50 years after Title IX, racial equity gaps persist in sports

In 1998, Traci Green and her Florida teammates posed with an NCAA women’s tennis championship trophy after defeating Duke in five of six games. Green, who received a full scholarship to Florida, smiled proudly, kindly.

“I knew I was a beneficiary of Title IX, because of the history,” Green, 43, said in an interview, recognizing the opportunities the federal law has created for women and girls in sports since its passage in 1972.

But Green also knew that she—a black woman on a team full of white women—represented a small number of athletes.

“It hasn’t changed that much,” said Green, now the women’s tennis coach at Harvard. She added: “On tennis teams, you won’t find more than one black player.”

Despite the progress made through Title IX, many who study gender equality in sports argue that it has not benefited women of all races. White women, they point out, are the main beneficiaries of the law, as the statute’s framework for gender equality — not to mention the intersection of gender with race and income — ignores important issues facing many black female athletes, coaches and administrators.

“It’s kind of good news, bad news when you think about Title IX,” said Ketra Armstrong, a professor of sport management and director of diversity, equity and inclusion at Michigan. She added: “We talk about gender equality, but if you look at the numbers, we see that it’s white women who are breaking barriers, who are moving up into these leadership roles at a far greater rate than black women, and that’s because we’re more comfortable talking about gender.”

Some sports experts believe that Title IX cannot solve racial disparities in athletics.

“Title IX is strictly a gender filter. It’s hard to ask Title IX to address a gap along lines of race, family income or any other category,” said Tom Farrey, director at the Aspen Institute, which conducts research on youth and school sports in the United States. United. He added: “The question is whether we need additional policies to address these gaps, and I would argue that we do.”

Others, like Armstrong, argue that issues of race and gender are connected and that Title IX conversations about gender are incomplete without including race because “it’s often the essence of their race that defines them.” She said she feels people see her blackness first, not her gender, when she walks into a room.

“It has improved opportunities for black girls and women, and that should not be diminished,” she said. “But let’s not be fooled into thinking that we have arrived, because we haven’t. There are still unfulfilled promises of Title IX.”

According to the NCAA’s demographic database, white women made up the largest percentage of female athletes in all three divisions at 68 percent for the 2020-21 academic year. Black women were at 11 percent, and most were concentrated in two sports: basketball, where they represented 30 percent of female athletes, and indoor and outdoor track and field (20 percent). Black women were barely represented in most other sports — 5 percent or less in softball, tennis, soccer, golf and swimming.

“It’s harder to break into those sports because of these stereotypical notions of black girls playing sports,” said Amira Rose Davis, an assistant professor at Penn State who focuses on black women in sports.

The divide in college athletics is consistent with similar trends in youth sports.

A March study by the National Women’s Justice Center found a wide divide in athletic opportunities between high schools that were overwhelmingly white, with a student body at least 90 percent white, or overwhelmingly nonwhite, at least 90 percent white. percent non-white. The study found that overwhelmingly white schools had twice as many sports opportunities as overwhelmingly non-white ones. And for girls in heavily non-white schools, there were significantly fewer spots on teams than for girls in heavily white schools, the study said.

The study said some of the gaps were “a strong indicator of a lack of compliance with Title IX” and that sports like volleyball and soccer, with less participation by non-white athletes, were more likely to lead to opportunities to play in college.

In college sports, track and basketball have been more accessible and conventional for black girls.

Carolyn Peck, who coached college and professional women’s basketball from 1993 to 2018, recalled seeing C. Vivian Stringer coach women’s basketball in the late 1980s. Stringer, a black woman, showed Peck what was possible.

“All eyes were on her from the black community because she was pretty much the only one coaching on that national stage,” she said.

Peck, who is from a predominantly white community in Jefferson City, Tenn., had access to a variety of sports when she was younger — including basketball and swimming. She chose basketball partly because she had talent and was one of the tallest kids in her school, but also because it was the only sport she related to.

Peck played at Vanderbilt on a full scholarship and earned her first job as an assistant for Pat Summitt, the influential women’s basketball coach at Tennessee who won eight NCAA championships. As Purdue’s head coach in 1999, Peck became the first African-American woman to win a national title.

“If it wasn’t for Title IX, I might not have had, not only an opportunity to play a sport,” Peck said, “but also to go to college with a free education, to be able to enter the coaching profession.”

Access and cost remain major barriers to entry for girls of color. A boom in high school participation rates for girls — 3.4 million in 2019 from 1.85 million in 1978-79 — significantly helped girls living in school districts that had the resources to offer more sports teams and opportunities. But girls of color, even those from middle-class or wealthier families, often grow up in school districts with fewer opportunities.

Maisha Kelly, 44, the athletic director at Drexel and one of the few black women to hold the top athletic post at a university, said the only sports offered at her elementary and middle schools in Philadelphia were basketball and track and field. sneakers.

“Access to sports and the types of sports offered were not available in areas that were more racially diverse,” Kelly said. She added: “If I wanted to do other sports, it would require financial means, physical access in order to bring myself to an organization where I could participate.”

Kelly said she was fortunate to be introduced to swimming through Philadelphia’s parks department, but the lack of access to some sports for many young women has contributed to “a disproportionate way that race is represented in certain sports.”

“Either it’s not diverse because of socioeconomics, or it’s not diverse because of where the programming is,” Kelly added.

Kelly added that she hadn’t thought much about Title IX before she started working in sports (she used to be a Title IX coordinator at Bucknell).

This is common. In a national survey of 1,000 people of color conducted by decision intelligence company Morning Consult on behalf of The New York Times, more than half of respondents said they were not at all familiar with the law. Of the 133 black women who responded that they played middle school, high school, or college sports, 41 said they felt they had benefited from Title IX.

Armstrong, who played basketball at Itawamba Community College in Mississippi and then at the University of Southwestern Louisiana, said she believes there are more opportunities for black women today in an era of increased empowerment and representation. Black women have dominant figures to admire in many sports, including Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka in tennis, as well as Simone Biles, the world’s most decorated gymnast.

“When I was growing up, you didn’t see that,” she said. “And we often say you can’t be what you can’t see.”

Most of the work still needs to be done at the coaching and administrative levels, Armstrong said. In 2021, fewer than 400 black women coached women’s college sports teams, compared to about 3,700 white women and more than 5,000 white men (and very few women coached men’s teams).

The disparities were even more pronounced at the administrative level, and the trends continue even within sports that have more black athletes.

“The struggle to coach a women’s basketball team for black women has been tough,” said Davis, who added that the lack of black women at administrative levels has a lot to do with racist stereotypes that they are not strategic thinkers. “They’re often the most qualified because they’ve played and been assistant coaches for a long time, and they’re often the first to be fired.”

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