Title IX 40 for 40: Chris Sailer
Now in her 27th season as head coach of the Princeton
women’s lacrosse team, Chris Sailer has seen
it all. She has guided the team to three NCAA championships, 11
national semifinal appearances, 19 NCAA tournament appearances and
nine Ivy League titles and she was inducted into the US Lacrosse
National Hall of Fame in 2008. A 1981 graduate of Harvard, Sailer
captained both the lacrosse and field hockey teams while a member
of the Crimson. She was a two-time first-team All-Ivy selection in
lacrosse and was a member of the U.S. National Team. Sailer also
worked at Penn as an assistant field hockey and lacrosse coach
before becoming head coach of the Tigers.
What impact has Title IX had on you/college athletics?
Coach Sailer: Title IX has had a huge impact on college athletics. Were it not for Title IX, women would not enjoy nearly the same opportunities to participate in college sports as they do today. Title IX helped bring about a myriad of changes in college athletics, including most significantly the number of sports offered for women and scholarship dollars available to female student-athletes. Beyond these obvious benchmarks, the impact of Title IX was felt most deeply in the day-to-day experience of female student-athletes who over time realized access to comparable playing facilities, uniforms and equipment, practice times, games schedules, models of travel and accommodations on the road and coaching support. Though inequities still exist in many places, we have come a long way from pre-Title IX days. Female collegiate student-athletes now expect to be treated equitably and can’t imagine a day where they were considered inferior to their male counterparts and treated as such.
Who was an influential woman in athletics to you and why?
Coach Sailer: All of my early coaches and physical education teachers at Haverford Junior and Senior High School were big influences on me. I was a schoolgirl during the early days of Title IX, but was fortunate to live in suburban Philadelphia which was a hotbed in the early 70’s for field hockey and girls lacrosse. Growing up, I never felt that I had a diminished sports experience – in fact I felt exactly the opposite – which was quite unusual in those days. I came to realize how lucky I was when I heard the stories of my contemporaries, and I am so grateful to the coaches who took an interest in my friends and me at a young age and helped us grow into strong, confident and capable women through sport. My coaches would go out of their way to take us to see West Chester and Ursinus games, the top two collegiate powerhouses at the time. They encouraged us to watch the US Teams play, and we all had players on those teams that we idolized and strived to be like. I only ended up at Harvard because my high school coach Val Walchak went to college with Carole Kleinfelder (Harvard’s coach at the time). So I guess you could say that was a big influence!
What opportunities for women did Title IX help create?
Coach Sailer: Title IX opened the door for women to access the incredible experience of competing in organized athletics – at every level and age. Over time, female athletes went from being objects of ridicule and scorn to being respected and appreciated for their talents and achievements. Through participation in sport, women have the opportunity to develop and demonstrate leadership, commitment, discipline, teamwork, resilience, competitiveness and toughness – traits which help them succeed not only on the playing fields, but in most all areas of work and life.
What is the biggest challenge to women in sports?
Coach Sailer: At this point in time, I think one of the biggest challenges for women in sports is increasing media coverage and generating fan interest, two aspects which often go hand in hand. In my sport of lacrosse, for instance, there is simply no comparison between the TV coverage in the men’s and women’s collegiate games. You can turn on ESPN any weekend day in the spring and find a men’s lacrosse game on, but you have to search really hard to find women’s game. The difference is staggering. Women’s lacrosse is an incredibly fast paced, intense and highly skilled game. When people get a chance to see it, they are hooked. But it’s hard to generate interest in a sport people don’t know about or can’t watch on TV. Men’s sports still dominate in print, on radio and on TV. For most female athletes, once their college careers are over, there are very few outlets for them to continue participating in sports at a high level, especially in team sports. With limited professional options for the female athlete, college often means the end of their sporting career.