Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Wall

Every newspaper and magazine should have someone in charge of keeping track of anniversaries. It's a natural tie-in for stories. Wow, it's been 25 years since that happened? Already? Can we find someone who remembers that event from 50 years ago? And so on.

Sports Illustrated recently devoted a good share of a recent issue to the 40th anniversary of Title IX. That's the law that essentially said that colleges that receive federal funds had to give equal financial support to women's activities.

Having gone past my own 40th anniversary a while ago, I remember the pre-Title IX days. It wasn't pretty. Any young girl who actually liked running around a bit was called a "tomboy," and not exactly encouraged. I suppose tennis was all right, and maybe figure skating -- and who could afford that? -- but otherwise the landscape was rather barren.

What I remember about those days is the wall that sports represented between males and females. Guys played sports, talked about sports. Gals didn't. Period. As a sports fan growing up (there's an understatement), I was always a little sad that the wall was up between the sexes. I more or less figured that anyone who didn't understand the appeal of sports at some level would have trouble understanding me.

But here's my favorite "good old days" story along those lines of what it was like back then:

I was a senior in high school in 1972-73, and the girls' basketball team had a home game. I think it started at 4 p.m. Meanwhile in the other gym, boys' intramural basketball was taking place with games at something like 3:45 and 4:45. On this particular day, my team had a late game.

With little to do for an hour, my teammates and I walked to the main gym and discovered a girls' game was in progress. So ... we walked in and sat on the bleachers. Once we figured out this was our school playing, we started cheering. Trust me, we weren't being rude -- merely enthusiastic.

After a few minutes had gone by, the Clarence coach walked over to us and said the other team's coach was complaining that our cheers were upsetting her girls. She wanted us to hold it down. We did; our applause became lighter and our voices lower. It didn't help. In the next timeout, the Clarence coach returned and asked us, politely and almost sheepishly, to leave. She knew we weren't the offensive party here.

Title IX had been on the books for a short time at that point, not long enough to make a difference in any way yet. But eventually it did. Not only did women start participating in more sports, but they also started rooting for teams and individuals. I'd like to think everyone found out how much fun they were missing.

The argument goes on. A California legislator recently made news by attacking Title IX in front of soccer star Brandi Chastain, making himself look uninformed, outdated and rude all at once. Nicely played.

Still, we've made a lot of progress in 40 years. Can't wait to see where we go from here.

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