|King-sized argument over athletics|
By Chris McKendry
Page 2 columnist
After reading the e-mail responses to "Thank You, Billie Jean," I can say this ... Jennifer Capriati has many more fans than Title IX!
My column on King came on the heels of her controversial decision to dismiss Capriati from the U.S. Federation Cup team. Without the world's No. 2 player (soon to be No. 1, if she wins in Germany this week), the United States lost to Austria in the first round. A shocking upset.
I certainly have a few thoughts on the matter. But first ... here are some of yours.
While I certainly agree that King did a great thing for all women by helping pass Title IX, I have to question the timing of this article, coming as it does on the heels of the recent controversy in Federation Cup.
King's inexplicable (and indefensible) canning of Jennifer Capriati, resulting in a humiliating loss to Austria (quick, name an Austrian female tennis player), is an embarrassment to tennis fans, and perhaps cause for those close to her to gently encourage her to have her head examined. By all accounts, Capriati had fulfilled all of her Fed Cup practice obligations and, with the French Open approaching, wanted some extra practice with her coach and hitting partners. She did not actually participate in this practice; she merely scheduled it, and was dismissed from the team.
One thing King has never realized is that tennis will never be a team sport. Even in a team structure, team tennis is still a collection of individuals in one-on-one or two-on-two competition. I am a veteran of intercollegiate team tennis and professional tennis, and I am one of the sport's biggest fans, but I still know that team tennis will never be anything other than a collection of individual matches. King should admit she made a huge mistake and handled the situation poorly, or she should be replaced.
How appropriate that the Chris McKendry interview with Billie Jean King appeared shortly after King undermined the collapse of the U.S. team's chances in the Fed Cup. I agree the tennis star overcame great barriers for women and paved the way for the future of modern women's athletics ... but it is also apparent to me that her determination and stubborn attitude that did so much good for women athletes has also had a negative impact recently.
That same never-give-in attitude might have cost the U.S. women their chance at winning the Fed Cup. I would have thought a true professional such as Ms. King would have handled the Capriati situation with more control and understanding. It's almost as if she could not accept that Capriati is the same kind of hard-working, overachiever as King is herself. It's a shame that personal attitudes and egos take precedent over winning as a team. It's even more of a shame that Billie Jean King's selfishness lost many people's respect, which she had worked so hard to earn.
Chris McKendry responds:
That said, I do understand King's choices. I compare King and her plan to sequester the players to the NFL coach who takes highly paid football players, puts them in dorm rooms and holds training camp. However, in addition to playing on the Fed Cup Team, Capriati is playing for the world's No. 1 ranking, a very individual goal. So why not offer extra practice sessions/court time to all players? Those who wanted it, like Capriati, could have taken advantage of it.
King is committed to making tennis a team sport, which can obviously be a double-edged sword. She confesses that World Team Tennis is the product of her childhood love of team sports. You can argue with Ted from Silver Spring whether making tennis a team sport is possible. I merely say this: In today's big-time world of team sports, there's always one star who makes it tough on the coach and teammates. But where would the Lakers be if Phil Jackson dismissed Kobe Bryant for being a brat? In big-time team sports, one attitude does not fit all. The best coaches pull the personalities together and win.
No doubt, King knows this. She has, after all, coached the Williams sisters and Lindsay Davenport on the same team. And they're not pals.
However, in debating the two sides of this story, one factor keeps coming back to me -- the loud, vocal support of Capriati's Fed Cup teammates for King. Makes me wonder what else they saw behind closed doors. There's likely more to this than just one extra practice.
Of all King's pithy statements during our conversation, "Be True to Thy Own Self" was a big one. She learned it from her mother and says it's what she lives by. Right or wrong, King was true to herself in dismissing Capriati. Capriati, who refused to speak with King after the incident was true to herself, too.
Moving on ... to Title IX.
Phil Morrison from College Park, Md., wrote ...
I wish to know what Ms. McKendry believes about a reformation of Title IX in some way that does not hinder such sports as wrestling or men's lacrosse. I myself do not believe that Title IX should be abolished, because it has changed things for the better. I simply believe it is in no way fair for wrestlers or men's lacrosse players to not have the opportunity to compete on the college level because of a lack of programs.
Chris McKendry responds:
Phil's take on Title IX is a popular one. When men's programs are eliminated, it's easy to blame Title IX. It's easy ... and it's wrong. In order for a school to be in compliance with Title IX, it most show that it is meeting the interest and ability of the women on campus -- "no more women are interested in playing sports at our school." Or it can show a history of continuous improvement -- "we're not there yet, but we're showing a good-faith effort to get there." Being in compliance does not necessarily mean a school must offer an equal number of scholarships or sports teams to men and women.
Bottom line is a school can't have women ready and willing to play sports, and a poor track record of improving the situation for women, and say that it isn't discriminating against women.
Eliminating teams is one way to come into compliance. But this is a poor choice made by an athletics department, not dictated by Title IX. The departments are choosing to sink more money into fewer sports for competitive reasons. They could instead tighten their belts so everyone gets to participate. Offer, say, 70 scholarships to the football team, saving those extra 10 for wrestlers. Think about it. NFL teams manage to get along with 53 players.
One last note: Title IX was passed in 1972. Schools had until 1978 to be in compliance. It's 2002, and how many are still scrambling? Cutting men's programs is the easy way out, and it's lame. Let's hope the NCAA fixes this.
There's a lot of great information on Title IX at www.womenssportsfoundation.org.
Ray Summins from Elk Grove, Ill., wrote that he is a big fan of anyone who stands up for what they believe in. However, he struggled with a couple of issues:
1. Why should tennis tournaments have the same prize money for men and women if the men bring in more attendance and television revenue? Why shouldn't the people who bring in the money get compensated for the money they bring in? If the situation was reversed, and a women's event brought in more money than a men's event, I'm certain there would be a great hue and cry over the 50-50 splitting of the proceeds.
2. As far as school athletics is concerned, wouldn't the most fair and impartial situation be for there to be a single sports team, regardless of gender? For instance, a basketball team open to both men and women? Why should there be a "separate but equal" rule regarding gender? If one of the ideals of athletics is to teach competition, then why shouldn't girls be taught to complete with men at an early age? In the business world, there isn't a Girl's ESPN and a Boy's ESPN.
Chris McKendry responds:
Are you sure the men are bringing in more in attendance and television revenue? Last September, CBS had the chance to televise one match in prime time on Saturday night. The match it chose was the women's final. The WTA, featuring Venus and Serena Williams, Martina Hingis, Capriati, Anna Kournikova and Monica Seles, is the hotter property right now.
Ray's second point is interesting. However, he's simply talking about equality based on physical strength and attributes. Post-puberty, this system simply would not be fair to women, unless we're talking about a skeet-shooting team, equestrian competition or something of that nature.
Title IX is unfair to many schools and athletes. Women, in general, do not show the same interest in sports as men, and therefore should not receive the same amount of money. I went to James Madison University, and they are in the process of cutting out many teams to comply with Title IX. Most of these teams were very successful, but they were cut merely for Title IX compliance. So, while I support women's rights, Title IX is an unfair solution to reducing the gender gap in sports and is not doing what it was intended to.
Chris McKendry's response:
Stuart can check out my answer to Phil from College Park. In addition, I'd like to argue against the idea that women and girls are not as interested in sports.
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, participation for girls was at a record level of 2,746,181 for the 2000-01 school year, an increase of 60,662 over the previous year. In 1971, the year before Title IX, one in 27 girls participated in high school sports. Today, it's one in every 2½. For boys, it has remained the same one in every two.
The girls are not losing interest after graduating high school, either. Women's participation in collegiate sports has increased 128 percent since 1981. So, Stuart, I contend that if a parent exposes their daughter to sports, and she's interested ... she'll stay with it for life. Sports are for all kids, not just boys.
No different than young men who play sports, women who play are more confident, less likely to get involved with drugs, and more likely to graduate from high schools with better grades. You wouldn't keep girls from having equal opportunities in any other part of the school that was associated with such strong values, so why should sports be different?
The story was good, and I agree with the fact sports should be nondiscriminatory. But I wish Ms. McKendry would write about how Title IX is making men's sports pay for women's sports. Title IX should not kill the golden goose by riding the backs of the two sports that make money in college: men's football and basketball. It has taken 60 years of effort to create these markets as we see them today.
Unfortunately, life is not fair, just as it is not fair to tell just this side of the story.
Chris McKendry responds:
Charles believes one of the most popular myths out there concerning college sports -- that football makes all the money! Not true. I spoke to the NCAA about its revenue and expenses report, which is compiled every two years. The latest numbers are from 1999. Hold on, Charles.
Profitable football programs breakdown:
Division I-AA -- 13 percent make money
Division II -- 23 percent make money
In Division III, which does not offer scholarships, football programs' operating expenses are roughly twice as much as the revenue they produce.
That's a lot of lost money. If you're not blown away yet, listen to this: Of the division I-A schools that lose money, the average loss is $1.7 million. That would pay for the entire women's athletics department in any school, Hogshead-Makar said.
Big-time football programs and Title IX can coexist, however. A great example is the University of Washington, in compliance ... and the Pac-10's Rose Bowl representative in 2001.
Here's another link to check out ... anyone can see financial reporting for specific sports and divisions on www.NCAA.org.
Again, Hogshead-Makar points out that the profitable college football programs make money for three major reasons, and each has to do with the benefits of being part of a school. First, players cost no more than a scholarship. Second, as a school, they operate tax free. Third, school donors add to coach's salaries, facilities, etc.
Being part of a school also comes with responsibilities. One responsibility is to provide opportunities without discriminating. Title IX is law.
One more note -- in the 1970s there were four pushes made by Congress to amend Title IX to exclude football. Each failed.
My problem is more with Title IX. At best, it is bittersweet. Example: Here in the Crescent City is Tulane University. A friend of mine runs on the track team for Loyola (right next door to Tulane). She trains with the Tulane track program sometimes, but this is the last year. Tulane is cutting the whole track program, essentially because of Title IX. At its inception, Title IX was a necessary rule, women's athletics were not being treated fairly, so the courts (and times) mandated a change. What they got was an avalanche that is now out of control.
Title IX has been a huge issue at my school (Tulane University) this year and has received a great deal of bad press. It is good to show that sexism in athletics hurts our society and is an issue that should be dealt with. It was great to see an article that honors a person who has made a difference, such as Ms. Billie Jean King.
Chris McKendry responds:
In my conversation with Hogshead-Makar, she offered a great analogy. I think it best applies to Tulane dumping its entire track and field program. Hogshead-Makar explained that in response to the desegregation laws in the 1950s, many public places closed their all-white swimming pools rather then open them up to all races. The Supreme Court said it was OK because the choice to close the pools made it equally unhappy for all -- the court wasn't going to force a municipality to keep a swimming pool open.
Similarly with Title IX, many athletics departments are choosing to close opportunity to all, instead of granting more opportunity to women, making it equally unhappy for everyone. But unlike with Title IX, nobody said, "What a bad law those desegregation laws are! We should allow segregation so that white people can enjoy their public swimming pools. White people have always had public swimming pools and the laws are going too far when these facilities are cut."
The Supreme Court allowed communities to make that choice, but the blame went where it should have gone -- to the municipality for making a poor choice, rather than to the law.
Of course, if there's waning interest and the school adds other more popular sports for its students, then that's a tough call. I'm not at Tulane ... and certainly can't judge. But no matter what, men and women in this situation are hurt.
I want to thank Chris McKendry for her tribute to Billy Jean King. This is one of the most profound articles I have read on ESPN.com.
I am embarrassed to say that I had forgotten just how important Ms. King is, not only to sports, but to society in general. She is clearly a historical figure. I have two boys who are Division I scholarship athletes. I thank Billy Jean for allowing my 13-year-old daughter to have the same opportunity. Equality is a wonderful virtue. We are not yet there, but thanks to her, we are much, much closer.
Chris McKendry responds:
First of all, good genes in that family, huh? I could not agree with Carl more. We aren't there yet, and sacrificing men's programs to get there is wrong. But he brings up the point everyone needs to remember. How do you want your daughter, sister or girlfriend to be treated?
Thanks for the letters. They were thought-provoking and sent me deep into reporter mode. (I was merely playing the role of Christine Brennan for this column.) I hope the statistics help erase some myths out there. And for more information, check out the links provided above.
SportsCenter anchor Chris McKendry is a regular columnist for Page 2. For more on Billie Jean King and other prominent women athletes, watch ESPN's Women & Sports Weekend on ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN Classic June 21-23.