I rarely tune into 20-20 or John Stossel, for that matter. But my friend, Roger Talkov (who also used to replicate all of our DVDs) today asked me if I had read Stossel's new book and what did I think of his assertion that men are more interested in sport than women - and did I think that Title IX was killing opportunities for men.
In the interest of disclosure - I have not read John Stossel's book. Nor do I intend to. However, as my pal, Molly Hoyle says, never let the facts get in the way of a good rant. But I will say that without reading his book, this very same argument was vetted in great depth by the US Supreme Court in the seminal Title IX case, Cohen v. Brown University, where Brown University made the same argument as Stossel now does- that men are more interested in sport, justifying Brown's decision to drop women's volleyball and gymnastics. The Supreme Court found that that there was no evidence to support this conclusion and Brown decisively lost its case. Furthermore, although several decisions by colleges and universities to cut men's wrestling or swimming or tennis has recently made headlines, the NCAA's last Title IX report concluded that great disparities still continue to exist between resources and funding for men's college teams and women's teams, including the fact that men recieve $155 million more per year in scholarship monies.
That being said, I never think it is a good idea to cut sports or cut athletes from teams, men or women. If 151 men want to play college football, then notwithstanding the fact that 80% of all college football teams lose money and the fact that NFL team rosters have fewer than 60 players, anyone who wants to play ought to be able to play. The actual athletic budget, however, ought to be allocated fairly to create equal opportunities. Wrestlers who wear polyester unisuits which cost all of $1.49 ought not to have their teams cut, even if fewer men are actually going out for the sport. Ditto for men's tennis and swimming. Athletic directors who cut men's teams, are often responding to budgetary cut-backs and not the requirements of Title IX. And often times, those very same athletic directors, who are axing men's teams, are not cutting back bloated football programs.
That being said, I do not dispute the fact that men and women are different. I, for one, am directionally impaired. My husband is not. I also do not disagree that women and men may approach athletics differently. (Men tend to play intramural sports in far greater numbers than women, for a host of different reasons, while women will run or do yoga or dance if they are not varsity athletes. But the last time I checked, women had to pay tuition - just like the men. And therefore, they should automatically be entitled to the same athletic opportunities as well as the same educational opportunities. The fact that more men are scientists would never be used to shut women out of chemistry courses at a university.
As a postscript - a parent's group in Grand Rapids had to fight the Michigan State High School Athletic Association for equality for their high school daughters, including the right to play (and compete against other teams) in season. The Athletic Association, which lost its case early on, appealed the decision all the way to the US Supreme Court, spending millions of dollars in legal fees for a case that would span nearly 8 years - concluding in 2007.
Donna Lopiano, the head of the Women's Sports Foundation, had a great analogy. If you have a son and a daughter and you can only afford a single steak for dinner, would you really hand the entire steak to your son? Or your daughter? You'd feed them both and each would have to make do with a little bit less.
The bitterness and acrimony over this debate makes me glad that I went to a women's college. At Mount Holyoke, before they built a beautiful athletic complex, we had a second-rate gym and a tiny weight room with 20 year old equipment - but at least it was all ours and no one ever suggested that we didn't deserve to be there.