Geno and Title IX: He's come a long way

May, 14, 2012
5/14/12
6:52
PM ET

DALLAS -- Submitted for your approval: a couple of pieces of evidence that the world has changed, just a little, in the past 40 years, on a stage in a hotel ballroom in Dallas.

In the middle of the afternoon, First Lady Michelle Obama championed the cause of a broad-based national fitness initiative in front of a multi-hued contingent of male and female athletes, including Paralympians. That sentence alone says quite a bit about change.

An hour or so later, the coach of the U.S. women's basketball team and a star player compared notes on what the world was like at the inception of Title IX, and how it is now.

Maya Moore, who plays a sport that wasn't in the Olympics 40 years ago and in a professional league that wasn't conceivable back then, dutifully and honestly paid tribute to the law.

"I can't really imagine growing up in a world where someone said, 'No, you can't play basketball because you're female,'" said Moore, the Connecticut alum who followed up her WNBA title season with Minnesota by winning the Spanish and European championships this spring with Ros Casares Valencia.

But coach Geno Auriemma, the much-decorated UConn coach, painted the best picture of progress looks like, or rather, what it sounds like. When Title IX was first implemented, he said, "I was a senior in high school, and my idea of women actually being athletes, female athletes -- that wasn't a word you'd have used back then."

His boys basketball team had to share court time with girls at his suburban Philly Catholic school. "We were just horrified that we had to give up the gym to those girls," he said. "The prevailing thought back then was, 'They're wearing skirts. They're wearing these little pennies,' you know? They're not even athletes. They had their fingernails polished in all different colors, and the idea that people would even think of them as athletes was so foreign, it's incredible."

Now?

"Fast forward to Maya Moore, and the idea that you would think of Maya Moore as anything other than a great athlete is just absurd," he said.

Auriemma offered his son Michael as an example. "Today, my son's 23 and just finished playing in college. If you ever told him that women didn't play basketball and weren't great athletes, as many practices as he went to growing up, he'd say, 'What world do you live in?'"

Auriemma's point is that, for most people under 30, acceptance of Title IX comes as naturally as breathing.

"My perspective on Title IX is, hopefully soon, there comes a time when you stop talking about it," he said. "Because it's ancient history now. We shouldn't forget that history, but we've moved so far. I'm sure there are still fights that have to be fought, but it's time to celebrate the achievements these women make as athletes, not as female athletes. We play basketball, we don't play women's basketball. That's my proudest contribution, I think."

Luke Cyphers is a former senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.

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