Top-level sports was just a dream for women decades ago, before Title IX

I intended to write about Washington politics today. But they are in such a mess and I am so concerned that I think I will go back a few years to another bill that passed Congress after a bitter fight: Title IX.

Parts of this are taken from a column I wrote in 2001. I want to make this clear so I will not be guilty of plagiarism, like Scott McInnis. Of course you can copy your own stuff, but I am not taking any chances.

You can take the girl out of sports, but you can’t take sports out of the girl.

Back in 1934 at the University of Colorado, when our team won an intramural field hockey game on the grass in Boulder, we did a silly dance on the field, and headed for the gym. Notice I didn’t say locker room. We had a dressing room and one shower. But we did have a women’s gym.

Sixty-five years later, Brandi Chastain kicked the winning goal in the final World Cup Women’s Soccer game. She ripped off her jersey and waved it around her head as her teammates tore down the field to her at full speed. Thousands of people in the stands cheered and my adrenaline level shot up just watching and remembering how it felt to win an athletic event — at any level.

It took a lot of years for women’s sports to come of age. Girls were not supposed to sweat. In 1972, after a long, brutal political fight, Congress finally passed Title IX, which mandates in part that, “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.”

You could hear the guys scream clear to China and many colleges and universities took years to get into complete compliance. High Schools and grade schools started having soccer teams.

Steve Marantz, writing in Sporting News, had an interesting theory about women’s sports. “Sport is a meritocracy. Toughness isn’t gender specific. The toughness of the male athlete may start with cultural expectations. The toughness of women athletes must come from within.” Sounds as though he just got off a spaceship from Mars. We knew that all the time.

Now that I am in the couch potato phase of life, and television has discovered the WNBA, I am a star again — in my imagination. I am addicted to the Women’s National Basketball Association. Their games are the only women’s team sport that are regularly shown on television. The season only lasts three months during the summer, but I am right in there playing every game.

The high point in my couch career came in 1999. New York’s Theresa Weatherspoon and I made a 52-foot running shot over her shoulder that lofted into the basket just as the buzzer sounded (known in football as a Hail Mary pass to those who remember that famous pass of John Elway.)

I have a friend (male, of course) who calls it the Wannabe National Basketball Association. The only wannabe part involves money. The women play for peanuts compared to the men. Some of them play in Europe during the off season for real money.

These women are superb athletes and play top-level basketball. Theirs is not a game of run and dunk and hang on the basket. They play a game of skill and teamwork.

I still get detailed reports about my favorite team, the Phoenix Mercury. My kids have season tickets and my daughter-in-law keeps me informed.

The players are tough and highly competitive, but they have fun playing and they have even been known to laugh during games. They become part of their communities.

Oh yes, the Mercury is going strong. Currently it is second in the Western Division.

Women are now making great gains in other team sports as Title IX has made it possible for girls to start their athletic training early. There is now a professional women’s soccer league and others are coming.

I was definitely born 60 years too soon, but I can dream, can’t I? At 96, the dream is not very intense, but I have great memories.

Henrietta Hay can be reached by e-mail at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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