Title IX 40 for 40: Sarah Spain
Sarah Spain is an espnW columnist, a
SportsCenter Anchor for Chicago’s ESPN 1000 and a reporter
for ESPNChicago.com. But her career in sports began long before
that. Sarah was a decorated three-sport athlete in high school, as
she played basketball and field hockey while running track &
field. Spain went on to attend Cornell, where she was a heptathlete
and co-captain of the track & field team. She graduated with
distinction in all subjects and was a member of the National
Society of Collegiate Scholars and the Golden Key National Honor
Society (top 15-percent of her class). She was a member of the 400
Club, honoring Varsity athletes with a semester GPA of at least 4.0
and she earned the Blanford Award for the Varsity Track & Field
senior who scored the most career points.
What impact has Title IX had on you?
Spain: A snapshot of me at age 12: six feet tall, towering over all the boys, braces, frizzy curly hair, no game and absolutely no style. It's safe to say that without sports I would've been a totally insecure, socially awkward mess. Instead, I gained tremendous confidence from my success playing USTA tennis tournaments, dominating the shorties in junior high hoops, tearing it up on the field hockey field and beating all the boys on the track.
As I got older, I learned the benefits of being on a team. I learned that being a natural leader is no good unless you make sure the people you're leading want to listen to you. Hard work resulted in better play, better stats and more wins. Once I got on the court or the track it didn't matter whether I had makeup or boys or clothes figured out. Being successful in sports and in class gave me enough confidence to get through all the other stuff. And the good news, I've finally got most everything else figured out by now (though my hair is still a mess most days).
How did Title IX help to change the perception of women in athletics?
Spain: By forcing schools to offer better facilities, equipment, uniforms and funding for women's sports, they helped legitimize female athletes. It's easy to look past a rag-tag bunch of girls playing intramural games in mismatched uniforms with a student coach on each bench, with no refs or umps or official scorers (and certainly no fans).
When the games began to look more like men's games, the talent and drive and competitiveness of the women playing became clear. It shouldn't be about the money, but sometimes it is. In this day and age, when you fund something, you give it meaning. By giving women the opportunity to play organized games with the proper facilities, equipment and uniforms, Title IX allowed both men and women to give female athletes the same respect as their male counterparts.
What can be done to strengthen Title IX?
Spain: Education! There are far too many people who can't distinguish between the truths and myths of Title IX. As long as there are still people who believe the cancellation of smaller men's sports at certain schools is the result of women's sports and Title IX, we will continue to see pushback against progress. People need only be educated to understand that the incredible benefits of Title IX, both on the field and in the classroom, are inarguable.
What is the biggest challenge to women in sports?
Spain: There has been a tremendous amount of progress in recent years, but too many people in our society are still caught up in gender roles. They want to preach antiquated ideals of what is “feminine” and what is “masculine.” Strength, power and competitiveness are human qualities, not male qualities, and they play a huge role in an athlete's success.
Male athletes are judged on the basis of talent and skill first, but too many female athletes are first judged on physical beauty. Google any famous female athlete and one of the first results the search tab will provide for you is probably about her looks. “Serena Williams bikini.” “Alex Morgan hot.” Or, if the woman doesn't live up to the expectations of an ever-critical society, the results will be the opposite. “Brittney Griner man.”
It's impossible to remove the element of sex from our society, but we can continue to put the emphasize on the talent and skill of our female athletes. Women like Abby Wambach, Hope Solo, Skylar Diggins, Lolo Jones and Griner are proving that strong, successful, confident female athletes can win over fans by virtue of their big-time shots, goals, saves and times.