Founded in 1974 by tennis legend, Billie Jean King, the Women's Sports Foundation is dedicated to creating leaders by providing girls access to sports. They provide financial fuel to aspiring champion athletes. They fund groundbreaking research. They educate. They advocate. And they help communities get girls active.
The panelists were
Billie Jean King (The legend only spoke in the beginning and at the end.)
LaChina Robinson, Moderator, ESPN Basketball Analyst/Reporter
Sarah Axelson, Senior Director, Advocacy for WSF
Neena Chaudhry, General Counsel, Sr. Advisor for Education, National Women's Law Center
Candace Parker, WNBA Champion, 2 x WNBA MVP
Dawn Staley, Head Coach, Women's Basketball, University of South Carolina
THE SHORTCOMINGS OF TITLE IX
By Rich Neher
The mission of the WOMEN'S SPORTS FOUNDATION (WSF) is: "We are the ally, advocate and catalyst for tomorrow’s leaders. We exist to enable girls and women to reach their potential in sport and life." I like almost everything about this organization, and not only because it was founded (in 1974) by Billie Jean King.
A short while ago I received an invitation to listen to a live-streamed Zoom event titled "Girls of color on Title IX: An unfulfilled promise," held on the occasion of the 48th anniversary of that legislation. Since 'women in sports' is one of my favorite subjects, I decided to tune in. It turned out truly an eye-opener for me.
Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 is a federal law that states: "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."
"All girls, all women, all sports."
In her opening remarks, Billie Jean King, who helped pass Title IX legislation in the '60s and '70s, read its main text, which she described as "a landmark ruling that champions equality and the most important 27 words in the history of women's sports." It enabled girls and women to reach their potential in sports and in life. "All girls, all women, all sports."
Billie Jean King concluded that, unfortunately, girls of color were left behind because Title IX largely only benefited suburban white girls. "Colored women are underserved and overlooked."
Mind-blowing facts were presented
Moderator LaChina Robinson showed us some numbers she described as "modern-day segregation."
Here's something I did not expect to hear from that forum. A fact that's known to most people but everyone, including the media, seems to be very careful not to go there. Lack of support at home and absent father figures.
When asked who was instrumental in both basketball standouts' lives, Candace Parker mentioned her parents, especially her father. Dawn Staley, who grew up in the Philadelphia projects, pointed to a white coach by the name of Mike Flynn. Both women explained that educating parents so they not only prioritize sports for their sons is key. "We need to build a pipeline of girls of color in sports." At the same time, retention, staying involved in their sport is a challenge for girls of color, especially in low-income communities. Education and exposure to sports are so important for that demographic, in addition to teaching them the many benefits of being involved in sports. Not only health-wise but also life-changing benefits.
The above numbers show the shortcomings of Title IX and tell us where most of the work still has to be done. Most black girls are involved in playing basketball (I didn't quite get the precise number) but very few have opportunities in any of the other sports. Lacrosse: 2%. Swimming: 2%. Soccer: 5%. Softball: 8%. Volleyball: 12%.
Reason: there's just no access to those sports although we do know that exposure to them breaks down racial barriers. Also, playing a variety of sports helps your main sport, too, but we learned that very few black girls play more than one sport.
We are seeing similar discrepancies when it comes to women of color in college sports leadership.
Candace Parker pointed out that 80% of players in the 12 teams of the WNBA are black women. However, there are only 4 female coaches and none of them is black.
Some more interesting facts presented at the meeting:
Many women in leadership positions (CEO, Board) of U.S. companies track their success to sports participation.
Black and brown girls suffer a higher rate of sexual assaults and discrimination.
Health benefits of sports, especially for black women, can be seen in areas of breast cancer, osteoporosis, and cardiovascular conditions.
The discussion ended with final words from each participant.
Candace Parker: More men need to be advocates for women's sports.
Dawn Staley: Black people are tired of taking it on the chin. Have stamina. Don't tire. Educate your kids. Create an action plan that gives black people opportunities.
Sarah Axelson: Stay the course. Keep racial equality at the forefront of our conversations.
Neena Chaudhry: Elect leaders who care about these issues.
LaChina Robinson: Look around what's going on in your life. When you don't see girls or women of color in certain sports, ask why. Continue to challenge the system.
Billie Jean King: This is the moment. Hope for systematic change. Everyone's going to win if we lift someone up.
I witnessed an eye-opening discussion by a group of smart, engaged, passionate leaders in their field. I saw stats that puzzled me because I wasn't aware of them at all and decided to look into that issue on the tennis side. It's hard to find data on female participation since much of the media coverage tends to be about black males. Like Martin Blackman lamenting in 2017 that there were too few black coaches and most black boys couldn't afford tennis lessons.
USTA President Patrick Galbraith said in 2019 "On the men’s side there are so many more options. They can be a pro football player, basketball player, pro baseball player. Tennis is down the line for men. For women, it’s a high priority." (The Undefeated, 9-9-2019)
They are, of course, talking about the up-and-coming touring professionals. I assume no one really knows the number for black girls in the "pipeline" or for any girls. And the USTA is going out of their way not to publish junior numbers. Why? Because they are so embarrassingly low for a country with so many kids and a governing body with so much money.
So I quickly contacted some of the best tennis organizations in communities with underserved kids. Unable to really analyze those findings right now, I will keep the conversation going and look at that and similar subjects in upcoming issues of TENNIS CLUB BUSINESS.
First Break Academy, Carson, California: 80% Girls - 20% Boys
Next Level Tennis & Education, Washington, DC: 35% Girls - 20% Boys
Junior Tennis Champions Center, College Park, Maryland: 60% Girls - 40% Boys (Champions Program)
The Ace Project, Westmont, IL: 40% Girls - 60% boys
Thanks, Jerome Jones, Peter Townes, Ray Benton, Susan Klumpner for your quick replies!
One more thing
In my introduction, I mentioned that I like almost everything about WSF. If you want to know what I have a problem with, it's their stance on the Transgender issue. Unequivocably supporting Transgender women without any regard for the "real" women that are suffering when athletes that are male by birth take their medals and college hopes, is something I have a hard time understanding when your name is WOMEN'S SPORTS FOUNDATION. Shouldn't they change their mission statement to adjust for that idiosyncrasy? Just saying...