About two months ago I asked you guys for some sports memories. And, would you believe it, I got some. Big thanks to Mary Paczesniak for sending these to me.
Both stories demonstrate to me why sports matter. I’m a big proponent of maintaining perspective within sports. I don’t allow my favorite teams’ successes or failures affect my day-to-day life. Sports are entertainment, largely, and it behooves us as fans to recognize that.
But sometimes sports transcend entertainment. Sometimes these largely meaningless activities provide glimpses into who we are as people and who we are as a society.
In 1972, the US Congress passed the Education Amendments Act. In it was a clause that has now become famous for its revolutionary nature as well as its place in pop culture. Everyone knows what it is. It’s Title IX. It reads, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
In laymen’s terms, gender is not sufficient reason to deny a person the right to do anything within the academic sphere. Up until 1972, women’s collegiate sports were hard to come by. Another important aspect of Title IX was there couldn’t be more men’s sports than women’s sports, and so the dawn of big-time women’s college sports occurred. The massively dominant University of Connecticut women’s basketball team has this law to thank.
But it wasn’t always that way. The US infamously didn’t grant women the right of suffrage until 1920, and women of color weren’t permitted to cast a ballot until 1965.
Sports were largely the same, thought of as activities for men. Men’s sports were funded. Male college athletes, in the revenue sports like football and basketball, were given scholarships. Their travel fees were covered by the schools and men in non-revenue sports could work the concessions at football games and earn $5 an hour.
The women weren’t given scholarships. At Oregon State, Paczesniak, who played volleyball for the Beavers before Title IX, would receive a paltry 80 cents per hour. The Beavers did have travel expenses covered one year, in the 1969-70 season when they went 21-0 and qualified for a spot in the national tournament. The next year, sporting an 18-5 record, the university did not deem the volleyball team outstanding enough and would not cover travel expenses. This forced the Beavers into a whirlwind fundraising campaign that saw them work the concessions stand for less than a dollar an hour.
They also performed a demonstration of “power volleyball” for 10,528 on-lookers at Gil Coliseum.
“You have to understand that we were used to playing in front of maybe 10-15 friends in the Women’s Building,” Paczesniak wrote. “Talk about nervous. But it went really well and Oregon State actually paid us for that.”
The team was also given an opportunity to perform at Memorial Coliseum during halftime of a Portland Trail Blazers game. They were given a choice: $200 to perform in their uniforms, $500 to perform in bikinis.
“Needless to say, we did not do a halftime exhibition at a Trailblazer game,” Paczesniak wrote.
As much as we are dealing with race and gender problems currently in this country, it’s still a valid exercise to look back and see how far we’ve traveled. In 100 years we’ve gone from women not voting to women, on paper, getting as many opportunities as their male counterparts. Obviously there is a ways to go. But women are getting scholarships to compete athletically in college. Their travel expenses are covered by massive athletic departments whose sole function is to support the teams, male or female, revenue sport or not.
These were attitudes set by Title IX, and that law is still relevant today. This is how sports matter, how they can truly affect societal change by just simply being sports. This is why I’m a sports writer and this is why I love sports. Mary’s story is touching and informative and not unique.