Saturday, June 23, 2012

Forty Years after Title IX, Women Remain Amateurs

Forty years ago today, President Nixon signed Title IX into law. One of the surprising side effects of the law was to make it easier for women to participate in athletics at the scholastic level. However, Title IX has miserably failed in jump-starting a larger interest in women as professional athletes or creating an equal playing field where men and women participate in the same sports. What went wrong?

First, let's consider professional sports. The Women's Professional Soccer league has disbanded, even after the boost of the 2011 US Women's World Cup team and the coming 2012 Olympics. The league was incapable of getting more sponsors or team owners even after this happened:

Meanwhile, the LPGA still struggles despite dynamic and photogenic young stars such as Morgan Pressel. The WNBA, which used to capture my attention, seemingly limps around, and unfortunately doesn't have a Brittany Griner to place on each team. There is no softball league anymore (oh, remember the US Women's softball team?). Not a single women's sport seems to be thriving at the moment in America, outside of the once-every-four years sports of gymnastics and ice skating, which don't use the college system anyway.

So what can be done, if anything? Women's softball or soccer still have some chance of thriving in the United States. I was impressed by the WPS level of play, and even writers who usually are not that enthusiastic about women's sports, such as Bill Simmons, were intrigued by the US women's national team. There's room for a Triple-A type set-up for those team sports in the USA.

It won't be easy, and those leagues may end up completely catering to a family audience. The problem with that is that faithful single male and lesbian fans of such sports may feel left out or neglected. But there must be some sort of compromise where a league can attract significant levels of both. In my posts on the WPS, I saw this starting to work in the last few games of the season.

I also quite frankly wonder if talented athletic women should be targeting men's sports. There have been female baseball players before, in the old Negro leagues. Females have competed in the lower classes of high school wrestling, one example being Cassy Herkelman. (She made news when her opponent in the state tournament, Joel Northup, defaulted rather than face her: see below).
Women have competed quite well in ultra-marathons, for example. Perhaps the true way to fulfill the spirit of Title IX is for a woman to one day play shortstop for the Dodgers.

Overall, however, I believe the spirit of Title IX has failed. Forty years is not too short a time to expect a professional women's league in one sport to become moderately successful. Perhaps we are dealing with fundamental tastes of humanity here, and the lack of interest in paying and watching women play sports will not change. What do you think?