Equity in Sports Has Focused on Gender, Not Race. So Gaps Persist.

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

“I knew I was a beneficiary of Title IX, due to the history,” Green, 43, said in an interview, recognizing the opportunities that federal law had made for women and girls in sports since its enactment 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 didn’t change that much,” said Green, now the women’s tennis coach at Harvard. She added: “On tennis teams, you are not going to find more than one Black player.”

For all the progress made through Title IX, many who study gender equity in sport argue that it didn’t benefit women at all. White women, they point out, are the law’s primary benefactors, as the statute’s framing on gender equity – without mentioning the intersection of gender with race and income – ignores significant issues faced by many Black female athletes, coaches and administrators.

“It’s sort of good news, bad news when you think of Title IX,” said Ketra Armstrong, a sports management professor and director of diversity, equity and inclusion at Michigan. She added: “We talk about gender equity, but if you look at the numbers, we see it is white women who are breaking the barriers, who are ascending to these leadership roles more broadly than black women, and that is because we ‘re more comfortable talking about gender. “

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

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

Others, like Armstrong, argue that issues of race and gender are tethered, and that Title IX conversations about gender are incomplete without including race because “it is 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’s improved opportunities for black girls and women, and that shouldn’t be diminished,” she said. “But let’s not just be misled to think we’ve arrived, because we haven’t. There are still unfulfilled promises of Title IX. “

According to the NCAA’s demographics database, white women make up the largest percentage of female athletes across 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 what sports black girls play,” said Amira Rose Davis, an assistant professor at Penn State who focuses on black women in sports.

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

A March study by the National Women’s Law Center found a large split in sports opportunities between high schools that were heavily white, with a student body of at least 90 percent white, or heavily nonwhite, at least 90 percent nonwhite. The study found that heavy white schools had double the sports opportunities of heavily nonwhite ones. And for girls in heavy nonwhite schools, there were far fewer spots on teams than for girls in heavy white schools, the study said.

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

In college sports, track and field and basketball have been more accessible and traditional for Black girls.

Carolyn Peck, who had stints coaching college and professional women’s basketball from 1993 to 2018, remembered watching C. Vivian Stringer coach women’s basketball in the late 1980s. Stringer, a Black woman, showed Peck what was possible.

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

Peck, who is from a predominantly white community in Jefferson City, Tenn., Had access to an array of sports when he was younger – including basketball and swimming. She chose to participate in basketball because she was the talent and one of the tallest children in her school, but also because it was the only sport she connected with.

Peck played at Vanderbilt on a full scholarship and earned his first coaching job as an assistant for Pat Summitt, the influential Tennessee women’s basketball coach who won eight NCAA championships. As Purdue’s head coach in 1998, Peck became the first African American woman to win a national title.

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

Access and cost remain huge barriers to entry for girls of color. A boom in participation rates for girls in high school – 3.4 million in 2019 to 1.85 million in 1978-79 – significantly helped girls who lived in school districts that had 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 few opportunities.

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

“Access to sports and the kinds of sports that weren’t offered 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 to the way being brought to an organization where I could.”

Kelly said she was lucky to be introduced to swimming through the Philadelphia parks department, but that a lack of access to some sports for many young girls has contributed to “a disproportionate way that race shows up in certain sports.”

“It’s either not diverse because of socioeconomics, or because it’s not diverse because of the programming,” Kelly added.

Kelly added that she didn’t think much about Title IX before she started working in sports (she was once a Title IX coordinator at Bucknell).

That is common. In a national survey of 1,000 people of color conducted by the decision intelligence company Morning Consult on the New York Times, more than half of respondents said they were not at all familiar with the law. Of the 133 women of color who’d responded that they played either middle school, high school or college sports, 41 said they felt they’d 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 are dominant figures in numerous sports throughout the admire, 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 do what you can’t see.”

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

The disparities were even starter at the administrative level, and the trends continued even within the sports that most black athletes have.

“The fight to be a head coach of a women’s basketball team for black women has been severe,” 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 to be played and have been assistant coaches for a long time, and they are often the first fired.”

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