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A Place on the Team is the inside story of how Title IX revolutionized American sports. The federal law guaranteeing women's rights in education, Title IX opened gymnasiums and playing fields to millions of young women previously locked out. Journalist Welch Suggs chronicles both the law's successes and failures-the exciting opportunities for women as well as the commercial and recruiting pressures of modern-day athletics.
Enlivened with tales from Suggs's reportage, the book clears up the muddle of interpretation and opinion surrounding Title IX. It provides not only a lucid description of how courts and colleges have read (and misread) the law, but also compelling portraits of the people who made women's sports a vibrant feature of American life.
What's more, the book provides the first history of the law's evolution since its passage in 1972. Suggs details thirty years of struggles for equal rights on the playing field. Schools dragged their feet, offering token efforts for women and girls, until the courts made it clear that women had to be treated on par with men. Those decisions set the stage for some of the most celebrated moments in sports, such as the Women's World Cup in soccer and the Women's Final Four in NCAA basketball.
Title IX is not without its critics. Wrestlers and other male athletes say colleges have cut their teams to comply with the law, and Suggs tells their stories as well.
With the chronicles of Pat Summitt, Anson Dorrance, and others who shaped women's sports, A Place on the Team is a must-read not only for sports buffs but also for parents of every young woman who enters the arena of competitive sports.
"[A] must-read for any sports historian or female athlete interested in how the opportunities she so freely enjoys came about."--Publishers Weekly
"Ultimately a gripping story of Title IX's triumph."--Harvard Law Review
"Finally, a lucid, thorough and non-polemical accounting of Title IX's origins, development, and impact. Welch Suggs traces the women's sports revolution back to its roots in physical education, details Title IX's origins in civil rights law, and explains why the law has proven to be so resistant to legal challenge. He doesn't flinch from taking stock of the law's regrettable consequences. All future discussion of college sports and gender equity will begin with this book."--Alexander Wolff, Sports Illustrated
"Suggs provides brief histories of college sports, women's college sports administration, and civil rights legislation before wading into case law that Title IX begat. He makes sense of this convoluted, contentious journey through 2004 and fairly presents a range of feminist, conservative and libertarian viewpoints."--Library Journal
"With A Place on the Team, Suggs has done a service to anyone who wants to understand the history of Title IX and the debates that continue to swirl around its implementation."--Michael A. Messner, Academe
The Mischief 's own schedule in the Washington Area Girls Soccer league did not allow them to let up. Instead, the team fit league games, practices, and tournaments in as best it could, on early weekend mornings and whenever it could find time.
For goodsoccer players-and the Mischief were very good-the sport is a full-time job after school. When they kicked off for this game against the Mystics, Susan Kamenar and her teammates had played roughly twenty-three games apiece since August. And the year was far from over, with tournaments remaining in Delaware, North Carolina, and Florida before New Year's.
Why? Why devote this much time to soccer? Their parents were not forcing them; only a handful showed up to shiver on the sidelines at this game. Peer pressure was not forcing them; they played high school soccer with their friends, but the Mischief was just a group of acquaintances who happened to spend a lot of time together.
Susan hints at an answer in one of her college essays:
Playing soccer is the one thing in my life that has remained constant and stable throughout my life since I was four years old. Soccer has kept me from losing my sense of self and has prevented me from falling into the troubled world that many teenagers do. Soccer has kept my body, mind, heart, and soul alive and healthy. I am the only "original" player on my club team, the Potomac Mischief, because I have been on the team since it was formed in fourth grade. I have grown up with this team and it has shaped me into who I am today. Through my dedication to soccer and my team, I have acquired skills that help me excel in other parts of my life: time management, teamwork, decision-making, leadership, commitment, communication, social skills, determination, and other skills.
Soccer has also helped me with my faith. I use soccer to free my mind. When I play soccer I forget about everything and get into a mental spiritual zone. Before every game when we are lined up on the field waiting for the kickoff, I make the sign of the cross in the dirt and offer the game up to God. It helps to remind me why I am here, and by doing my best with the skills that God has given me, I will step off the field satisfied, win or lose.
This is why people play sports. To have fun, to excel, to push themselves and their bodies to their limits. This is why Americans have sports in schools, because of the lessons that Susan and her peers have learned from the countless hours they willingly devote to their sport.
Susan is in the first generation of women who are expected to learn those lessons on the playing field, just as men have done for centuries. Three decades after its passage, the promise of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is finally being realized.
Title IX forbids sex discrimination at colleges and schools that receive federal funds (i.e., virtually all of them). It applies to athletic programs just as it does to the rest of a school's programs.
Because of the mania that scholastic and collegiate sports inspire, Title IX's application to sports has been the most visible gender controversy of the past thirty years. Millions flock to high school stadiums on Fridays and to college venues on Saturdays throughout the fall for football games, spending hundreds of dollars per family on tickets, T-shirts, and other paraphernalia, showing team pride as a proxy for school spirit.
While fans of lower-profile men's sports like gymnastics, track, and wrestling fulminate that Title IX is killing their sports, thousands of images and trophies pay tribute to the law's triumphs. At American colleges, more than two hundred thousand women are on varsity sports teams, up from a handful in 1971. More than 2.8 million girls were on high school teams in 2002. There were roughly 490,000 college athletes and 6.7 million high school athletes, so women comprise about 40 percent of the total on both levels. Americans have realized that women can and ought to be competitive athletes, just like men.
No image of the law's victory is more gripping and representative than Brandi Chastain's shirtless celebration following her winning goal in the 1999 Women's World Cup. But equally important is an invisible monument-a controversy-that if made solid would take the form of several reams of densely written pages-congressional debate, federal regulations, and judges' rulings that have withstood the onslaught of scores of challenges. Taken together, these pages send American schools and colleges a simple message: If boys get to play sports, then girls do, too.
Early in the twentieth century, female coaches expressed an ideal: "A girl for every sport, and a sport for every girl." The triumph of Title IX shows how close we have come.
But "close" is not all the way. Women are a clear majority of students in higher education-7.5 million of the 13.2 million undergrads at American colleges. Women are underrepresented on sports teams, and most of their teams receive lower budgets, poorer facilities, and less attention than their male counterparts. Some argue that women are not as interested in sports as men and that the differences in participation population reflect that. Regardless, women are still getting the short end of the stick when schools and colleges allocate resources.
Title IX has a yet darker side. In mandating that women athletes be treated the same as men, the law encouraged women's sports to develop in the hypercompetitive, highly commercialized model that evolved in men's sports over the past century and a half. Teams like the Mischief play scores of games every year, cutting into schoolwork and other activities. In sports like cross-country and gymnastics, girls develop eating disorders after being encouraged to lose weight. Athletes specialize as early as their preteen years, so that only girls who have been competing in a sport since elementary school have a shot at making their high school and college teams. At the youth and secondary level, parents and schools are devoting resources to elite-style sports, not to broader participation opportunities. Susan and her teammates have learned the lessons sport has to teach because they are very good, and many of her classmates at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School may never get the chance to learn those lessons.
The Mischief has a particular reason for being on the soccer field at this hour, and the reason is sitting on a hillock trying to wake up and keep an eye on one of Susan's teammates. Bundled in a red-and-green sideline jacket and carrying a nylon briefcase with the MidAmerican Conference logo, Hugh Seyfarth is one of a hundred college coaches who have stopped here in Maryland during the national circuit of tournaments, which is designed to herd top high school soccer players together to show off their skills in the hopes of winning a scholarship or just a spot on a team so that they can dedicate themselves to soccer for another four or five years.
Seyfarth, an assistant coach at Miami University in Ohio, does not particularly enjoy the process. This year, he does not even have scholarships to offer aspirants. "We were allowed to start talking to kids on July 1, and by July 3 we'd given out all our scholarships" for players entering college in fall 2004, he said. Now, he is looking for second-tier players who might be willing to "walk on," or try out for the Miami team with no guarantee of playing time or financial aid. He is also getting an early look at next year's crop of high school talent, perpetuating the process for next year.
Miami is one of 199 universities sponsoring Division I women's soccer, each of which needs roughly twenty players to compete. That makes Seyfarth a player in a game that forces high-schoolers to make one of the most important decisions of their lives, where they go to college, based on how well they can kick a soccer ball. The better ones have to make that decision even before beginning their senior year of high school. Seyfarth worries about the process, but he points out that it's the same in most sports-basketball, field hockey, swimming, tennis, and so forth. Plus, he said, "The kids who are getting scholarships, everybody's known who they were since they were twelve or thirteen." Soccer has defined their lives for at least that long, and in many cases much longer.
That fact is thanks to Title IX, which has brought the joy and trouble of high-stakes sports to the other half of the population, radically transforming the lives of millions of girls and women.
Entering middle age, Title IX is still a mystery to most parents, coaches, and even the people charged with enforcing it. Is it a law? Is it a set of rules? Who enforces it? Who has to follow it? What does it really say? As with most laws, very few laypeople know the answers to these questions. This book is an attempt to give a full historical answer to these questions, but here is a quick primer.
In 1972, Congress passed Title IX as one of several amendments to the Higher Education Act. Its basic premise is simple: "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, or denied the benefits of, or subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal aid." That includes every facet of education, including undergraduate admissions, laboratory space, hiring, and sports. The Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987 made clear that if any program at an educational institution or school district received federal grants, then the entire entity is covered by Title IX and other civil rights laws. Virtually all school districts and colleges receive some form of federal money (the exceptions are private secondary schools and colleges that do not participate in federal student loan programs, such as Hillsdale College in Michigan). Thus, practically all scholastic and college sports are governed by Title IX.
How schools and colleges choose to abide by the law is spelled out in a set of regulations issued by the government in 1975 and in specific policy interpretations published in 1979 and 1986. The Department of Health, Education, and Welfare regulated educational institutions before 1980, and was split into the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services. Under both HEW and the Department of Education, Title IX enforcement has fallen to the department's Office for Civil Rights.
Unlike other educational activities (or any other realm of civil rights, for that matter), nearly everyone agrees that male and female athletes ought to play in separate realms. People have fought and died to eliminate "separate but equal" schools for children of different races, but with a handful of exceptions, everyone agrees that under current conditions, men and women ought to have comparable, single-sex teams and activities. Schools and colleges do not need to offer sports programs, but if they do, Title IX makes it clear that they must provide equitable opportunities for male and female students.
Here, "equitable" covers all areas of a sports program's operations-athletic scholarships (if offered); participation opportunities; scheduling of games and practice times; travel costs and per diems; coaching and tutoring (including numbers of coaches, their salaries, and their professional backgrounds); locker rooms, practice and competition facilities; medical facilities, housing and dining services; and publicity and media services. At the collegiate level, the most controversial and most litigated portion governs the number of male and female athletes institutions must have on their rosters.
The 1979 interpretation and a host of subsequent court rulings provide schools with three options. Institutions must have (1) similar participation and enrollment rates for men and women; (2) a history and strategy of expanding opportunities for women; or (3) proof that women are completely satisfied with the sports programs being offered. The 1996 clarification said that option 1 is a "safe harbor": If a college has the same percentage of women in sports programs as there are women in the undergraduate student body, it is home free.
Colleges and their lawyers now have to figure out what to do with these guidelines, on penalty of facing lawsuits and complaints filed with the federal government. The fastest and cheapest route to the safe harbor is to force the gender ratio of athletes to equal that of students. Because most institutions have more men than women on varsity teams, many have cut male athletes and even entire teams to comply with the rule.
But fastest and cheapest is not the only way. Institutions can add women's teams, complying with option 2 immediately and, over time, with option 1. Or they can attempt to demonstrate compliance with option 3, using surveys and other documents.
Cutting men's teams and telling male athletes they cannot play anymore because of a law is, on its face, heartless. To many, it is a simple matter of discriminating against real people to satisfy an abstract principle. The arguments against option 1 mirror those against affirmative action: Requiring companies or colleges to accept a certain number of people from one group, even if people from a second group are arguably more qualified or (in the case of sports) demonstrate more interest, is discrimination against individuals in the second group.
Quota has become a dirty word in discussions of Title IX, just as it has in affirmative action. Conservatives get particularly heated about this argument, particularly libertarians and most free-market advocates. A fairer law, they believe, would allow schools to make their own choices about which sports teams to offer, based on the interest shown by students.
Representatives of women's groups and advocates for women's sports offer two arguments in response. The first is the Field of Dreams argument, after the 1989 movie: "If you build it, they will come." How can you properly gauge interest in a particular activity if the group you are asking has never been given the opportunity or encouragement to participate? How are women going to demonstrate their interest in sports if they have not gotten the same chances to play as men have?
The second argument is subtler. Title IX requires that educational activities to be provided equitably to male and female students. Sport is an educational activity, certainly as athletes like Susan Kamenar have experienced it. Therefore, sports must be provided equitably. Schools are not required to change their course offerings or even extracurricular programs based on student interest, which of course changes every year. Instead, colleges offer the programs they do because school officials believe those programs have merit. So why should sports be offered solely on the basis of student interest?
A rich and convoluted mythology has grown up around college sports in this country. Most people, even coaches and athletic administrators, believe that men's sports were started in the mid-nineteenth century and evolved steadily to their present state. Women's sports, on the other hand, trace their history only back to 1972 and the passage of Title IX. Old football coaches look at the inequities that still remain between men's and women's athletics and say that women's sports just have not had the time to develop that men's sports have had.
Excerpted from A Place on the Team by Welch Suggs Excerpted by permission.
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