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Friday, August 10, 2012

Women's Sports and the Olympics

A few of thoughts and questions on a good morning to talk about women's sports and Title IX, in the wake of 1) yesterday's gold medal win by the U.S. women's soccer team before 80,000 at Wembley Stadium (and millions more live on some medium--are you listening NBC) and 2) the Second Circuit's decision earlier this week holding that Quinnipiac University violated Title IX by trying to eliminate the women's volleyball team.

First, there has been  talk in the last few days about US women earning more medals, and more golds, than their male counterparts. Yesterday's wins in soccer and water polo add to that, as might a gold in today's women's volleyball final (the men were eliminated in the quarters).

Second, here is a nice essay by Slate/NPR's Stefan Fatsis about the women's soccer match and its "meaning," arguing that it actually has no deeper meaning other than that a bunch of women's teams played an exciting tournament that in every way (from playing hard to bitching about the refs) resembled a men's tournament, was watched by a lot of people, and can be evaluated on its own terms. He does consider briefly what the large audience for Olympic soccer tells us about the sustainability of a professional women's league (a point I addressed here). I do like his broader point--that women's sports is, slowly, becoming less of a cause and a simply a matter of good competition.

Third, the Second Circuit decision received some attention because Quinnipiac had sought to make up the lost volleyball spaces by creating a competitive cheerleading team; this required the court to consider whether cheerleading is a sport, concluding it was not (although not for the reasons I would offer--it had to do with how well-established and well-organized something was as a competitive event, meaning cheer could become a sport some day).

A question: Would a more purposivist take on Title IX uniformly favor opportunities in volleyball or soccer over opportunities in cheer, given the statute's goal of creating new opportunities for women in sports? Cheerleading predates Title IX by many years, obviously, and it seems to me it would undermine the statute if schools could satisfy their statutory obligations by increasing the number of opportunities for women/girls to do what they have been doing all along rather than providing genuinely new athletic opportunities.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 10, 2012 at 08:40 AM in Current Affairs, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics, Sports | Permalink

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This is really interesting, and I hope that you're right that it is becoming more about competition and less about a cause. I wonder, though, whether the sponsorship opportunities are the same for women as for men, particularly in more historically "male" sports. (i.e. not gymnastics).

Posted by: Cynthia Godsoe | Aug 10, 2012 9:19:51 AM

I think they are--soccer, swimming, basketball. Less so with the niche sports (synchro swimming), but that is a product of interest. Sponsorship is tricky with women athletes because the deciding factor often is how attractiveness rather than success.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Aug 10, 2012 10:09:00 AM

If correct (and I believe it is), the acceptance of women's sports on its own merit is not only a wonderful thing for those women who want to play, but for all those niche sports for men that have fallen by the wayside in the wake of Title IX.

Hopefully, we can get beyond the numbers game and return to sports for its own sake, for both men and women. And Title IX will be repealed as unnecessary.

Posted by: shg | Aug 10, 2012 10:42:21 AM

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