EDITOR'S NOTE: This appears in the July 1, 2002, issue, of National Review.
Tilting the Playing Field: Schools, Sports, Sex, and Title IX, by Jessica Gavora (Encounter, 181 pp., $24.95)
hen Brandi Chastain stripped down to her sports bra after helping the U.S. team win the women's World Cup soccer championship, it was page-one news one of the most memorable images of 1999. As the current legend has it, neither that win, nor Chastain's display, nor indeed any victory for women's sports would ever have been possible without a law known as "Title IX."
Jessica Gavora knows the value of girls' sports. The same year Title IX was passed 1972 Gavora, author of Tilting the Playing Field, was playing fourth-grade basketball in Fairbanks, Alaska. Inspired by competition with her brother, she played basketball through high school. In grade school, she says, she had been awkward, too tall, and an "uninspired student": "What saved me was sports." Today, Gavora is chief speechwriter to attorney general John Ashcroft (and wife of NRO editor Jonah Goldberg). So this new book is emphatically not a polemic against girls' sports; it is, rather, the chronicle of a law that, as Gavora says, "more than any other federal law" has been "interpreted and twisted and bent outside the institutions of our electoral democracy."
Passed as an amendment to an education bill, Title IX was patterned on the 1964 Civil Rights Act. In the minds of its congressional sponsors, it actually had little to nothing to do with women's crew and men's wrestling or indeed any other sport. It was crafted as a general protection against discrimination, stating simply: "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 receiving Federal financial assistance." What the backers had in mind, says Gavora, was not sports but "more prosaic educational benefits, like admission to schools and programs, access to financial aid and career opportunities."
The legislators were in fact concerned about the potential for abuse of the Title IX legislation, so they included in it an explicit provision against quotas:
But Title IX has come a long way, baby. Today Title IX which, to most Americans who have heard of it, means "women's sports" does exactly what that provision in the law forbade it to. Feminists are celebrating this sainted law's 30th anniversary this year with Lifetime cable specials, prime-time hours on ESPN handed over to quota fanatics, galas, the works (there's even a women's sports-clothing catalog named "Title 9 Sports") but unrecognized in most of these events will be the casualties of the Title IX numbers game: men.
As Gavora explains, this law benignly written "to end discrimination against women" has had the effect of "causing discrimination against men." The stories are all similar, and every year the casualty list gets longer as more and more men's high-school and college teams are eliminated to make room for women's teams. Much to the delight of feminists, the Clinton Education Department added to the Title IX law a standard that sports programs be "proportional": If a school's student population is 60 percent women and 40 percent men, the sports have to reflect that breakdown exactly even if 60 percent of the women don't want to play sports. Otherwise, it's Cutsville for the men meaning not just the team destroyed and players displaced, but student athletes often forced out of college altogether, or into a search for similar programs at other schools because they have lost precious scholarship money. Since 1972, according to the General Accounting Office, over 170 wrestling programs, 80 tennis teams, 70 gymnastics teams, and 45 track teams have been eliminated all men's teams. In high schools, while girls' sports have increased ninefold in the Title IX years, boys are just about where they were 31 years ago. This is the legacy of Title IX.
Sterling Martin, renowned coach of the Bowling Green University track team a team that has a large percentage of minority athletes, and has even produced an Olympic gold medalist is now out of a job at Bowling Green. He is considering ending his 15-year career as a track coach because he's not confident that there's going to be much of a future left for men's track coaches.
For Title IX, it has been a weird evolution. As Gavora points out, feminists want sports to be both separate and equal. They want separate teams, because they are not stupid: They know that most women are not going to make the cut on a justly selected co-ed team. But they also want things the same the "same opportunities." But how exactly are you going to guarantee that, when men and women simply aren't going to be interested in the same sports and with the same level of enthusiasm?
Feminists have not even come close to dealing with these problems. Gavora sets forth their inexorable "logic":
Title IX therefore leads to a clearly unjust result. Women today have the upper hand in just about every area of education except sports, so feminists are now demanding special privileges in that area as well. "Far from being held back by vestigial discrimination in academia, girls and women from kindergarten to graduate school are thriving," Gavora writes. "They increasingly dominate in universities and graduate schools. And on virtually every indicia of academic achievement, they outshine boys and men. With few exceptions, they outperform, outscore, and out-graduate their male counterparts in the nation's education system." They now seek a feminist utopia in sports however forced and unfair it might be.
It's true what the gals say, though: Women have prospered in sports over the last few decades, and not just because they have more teams at schools. But it was not because of Title IX that Brandi Chastain and her team won the World Cup. "The formative soccer experience of the women's national team like that of millions of American girls," Gavora writes,
Amidst all this celebrating of a law the girls don't need and the guys definitely don't, is there hope for men's sports? Moneymakers like college football will always prosper but what about the less lucrative sports, like those featured in the Olympics? A group of college-coaches associations representing wrestling, gymnastics, and track are suing the federal government. It's not Title IX per se they have in their sights, but rather the warped feminist interpretation of it that the Clinton administration and the courts have turned into binding law. Despite a recent loss the Bush administration backed down from an opportunity to make a pre-anniversary change in the reading of the law the guys have some friends both in the administration and on the Hill (House Speaker Denny Hastert was a high-school wrestling coach). Overall, though, men's sports remain undeniably on the defensive, literally fighting for the lives of their programs against the preponderance of media and uninformed public opinion.
Those who have been injured by the perversion of Title IX have a treasure in Jessica Gavora's excellent new book. She is a talented advocate, offering definitive history and policy analysis, along with stories that will tug at your heartstrings and inspire you to take up arms alongside those who are working to undo what Title IX has done. High-school and college sports are long overdue for a time-out to level the playing field, and let the guys back into their games.