Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Encyclopedia of Title IX and Sports

The Encyclopedia of Title IX and Sports, edited by Nicole Mitchell and Lisa A. Ennis, was recently published by Greenwood Press. It does a great job shining the spotlight on female athletes and other leaders in women's sports. Reflecting an awareness that greatness often labors in obscurity--especially in women's sport--the authors included entries on women I had never heard of, but am happy to now know -- for example, Suzyn Waldman, the first woman to announce the play-by-play for a nationally televised baseball broadcast in 1995, Senda Abbott, PE director at Smith College who developed women's basketball in the 1890s, and Molly "Machine Gun" Bolin, the first payer to sign with the Women's Basketball League in 1978.

One slight criticism is that I would have liked a stronger explanation for why the editors chose to include biographical entries for individuals without stating their relationship to Title IX. In the preface, they say that they included women whose contributions to sport predated Title IX in order to provide a well-rounded look at women's sports, but this explanation is not satisfactory and undermines the book's utility as a Title IX resource. The authors could have made the case, for example, that Title IX influenced a cultural shift that helped create the opportunity in broadcasting that SuzynWaldman was the first woman to enjoy. They could have also suggested that Waldman's broadcast helped influence and inspire the people who were listening to support gender equity in sport, including Title IX. I think this is a missed opportunity -- the editors could have tied together the entries together by tying them more expressly to Title IX, creating a sense of interrelatedness and connectivity between early pioneers and contemporary stars, between advocates and beneficiaries.

Instead, many of the biographical entries read like a Who's Who in Women's Sport, a worthy project, to be sure, but that would have been a more accurate title. Further proving my point, is, I believe, the omission of Bernice Sandler from the biographical entries. Sandler's activism catalyzed Title IX's passage through Congress. That the Encyclopedia includes an entry for Trudy Ederle, who swam the English Channel in 1926, and not Sandler indicates that sports achievement was for the editors a stronger focus than Title IX (entries for Senator Birch Bayh and Gerald Ford notwithstanding).

Outside the context of its biographical entries, however, the Encyclopedia does a very good job profiling Title IX history and legal milestones. There are entries for every major judicial interpretation of Title IX's application to sport, as well as many of the advocacy organizations, like the Women's Sports Foundation and the National Women's Law Center, who work tirelessly to promote and protect Title IX. These entries, as well as the biographical entries described above, can serve as a useful starting point for students, journalists, or anyone starting down the research trail on issues relating to Title IX or to women's sports more generally.