Girl Power

Women can play just as tough as the boys.

When the prevailing political winds shift directions, as they seem to do about every 10 years in America, they have a tendency to stir up those who see an opportunity and feel the need to erase the works of the previous years that were not to their liking. They want to deregulate that which had been regulated, re-regulate that which had been deregulated and/or, all too often, wipe away those bold strokes that had led to true societal progress.

Along those lines, the current Flavor of the Month for the haters out there is Title IX, a Nixon-era mandate that sought to eliminate gender discrimination in education. What it did, among other things, is open up the gymnasiums and playing fields of this country for millions of girls and women, an act that has proven revolutionary, thereby explaining why it is despised so by those with certain political leanings.

Public disdain of Title IX used to be confined to the beer-swilling louts who populate sports talk radio. Hosts and callers alike would lament the fact that their favorite college football team had to get by on 85 scholarships so that the school could have a women's track team. Or that the men's basketball squad had to make do with 13 scholarships just so that the women could play the same game, but below the rim and in front of smaller crowds.

This misguided attempt at hanging on to some fictitious masculine high ground used to fester mainly among the more doltish fringes of our society. But now, with a (currently) popular Republican in the White House, those who see gender equity as somehow dangerous are being emboldened to speak out. Why, just a couple weeks ago, the esteemed George Will embarrassed himself and Newsweek by using a laughable mix of pop sociology, questionable statistics and misplaced nostalgia to attack Title IX.

Will's essay was chock full of false assumptions and specious conclusions. (For example, he throws out a statistic that 3.4 men's positions were lost for every one new woman's spot created. This is easily explained by the high start-up costs for new programs and, obviously, that discrepancy will disappear over time. I trust that Will wasn't trying to suggest that a woman's scholarship is somehow more costly than a man's.) Most incredible, however, was his claim that, using a phrase coined by a Bush administration policy advisor, there exists a "sportsmania gap" between boys and girls.

Personally, I've never seen any evidence of this gap. Of course, I'm not a quasi-academic who's willing to tailor my "findings" to mirror the philosophy of whichever think tank is paying my bills. All I am is a coach who has been working with kids for the past quarter-century and coaching girls basketball for much of the past decade.

Based on my experiences, I can state unequivocally that girls want to win just as badly as boys. Girls are just as willing to run the sprints, lift the weights and do the drills. They'll play in pain and sacrifice their social lives. They'll endure the hot, sweaty gyms in the summer and the long, boring bus rides in the winter. They'll take equal pride in what the hard work has done for their bodies, what the preparation has done for their minds and what the teamwork has done for their souls. And they will cherish the wins, lament the losses and value the opportunity to compete every bit as much as their male counterparts.

Alas, Will is not some lone voice crying in the wilderness. The state of Virginia buys championship rings for boys who win state titles, but not for girls. Several states make high-school girls play basketball in the fall or spring so that the boys can have the gyms to themselves in the winter. I've even had fellow coaches tell me that it's not as important for girls to win as it is for boys, that's girls' sports are more for socialization.

Whether or not that was ever the case, it's certainly not the case now. Girls want to put in the work and reap the benefits. They want to test their skills against others and strive to be the best. And oh yes, they want to win. You give a girl a T-shirt that says she was a part of a team that won a championship and/or went undefeated and she'll wear that thing until it's so threadbare you could spit through it.

Will suggests that feminists (he uses the word as a pejorative) want to use sports to turn little girls into little boy wannabes. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sports help girls boost their self-confidence, enhance their self-image and shape and define their identity and, to a certain extent, their future. Participation in sports doesn't make girls quasi-boys; it makes them better girls. Athleticism is becoming just as much a part of being feminine today as wearing makeup was back in the 1950s.

I watched my daughter grow up in a world of unprecedented athletic and academic opportunities for girls, one with neither a glass ceiling of institutionalized sexism nor the confining sidewalls of lower expectations and social stigma.

I'm now watching my son grow up in a country that is more equal than mine was when I was his age, one in which he respects girl athletes as fellow athletes, not girls dabbling in a man's domain.

I suspect that Will pines for the old days when his beloved baseball wasn't diseased and endangered, when the job of government was to preserve the status quo and when he and the other fellows only had to compete with half of society for jobs and money.

I'm not one of those people that Will contends believe that all good comes from government. Most good comes from individuals recognizing the rightness of an idea and working and fighting to keep it alive. However, Title IX did indeed come from government and what it has wrought is undeniably good.