Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Standards of journalism and the Title IX blame game

Ebuz and I often discuss the need for greater awareness of the intricacies of Title IX--or even just the basic facts--that are free from common misconceptions. We wish, for example, that Title IX training for athletic department administrators happened before violations occurred.
We also wish, somewhat in vain, that the media would become better informed on Title IX issues before reporters and columnists printed stories about the law.
But headlines like "How Title IX Hurts Female Athletes" fail to surprise us anymore. What is somewhat surprising is when such a headline--actually this exact headline--is found on The Atlantic's web site.
And I am sure--based on the numerous angry comments--that The Atlantic is regretting running this piece by two women: a journalist and a cross-country coach. The logic is faulty throughout. Most egregious is when the authors say that Title IX has exposed more girls to sexual assault by male coaches.
There are the old arguments about ACL injuries and concussions. An argument based in--thank you Michael Messner--soft essentialism. (There's a decent amount of hard essentialism in here, too.) Because there is no mention about the general danger of competitive athletics and the injuries suffered by boys--like all those undiagnosed concussions. Or the way boys experience pressure to compete despite injury.
Attempts by the writers to get facts by experts to back up their points fail:
For female players, the gravest consequence of having male coaches has been an increased risk of sexual abuse. Pediatrician Ken Feldman, the recently retired medical director of the Children's Protection Program at Seattle Children's Hospital, says that although there is no formal tracking of sexual abuse by coaches per se, "girls will be more victimized than boys."

No studies. No data. But girls will be victimized more. Based on what evidence?
Yes, please, let's interrogate things like injury rates and types, the decline of female coaches and the absence of female coaches in men's sports, and the secrecy around sexual abuse of both boys and girls by coaches. But saying "Title IX did this" is not an interrogation. And it is not helpful in understanding the complexities behind such situations.

You know what hurts female athletes?
Misconceptions about them, their experiences, and how they came to be.
Misinformed coverage by media outlets.

I am disappointed in The Atlantic. I hope they more carefully vet what gets published under their moniker in the future.