Title IX 40 for 40: Katie Baker
Katie Baker’s long, strange trip to
becoming a staff writer for the popular ESPN website Grantland.com
included moderating online chat rooms as a teenager, covering a
variety of sports for the Yale Daily News, working in the
Yale Sports Publicity office and sailing during her time at Yale
and blogging for websites such as Mediaite,
Gawker and Deadspin while working at Goldman
Sachs. It was during that time she was noticed by Grantland editor
Bill Simmons, who asked her to come aboard as a
staff writer when the website launched in 2011.
What effects will Title IX have for the younger generation?
Baker: We're already seeing it. My generation was one that came of age during the era in which Title IX really began to cement itself in the national culture. As colleges added programs, these new athletic opportunities for women trickled all the way down to us little girls: when I was about nine-years-old, the soccer-mad township I grew up in added its first all-girls travel team. (Until then, girls who wanted to play had to try out for the boy's teams.) A year or so later the same happened for ice hockey as well. Now, girls (and boys!) are growing up in an environment in which athletic participation for females is not something that needs to be fought for or figured out: it's a given.
How did Title IX help to change the perception of women in athletics?
Baker: I think it has done an enormous amount to remove the distinctions between "men's" and "women's" sports to the point that everyone is increasingly viewed in the same way: as an athlete. It's amazing just how recently this wasn't the case. I wrote a story on the women's marathon and was stunned to find out that it didn't become an Olympic event until 1984! (Another crazy data point: in the late 1960's, the longest distance a woman was allowed to run in AAU competition was a mile and a half!) Now, for the first time and with the whole world watching, more than half of the US Olympic team is made up of women.
What opportunities for women did Title IX help create?
Baker: Playing a college sport is about so much more than just shooting pucks or hitting triples or swimming the 400 IM. It's about being part of a team. It's about communal commitment, dedication, respect and sacrifice. It's about managing your time as a student-athlete so that you can best take advantage of everything your university has to offer. (And in many cases, it's about having gotten the option, and/or the financial resources, to even attend that university in the first place.) There's a reason so many employers love to recruit and hire former college athletes: they have character, a strong work-ethic and have learned to work well both with others and under pressure.
Who was an influential woman in athletics to you and why?
Baker: Oh wow, there are so many: the Williams sisters, who have been two of the most dominant and fascinating athletes that tennis will ever see. Isabelle Kinsolving Farrar '02, who was the captain of our sailing team at Yale and went on to compete in the Olympics and World Championships. The legendary 1999 Women's World Cup soccer team -- has anyone ever done more for the sports bra? And, on a personal level, all the coaches I've had in my life, male or female, who have treated me not like a girl but as an athlete.
What can be done to strengthen Title IX?
Baker: I do feel sad when I read stories about programs like men's wrestling that get their varsity status and funding revoked by their universities in an effort to maintain Title IX compliance. While I certainly understand the financial restrictions and challenges facing administrations these days, I wish there were a way to allocate resources to women's athletics without having to cut programs for men. Surely deletion is not the intent of Title IX, but the way that colleges interpret and manage it is an ongoing problem – two articles, here and here, written eight years apart, tell the exact same story.
Who is someone you view as a pioneer in women's athletics and why?
Baker: Babe Didrikson. Last year I read a really excellent book about her by Don van Natta called Wonder Girl, and two things really stuck out: 1) what she did throughout the course of her life was borderline unbelievable and 2) her story proves that for some people, wanting to compete and participate in sports is something that is an inalienable part of them, even as little children. It's great that now we can foster that love for everyone, regardless of gender.