that the anti­affirmative action brushfires they set in Texas and California are spreading across the land, they are tossing Title IX into the flames, remembering perhaps better than the rest of us, that Title IX had as much to do with creating opportunities for women in science labs as on playing fields. The rhetoric is familiar. As a document from the anti-feminist Independent Women’s Forum (one of the leaders of this crusade) puts it: “It is apparent that this law [Title IX] . . . has degenerated into an ever-expanding gender quota system.”

Why are mainstream media parroting them? First, because IWF and one of its comrades, the Center for Individual Rights, famed for bringing some of the most significant lawsuits challenging affirmative action, aren’t exactly making up the facts— they’re just twisting them. And the facts are compelling: Men’s “minor” sports, such as wrestling, golf, and gymnastics, are being dropped by schools at accelerating rates, and athletic directors often blame Title IX, specifically the requirement that the percentage of women athletes at a school parallel the percentage of female students. Journalists are, unconscionably, taking these athletic directors at their word, and thus repeating the Big Lie that conservative organizations are pushing. In reality, proportionality is only one of three ways in which a school can comply with Title IX. It may opt, instead, for demonstrating a continuing history of expanding opportunities for women, or show that it is fully accommodating the demand for athletic opportunity from its student body. Title IX is not forcing anybody to eliminate men’s programs, and supporters of Title IX, such as the Women’s Sports Foundation, do not support that method of compliance.

Of course it’s the outrageous spending on football and basketball that is gobbling up the men’s teams at the bottom of the food chain. Do Division I football teams need 100 players, 85 on scholarship? It doesn’t take much shaving of those numbers to save a wrestling squad. Is it really necessary for the whole roster to stay in a hotel the night before a home game? Women’s programs could be increased substantially with some judicious cuts that would do no damage to opportunities for football players. But no one— least of all coaches of threatened male teams— has the courage to take the behemoths to the mat. So they’re going for the easy takedown: scapegoating the women. Instead, they should be joining forces with women’s teams to develop more sensible and equitable programs for all.

Meanwhile, the right-wing ideologues are having a field day, adding unabashed manipulation of the press to their efforts. In a recent letter to leaders of top wrestling associations, the full-time director of IWF’s Title IX campaign, Kimberly Schuld, brags that IWF was instrumental in getting U.S. News and World Report, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications to cover the issue from their point of view. She takes credit for an anti-“quota” 20/20 episode last May, noting how “the show’s producer was on the phone several times a week” with her and her colleagues, “who directed the tone of the show.” As for the segment on PBS last month, Schuld crows, “I was a key player with the production staff,” assisting them on “how to write the story line.”

But why should facts get in the way of the heart-wrenching drama in Berkow’s story of men having to hang up their baseball cleats, or of such teary copy from Fleming, who wonders whether the varsity letter he earned for wrestling at Ohio’s Miami U., which just announced eliminating the program, “would look better in the bottom of my trash can”?

No such emotion from these guys on the annual stats from Division I schools, published in the Chronicle of Higher Education last week: In 1997­98, 40 percent of Division I athletes, but 53 percent of undergraduates, were women. Women received 40 percent of the athletics-scholarship budgets, 32 percent of recruiting budgets, 36 percent of total team operating budgets, and only 28 percent of salary expenditures on coaches. Run it by us again, fellas. Who’s getting shafted?


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    contributors: Alisa Solomon, Ramona Debs sports intern: Joshua D. Gaynor
    sports editor: Miles D. Seligman

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