Monday, June 18, 2012

Title IX Drives Painful Wedge Between Fathers and Daughters.

"Dad, just say the word...any time, any place."

Ever since she learned to dribble a Scooby Doo playground ball, she's enjoyed taking me on. "You were trying your hardest, right?"

"Absolutely," I replied, but by the time she was around fourteen, yes, I really was trying my hardest. Nonetheless, that arrogant, little Limbaugh embedded in my psyche whispered in my ear that my daughter would never defeat me in a game of one-on-one. No freaking way. As long as an iron lung wasn't part of my IKEA bedroom set, I'd handle it.

And then, a couple of months ago, right after her junior year basketball season ended, she challenged me again. "So, big guy, when are we playing?" She peered slightly down at me from her five-foot, ten-inch altitude. I gazed back, my game face betraying the anxiety that yes, the moment had arrived.

I surveyed those wiry arms and spindly legs which had formed over seventeen years of perpetual motion...and gave her my answer:

"Umm, yeah. I don't think I'm available...umm...ever."

Hey, if the Supreme Court can opt not to hear a case, I can opt not to play, right?

It's too bad she's yet to discover premium music, because she forfeited a golden opportunity slap her dad with a lyrical uppercut from Rush, one of his favorite bands:

"If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice."

I had chosen.

This week marks the fortieth anniversary of Title IX, a federal mandate enacted to prohibit sex discrimination in education. Practically speaking, June 23, 1972 signified the beginning of equal resource allocation for male and female athletics at all academic institutions.

Prior to Title IX's ratification, girls' and women's athletics existed predominately on "club" levels. My own alma mater and bastion of progressive thought, the University of Washington, boasted fourteen varsity men's programs in 1972.

How many women's teams would you guess wore the name "Huskies" across their chests back then? Half? Nope. Okay, how about just the big ones, like basketball, softball and volleyball? Sorry.

If you had chosen the most common answer in Trivial Pursuit—zero—you would have been correct.

I suppose 1972 wasn't too far removed from an era when physical exertion was considered dangerous to fragile female constitutions. After all, thirty-six hours of excruciating labor pales in comparison to a nasty floor rash from diving after a loose ball.

Let's see...what else was going on back in '72? As I recall, girls in my fourth grade class had recently been permitted to add pantsuits as appropriate scholarly attire. Although denim hadn't yet been allowed to tightly paint their lower extremities, I vividly recollect several brightly colored polyester outfits leaving my wheezing ass in the dust on field day.

It was akin to watching the backsides of four Carol Bradys and two Shirley Partridges accelerate into the distance, their shag hairdos bouncing in perfect synchronicity to their flopping jacket flaps.

Ironically, had our class decided to form boys' and girls' varsity track teams, the boys would've been pummeled in every event yet would still enjoy the cool uniforms and free blue Gatorade to which the girls weren't entitled.

During the 1972 Munich Olympics, Mark Spitz swam to a record seven gold metals despite the considerable drag of a cumbersome yet totally sweet mustache. American women also competed in swimming events at those games, but only those fortunate enough to attend one of the handful of colleges fielding women's varsity swim teams.

Any other female Olympic hopefuls trained at the Y during the three to five PM lap swim, dodging stray noodles, water wings and octogenarian tortoise people.

Even after the law's passage, equity emerged at a snail's pace. A lot of courageous women filed a lot of unpopular lawsuits, and girls' basketball didn't hit the big time until the socks had grown considerably shorter and the shorts considerably longer.

Forty years later, most young female athletes likely hold no inkling of the dismal state of women's athletics during the reign of Tricky Dick Nixon and before. My seventeen-year-old daughter believes that trotting onto the court through a tunnel of cheerleaders as the band plays and the public address announcer calls out her name is a prima facie birthright, something which has been around since Fred Flinstone shaved with a bumblebee-filled clam shell.

It's my duty to impress upon her the impact of Title IX and the sacrifices others have made which have opened the door...

...for her to school my sorry ass in one-on-one.

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