Friday, April 21, 2023

Not saying "I do" to Biden's proposal

 With the spate of legislation aimed at denying trans people--including trans children--fundamental rights, it would seem like this month's announcement from the White House  about proposed regulations (under Title IX) to prevent schools from outright bans on trans youth participation in sports would be a good thing. 

The headlines might have inspired some hope* especially in weeks like this one where the House has passed a bill that bans transwomen from sports competitions by amending Title IX to state that sex can only be defined by sex assigned at birth (which, of course, will trigger a myriad of other bad things for cis and trans people and persons with Differences of Sexual Development). 

While that bill will not pass the Senate, other bills are passing state legislatures; seemingly with ease. But after reading the actual proposal and fact sheet (linked above), there is not much reason for celebration, however.  

One, we have to remember these are proposed changes to how the law is interpreted. We now enter a comment period where people and entities can, well, comment on the proposed rules. This is, I suppose, part of the democratic process (though how much so is questionable given that former Sec of Ed Betsy DeVos also made changes that from all that I could see were largely unpopular and those got pushed through anyway). 

But good golly, I would not want to be the one reading these! I imagine they will only be slightly more professional versions of internet crap from the likes of Save Women's Sports and the Alliance Defending Freedom. [Or maybe I am overestimating the professionalism of transphobic persons and entities. ]

Regardless, these changes are not going to be protective of trans people. The big takeaway is this: institutions to which Title IX applies will not be allowed to pass blanket policies that ban trans students from sports participation. Instead the Department of Education will "allow schools flexibility to develop team eligibility criteria that serve important educational objectives, such as ensuring farness in competition or preventing sports-related injury." I will come back to this and some of the other language. 

I am going to start with a problem I feel has been almost entirely overlooked in this and most other conversations about policies regarding trans participation in sports^: they do nothing to address privacy. Because so much of these regulations depend on how this flexibility will be interpreted and implemented --standards of fairness and advantage being highly subjective in the sport world--privacy has arguably become less of a concern, less of a right that trans people--including children can have if they want to play sports. If these regulations get passed the early "cases" (children should not be cases by the way) will be brutal. Adults will engage in horrible behavior and say brutally damaging things about children. (Just look at how Lia Thomas and other adult trans athletes have been treated.) 

I do not have faith that we who live in a white, western, heteropatriarchal society, of which binary sports are a result and an enforcer, will have the ability, the knowledge, the self-reflection, the ethical drive to determine what fair is.

This is not helped by the language in the Department of Education's fact sheet and proposed changes to the regulations. 

Starting with the above about educational objectives as related to fairness of competition and sports-related injury...One, fairness in competition, despite what many people believe about the rules of sports, is highly subjective. We, as a sport-obsessed culture, do not actually discuss and define fairness much beyond complaining about how referees call games or when the coach plays their own child. There is no complexity to the fairness discourse. Related to these regulations and their flexibility, I do not see how anything other than the usual boys are stronger than girls biological fairness discourse will be used by those wishing to erase/punish/condemn transgender children and young adults. 

The "safety" that that Biden administration has invoked reinforces the "fairness" but is also entirely hypocritical!!! If it was/should be an educational objective for sports to be safe for participants, there would be far fewer sports. This is not a gender issue. Men who play football are quite dangerous to one another's health. (Also states with equal opportunity laws require that women/girls be at least allowed to try out for football and we seem to have gotten over the whole safety thing here.) Women's gymnastics has a high rate of catastrophic injury. Safety does not seem to be anyone's educational objective when the sport is a money-maker. 

Overall the language in these regulations is vague. There are a lot of "expects" when it comes to what may be perceived as guidelines such as that the Department "expects...elementary school students would generally be able to participate on school sports teams consistent with their gender identity." This makes it unclear what happens when a school goes against this expectation and how these expectations will be enforced. 

Basically what they are saying is that they see there are differences based on age/grade. But there are SO MANY OTHER THINGS that make one student athlete different from one another within sex-assigned at birth categories: height, weight, previous access/exposure to sport including privatized sports, historic and current nutrition access, socioeconomic class, among others. No regulation has ever attempted to govern or control for these differences in single-sex sports. 

Another problematic aspect of the proposed regulations: they are conveying the idea that at "lesser" competitive levels, trans participation is fine but that more competitive levels or teams seemingly have the "flexibility" to exclude. So any trans person who wants to be "competitive" will be out of luck. There is no clarity about how competitive a team or school has to prove they are in order to ban trans people. 

There are more issues that are vague in regard to how these regulations will and will not work alongside existing stances by state interscholastic associations and the NCAA which has deferred (a kind way to phrase this) to sport governing bodies most of which do not have "educational objectives" at the core of their missions. 

It is sadly ironic that toward the end of the fact sheet it is stated that "preventing students from participating on a sports team consistent with their gender identity can stigmatize and isolate them." These regulations do almost nothing to impede or resolve that isolation or stigmatization. 

* I had linked to the NYT's article about the proposed changes but in protest of that outlet's coverage of the "controversy" over the care and well-being of trans youth, I removed it. Thus far it is a minimal attempt to divest myself of the Times, but I am trying to pay better attention going forward to citation politics. 

^ I am looking forward to reading this ahead-of-print article from the Sport Sociology Journal to see how this issue might be addressed. 

Thursday, December 01, 2022

The story of the Las Vegas Invitational is not the story

 I spent part of last Sunday afternoon watching women's college basketball. Iowa took on UConn in the final of the Phil Knight Legacy tournament. I did not know the game was part of a tournament when I sat down to watch, and thus was confused by the black uniforms the usually blue-clad UConn Huskies were sporting. It was then explained to me: Phil Knight tournament, final game, Portland, Oregon. 

Iowa lost. Phil Knight came out to present the trophy to UConn at which point one of my viewing companions exclaimed "He's still alive?" If only the most egregious thing to happen in women's basketball last weekend was a still-alive person touting his legacy... 

That "honor" belonged to the Las Vegas Invitational, which has been the focus of considerable media attention since Indiana coach Teri Moren and others spoke out about the conditions in The Mirage's ballrooms. It was not the ballroom setting per se, according to reports, but rather the lack of bleachers, on-site medical staff, towels, and good lighting. In short, the conditions were not as promised when the tournament director proposed it to DI teams in March 2022. 

The attention has been on how bad this is for the women's game. A gender equity narrative has predominated the coverage. Yes. And...

I am a little surprised that there has not been more (self?) reflection on this one. 

WE MUST GROW THE WOMEN'S GAME! is the shout heard 'round social media. 

This is true. 

But...and I don't intend for this to be a blame the victim take...perhaps women's basketball should examine its partnerships and the philosophical foundations of those with whom they work/collaborate. There is nothing about the Vegas strip that makes me believe there is some kind of commitment to gender equity. Vegas is Vegas; it operates in its own self-interest. The money was made before those teams even showed up.  

But who chose to hold this tournament in Vegas and lured nine top teams to the Nevada desert? A company called Destination Basketball; an organization that puts together basketball tournaments (though it has ceased to exist online in the wake of last weekend's debacle). 

First, the NCAA, in theory, has a commitment to gender equity. As the championship tournament organizer, they rightly got called on to the carpet in 2021 when Sedona Prince's TikTok about the horrible conditions at the women's tournament went viral. Destination Basketball has no such mandate. 

Second, (I have totally buried the lede here) this organization is headed by Bryce McKey, a former college coach at Maryland and Xavier. He "resigned" from Maryland after allegations that he sexually assaulted two former Xavier players came to light. One of those cases was dismissed by a horrible judge who used almost every rape myth that exists to justify acquitting McKey. The other case was never brought to court. In addition to Destination Basketball, McKey coaches girls AAU basketball in Ohio. 

THIS IS THE STORY. (Kudos to Deadspin for being one of the only media outlets to dig deeper.) The lousy basketball tournament organizer is actually a sexual predator and is currently coaching girls sports. 

This is who those teams chose to work with. This is who they trusted to grow the game. Someone knew. Someone had to know this guy's history. The world of women's college basketball is not that big. And sadly it too has decided to engage in "pass the predator." 

Equity in women's sports is not just about equal coverage or equal pay. It is about safety--including from sexual predators. Mere weeks ago we learned about the rampant sexual abuse by coaches in elite women's soccer. The list of organizations that have covered up sexual abuse by coaches is too long. There is justified outrage when a new case comes to light. 

When are people going to start taking responsibility? How many athletes are being sacrificed for "growth"? Is that growth about anything more than money? 

I realize that the vision leaders of the AIAW (and its predecessor organizations) had for women's intercollegiate sports is probably impossible to achieve in the current structure of college sports. But the abandonment of any kind of moral compass is revolting and athlete-centric philosophy. Women's sports do not hold the moral high ground. This is clear when they choose to associate with people who clearly do not care about women athletes. 

What happened to those athletes in Vegas was unfortunate. I would encourage them to ask their coaches and their athletic directors why they chose to trust (and monetarily compensate) Bryce McKey to put together an event that was supposed to showcase their talents. 

And someone in Ohio AAU should be asking a lot more about McKey's past. 

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Winning and failing at the same time

 A community college in Oregon must pay a former student over a million dollars after a jury decided the school was in breach of contract. 

The student who brought the lawsuit was a nursing major who had previously done sex work in the adult film industry. Some of her instructors found out and felt that her past profession meant she could not possibly be a good nurse. She experienced disparate treatment, including lowering of her grades after the fact. 

She brought two claims: breach of contract because the school did not provide her the education she paid for and a Title IX discrimination claim. They dismissed the latter. 

I found this fairly surprising. The stereotype of female sex workers clearly was a factor in how the instructions treated her. The idea that a woman cannot be a professional sex worker and a professional in a "reputable" profession like nursing is based on beliefs about women and sex. One instructor said to her: "It takes a classy woman to be a nurse, and unclassy women shouldn't be nurses." 

I find the plaintiff's response to the situation one also indicates the presence of sex-based discrimination much more so than breach of contract: "there are no words to say how much gratitude I have for the jury and their decision, but I'll never get over how much it took just to get a little bit of accountability." 

The school clearly did not meet its obligations because members of the institution were engaging in discrimination. They were gatekeeping based on ideas about proper womanhood as embodied by a female nurse. The plaintiff, after she disclosed her past work to a fellow student (who seems to have not kept a secret), found herself being penalized by instructors in ways her peers were not. Some instructors told her it was part of their academic freedom to lower her grade. She was dismissed from the nursing program in the summer of 2018 after one of her passing grades was changed to an F one month after semester's end. 

Additionally, the plaintiff went to the Title IX office and they never registered or investigated her complaint. 

I understand why there will not be a pressing of the issue regarding the dismissal of the Title IX complaint. The jury award was large, the student has moved on and is in law school now and hope to continue to advocate for sex workers and former sex workers. 

Reading the rest of the article though about other sex workers in academia and their treatment demonstrates that this form of discrimination has been deemed acceptable, is rarely challenged, and is based on norms of propriety that are gender-based. 

This is not going away. Sex work is easier to engage in because of the many forms that exist; more people are moving in and out of it; it can be lucrative; and college is expensive. Campuses--especially Title IX offices--need to be prepared for students who engage in sex work and how to protect them from backlash and other forms of violence and aggression. 

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Pass the professor is a problem

 I have written previously about the practice of passing from one school to another athletes who have been accused of or found responsible for sexual violence. That is bad, and I am sure still happens, but at least some schools and athletic conferences have taken notice and created policies about not accepting these athletes. Does this actually happen? I don't know. I hope someone starts collecting some data/investigating. <-- virtual prodding of my sport soc colleagues 

Passing bad coaches around is also a problem though even less is known about how often this happens.  I have a forthcoming post about a  predatory University of Toledo coach who was passed to another team where he continued to engage in abuse of his players. One issue with determining frequency of this action is that coaches are employees and so this becomes a personnel issue and subject to a high level of scrutiny. The same is true of professors. 

Today's post is about how professors who commit Title IX violations move from institution to institution. It is inspired by a VICE piece from fall 2021 which I only recently came across but also because the issue has arisen in my professional life, and I could not get a clear answer on how to prevent the practice. 

It appears there is not one. 

The issue of sexual assault and harassment of undergraduate and graduate students has a long history. There is literally a book from the 80s called The Lecherous Professor (I found an old copy--first edition-- at a dusty used bookstore in Northampton, MA but have yet to dig into it. I am sure when I get to it I will be being deeply demoralized by how little has changed). 

In 1977, an undergraduate sued Yale University arguing that a professor's sexual harassment of students was a form of sex discrimination and that the institution was responsible for both attempting to mitigate this harassment and having a mechanism in place for addressing it. (This case is discussed by the amazing Dr. Libby Sharrow in the ESPN 4-part series 37 Words about the history of Title IX.) 

Though the plaintiffs did not win the case on its legal merits (Yale did institute a system for reporting sexual harassment, though), it set off a discussion of whether sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination. 

Today we recognize it as such and so when it occurs in an educational institution, Title IX applies. But as long as this history of professors harassing and assaulting students is and as devastating the results, there does not seem to be a clear way to prevent it despite the legal recognition as discrimination. 

I dug around when a colleague was in the midst of a job search for a high-ranking position at a school well-regarded in their field.  One of the other candidates was a professor known to have been investigated multiple times for Title IX violations. This person made it to the on-campus interview stage and was favored by some who had decision-making power. Again, this person's history with Title IX complaints is well-known. But it could not be officially considered or brought up because Title IX complaints are a personnel issue and, as most personnel issues, nothing could be revealed about them; not the circumstances nor the findings of the investigations.  

This was the case for biology professor, Daniel Howard, at Augustana University who had a sexual and romantic relationship with one of his students/advisees (there were rumors of additional relationships). An investigation began after an anonymous report. He subsequently convinced the student, by her own account, to transfer schools to evade investigators while he followed his wife to the University of New Hampshire where he also got a position in the biology department. Even after the student victim spoke with the TIX coordinator at Augustana after realizing what had really happened to her AND contacting the TIX office at UNH, she got nowhere. Augustana said the case had been resolved, but that they could not reveal the outcome. I found this strange given that she was the victim and victims learn of the outcomes. But perhaps they thought the whole thing was moot given that both she and Howard had already left Augustana. 

Everything on the UNH end seems very sketchy (<--not a legal term) including the statement to VICE that the person who took the calls from multiple people about Dr. Howard no longer is with the office. There was no information about what Howard's new school did or did not know or what they did once they did know. When the story gained media attention Howard's name disappeared from the biology department's website and it appears that both he and his wife have left UNH. My cursory googling did not reveal his current institution. The VICE article (again a year old) reported that the student who has remained in the field still sees him and his wife and academic meetings. 

Having served on search committees, I know that HR does the background checks and they will rule out people and not reveal why. The candidate disappears from the queue (depending on what platform is being used). But Title IX complaints don't show up in background checks because they are not criminal offenses. Recommenders could possibly mention it in their letters but even if HR deemed it acceptable to consider that information (a big question) would a letter writer even do that? 

There are so many rules around search committees (which I understand) and about personnel information (same). But there needs to be some kind of balance between information that can maintain the safety of an institutional community and privacy. Title IX processes are so uneven across schools, how would a future employer even assess a finding of responsibility or of no responsibility? 

In short, there is a gap--a very large gap--in Title IX enforcement when employees with histories of violations cannot be identified and thus are passed around higher education. OCR/Department of Education needs to issue guidance on this. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

The local and the global: Anti-trans policies are all connected

The impetus for this post was a radio segment I heard on my local NPR station about a school district in Lancaster, PA. The school board of the Hempfield School District created a policy requiring that students participate in interscholastic sports based on their sex assigned at birth. As horrible as this legislation is in intent and effect, it is nothing new--sadly. It is interesting though that the school district took this action after Pennsylvania's Democratic governor vetoed anti-trans legislation that had passed the PA house and senate and specifically said, in doing so, "leave trans kids alone."

Nevertheless, Hempfield folks have chosen not to listen to Governor Wolf and passed the policy by a 6-2 margin, unmoved by tearful pleadings from at least one parent of a trans child. It continues to baffle and sadden me that people go into education/education policy and have zero empathy for the children who need it most. 

That is point 1: utter lack of empathy and failing to uphold basic education philosophies. This leads to...

Point 2: the goal of interscholastic sports is education through participation. Sports are already fraught because...America and capitalism and patriarchy. To be fair sports were never not fraught. But can we at least try to make sports for little kids something worthwhile and not a place where severe mental and physical harm occurs? 

Point 3: As noted in the article linked above, this policy likely violates Title IX (the new regulations protecting trans students are likely to be challenged in court so everything remains frighteningly unknown). But I was struck by those who opposed the policy relying heavily on the "we're going to be sued" argument. Do the right thing because it is the right thing--morally. Yes, laws are part of our system of ethics and considering the law is part of moral reasoning. But if we rely only on the law to guide our moral reasoning, we will not be serving the most vulnerable. 

Outside of the above points, I continue to find the claims of "girls are losing opportunities" because of trans inclusion both wrong and ironic. Girls lack opportunities because school districts have already failed to comply with Title IX's mandate for equitable opportunities. Also--this is not college sports; if there are super strict roster numbers then we are back to point 2--failure to live up to the philosophy of interscholastic sports. Additionally--and this is the irony--the more money a district spends on fighting a legal battle to keep a few kids from participating in sports in a healthier way, the less money there will be to spend on those sports and other educational necessities. That's a pretty difficult cost-benefit decision to justify. 

The same week all this is happening in PA, World Athletics (formerly IAAF), the governing body of track and field, hinted that it would follow the lead of Fina--the international governing body of swimming--and ban trans women who have gone through male puberty regardless of testosterone levels. This is not a Title IX issue and there seems little to be done about Fina's rule or any similar ones by other governing bodies. The Court of Arbitration of Sport, based on how they handled the Caster Semenya/DSD athletes case, does not seem to be a viable option for stopping these heinous policies. 

So why the comparison? Once again we have the straw dog argument: protect women's sports/protect women. The paternalism from organizations that have ENABLED the abuse of women athletes is astounding. Trans women are not a threat. Predatory coaches are a threat. Abusive coaching is a threat. Self-harm from a toxic sports culture is a threat. Where is the perspective?

Also, a huge thumbs down to The Guardian, a publication I usually trust, for including this paragraph: 

Under World Athletics rules transgender women can compete in the female category provided they suppress their testosterone to below 5nmol/L for 12 months. That rule was also followed by Fina until Sunday, when it changed its regulations after scientific evidence showed trans women retain an advantage even after reducing testosterone.

It is irresponsible to off-handedly mention "scientific evidence" and not talk about what that evidence is and how (un)reliable it is. If the entire argument anti-trans people are making is "scientific," there has to be a discussion of this evidence. 

Conclusion: everyone needs to do better. I am currently at a loss over how or if this can happen. 

Friday, June 24, 2022

Happy Birthday, Title IX!

 Title IX turned 50 this week. I had a more elaborate plan for a post/piece that I still may enact when I find the time. This post, however, is a version of a talk I gave to Title IX coordinators with the State University of New York (SUNY) system a couple of weeks ago. I chose to highlight a recent story out of New York in which Title IX was NOT invoked but could have been. I also--because it was requested--talked about strategies for addressing the needs of trans/gender queer students on our college campuses. I am going to save that part for a later time and incorporate some of the new, horrifying changes/movements we have seen. 

I want to thank Dr. Jaime Schultz of Penn State for sending me some of the sources I cited in my presentation, which I heard about in her talk in April about the 50th anniversary of Title IX. 

In May, members of the boys and girls track team at Albany High School were practicing without their shirts on over the course of several high temperature days. According to the students involved, this was a norm. But it was also apparently in violation of the school dress code. On a Wednesday the athletics director saw athletes practicing without shirts and told members of the girls track team that they would not be allowed to do so going forward. The students report that she said it was because they have male coaches around and it is a distraction. The next day, both the girls and boys again practiced without shirts. Some of the female athletes say this was a form of protest. The athletics director asked the boys to put their shirts back on—they did. But she removed some of the girls from practice; they left the track without incident; they tried to take a picture of themselves in their sports bras on the track but were barred from doing so. They took the picture inside and immediately started a petition which included the photo.

Some of the same girls attempted to attend a lacrosse game later that day where they were stopped by the AD and three security guards who prevented them from attending. An argument ensued and the girls were suspended from practice and competition for disrespectful conduct to an administrator. The team competed on Friday with only two members and the suspension cost many of the girls an opportunity to qualify for post-season competition. On Saturday a letter was sent to the homes of all the girls—from the AD—who wrote that each girl:  "poses a continuing danger to persons or property or an ongoing threat of disruption to the academic and athletic process." On Monday all the girls were called into a meeting from which parents were banned. There are different versions of the story with some administrators saying the girls were suspended for their conduct at the lacrosse game and others saying they were suspended for wearing sport bras.

What do we learn from this story and how does it reflect on where we are at 50 years into Title IX’s existence?

1.      Even though Title IX can be applied here, it was not. I have a Title IX Google alert and I did not see this story come through my email. This speaks to the cultural knowledge about Title IX. 

A 2022 study by The Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism and the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism at the University of Maryland found that 71% children aged 12-17 did not know what Title IX is along with 58% of their parents. A 2017 survey led by Dr. Ellen Staurowsky found that half of college athletes surveyed knew nothing about the law and the other half had "large gaps in foundational understandings of what Title IX requires and how it works.” 

This is a trend. I heard as early as the late aughts that college aged women athletes did not know that there was a law that guaranteed them equity in the context of school-sponsored sports. Young people—college-aged people—do not know Title IX applies to athletics but also to things like dress codes. Why? There is so much attention on prevention of and justice for sexual assault and harassment, which is necessary, and sometimes probably feels all-consuming because of the seemingly never-ending changes in enforcement, regulations, best practices, etc. 

BBut we have to remember that everything is connected. The discourse of “what you wear is distracting or titillating so you can’t wear it” is part of rape culture that in a college setting manifests into the rape myth that what she was wearing is a factor in why she was assaulted. A woman who sees she is not being treated the same as her male athlete peers gets the message that the school cares less about her experiences—maybe as a softball players but also maybe as a victim of domestic violence—maybe at the hands of a male student athlete. 

There is something happening when athletics/sports attempts to address issues of sexual and domestic violence. At my institution, SUNY Cortland, we hold an annual event called Yards for Yeardley to raise money for the foundation started in the name of University of Virginia lacrosse player Yeardley Love who was murdered by her also lacrosse playing boyfriend after a known history of domestic abuse. Many of my students who are athletes—club and varsity—are “encouraged” to participate in this event as a form of community service/giving back. They do not know what it is. They do not know Yeardley Love and the circumstances of her death or the foundation created in her name.   

We need to consider how we might widen our educational efforts to cover some of the gaps and to demonstrate the interconnectedness of seemingly different inequities.

2.      The second thing to take from the Albany story, and an issue that has been getting a good amount of attention on this 50th birthday celebration: race matters. There was no mention in any of the articles I read about the racial identity of the members (that’s a media issue I won’t even attempt to address here) but some stories included the photo from the petition. There are many non-white athletes in this photo. 

      We know that Title IX has disproportionately benefited white women in terms of athletic opportunities. It is an anti-discrimination law based on sex alone and does not address how discrimination is intersectional and affected by race, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic class, etc.    

While not specifically a Title IX issue, the suspension as punishment should not be overlooked. Researchers have repeatedly demonstrated  that suspensions of non-white students are both more frequent and have more negative impacts.  

      In our respective positions as educators, coaches, community leaders, parents, we may not be able to fix these discrepancies and disparities that occur before students reach us (though we should definitely lobby people who can!) but we can and should be aware of what their effects are on the students with whom we interact. If non-white, non-middle and upper girls have fewer athletics opportunities how does that affect their overall health and well-being? What are they bringing into our offices and institutions? How do their past behavioral records, when present, affect their understandings of themselves, speak to lost/taken opportunities, trigger our own implicit biases?

3.      My final point regarding the Albany Girls track team, which I have just hinted at, is that these are the students coming into institutions of higher education. They may not know about Title IX specifically, but they know injustice; many are already activists or engaged in social justice endeavors; they know language and terms that I only learned in grad school. They have expectations that their institutions treat them fairly. We have to anticipate a more engaged student population that will expect us to know about how race and gender and sexuality and class intersect to create and impede opportunities and experiences. They give me hope and we have to do better by them. 

Monday, June 20, 2022

NCAA Won't Discuss Trans Inclusion

[Cross posted at After Atalanta.]

I virtually attended last week's NCAA annual Inclusion Forum which was celebrating Title IX but also included issues of BIPOC inclusion and athlete mental health (among others).

There was a panel on Thursday afternoon headlined by former Harvard swimmer Schuyler Bailar about trans athletes. 

When the conference was announced, I was curious about how the organization would approach--or even if they would--trans athletes given the recent seemingly abrupt change in their policy (January 2022--curiously amidst the growing visibility of Penn swimmer Lia Thomas). They moved from a not ideal but not totally horrible policy in which hormone levels (specifically testosterone) governed participation, to a we-are-cowards-kowtowing-to-the-misnamed-fear-mongering-save-women's-sports folks policy in which trans athletes are treated as cheaters constantly having to submit to surveillance. Additionally, the NCAA policy is basically a non-policy because they have decided to follow the "Olympic model" in which each college sport will follow the rules of its governing body. 

They have washed their hands of responsibility to throw the anti-trans activists off their backs, and they have sacrificed trans athletes in the process as well as compromising their own philosophy about the goal of college sports and inclusion and participation. To be fair, the organization has never truly adhered to that philosophy. [I will save a more thorough interrogation of the policy for another post.]  

The description of the panel in the agenda (available in the first link above) was as follows:

Session 1 | Beyond the Headlines: Understanding the Trans & Non Binary Student-Athlete Experience Media headlines and state laws have contributed to increased discussion about transgender and nonbinary athletes. Rarely are the perspectives of these athletes shared or included in these discussions. This session provides an opportunity to hear directly from a former trans student-athlete about their experience in college sports and to discuss with administrators how campuses can support all student-athletes around this subject. 

Schuyler told his story, the panel (there were two others who work in college athletics) answered some pre-set questions posed by the moderator, and we in the audience were allowed to submit questions in the Q&A window. Several of us asked questions about policy--the NCAA's and other organizations' policies. NONE of them were picked. 

In the chat, as things were winding down and it was clear these questions would go unasked, I commented on this fact. Schuyler saw my comment, in which I mentioned that these policies are a form of violence (because he had talked about violent threats against him on social media and anti-trans violence in general). He responded that the panel was not about policy but about showing the humanity of trans people by sharing the story of a trans person. 

Humanity is great; I wish the NCAA had more of it in fact. But framing this panel as one about humanity and then refusing to discuss policies that are the opposite of humane; that in fact are othering, is disingenuous. I am not directly blaming Schuyler Bailar. I am sure the directive was issued from on high. In fact, when I went to the panel description as it was presented on the meeting platform (different from the posted agenda), I found this addition: Please note, this session is not intended to discuss or go into detail around the NCAA's transgender student-athlete participation policy.

The humanity discourse was a cover. It allowed the NCAA to show a success story in Schuyler Bailar. It threw attention off of their own inhumane governance. It is a cover for the violence they are doing. It focused on one person, which has been a huge problem in ALL the discussions of trans athletes. They are focusing on individuals and not the larger philosophy(ies) and ethics of sport and human dignity. This approach has made lightning rods out of people such as Lia Thomas. It literally endangers lives by perpetuating the idea that trans people are not fully human; that they should be subjected to constant testing and monitoring and scrutiny. It was offensive that they approached the issue this way at a conference about inclusion. 

Saturday, March 26, 2022

New rule: No passing around bad coaches

Art Briles, former Baylor head coach, dismissed as part of the house cleaning (that was largely a PR move) in the wake of the sexual assault scandal (see Baylor tag for more details if you are not familiar or this ESPN timeline) got a job! He was hired in February as the offensive coordinator for Grambling State University, an HBCU in Louisiana. Briles has been away from college coaching for six years now.* 

And he will continue that streak because he stepped down from that position after significant backlash in the wake of his hiring. He lasted three days; which is two and a half days longer than his stint with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League in 2017. 

I find it heartening when people push back strongly enough to prevent those who should not be given "second chances" from getting jobs in which they can continue to do damage. I find it disheartening that 1) institutions still offer these jobs in the first place and 2) that these decisions also receive praise (see this article that details communication to and from Grambling folks after the announcement of the hiring).

Grambling State did not have to walk back the offer because Briles officially resigned. But apparently learning nothing from this incident, they turned right around and offered the job to John Simon, who had previously coached at University of Memphis. Simons left the Memphis staff weeks after being placed on administrative leave in 2021 in the wake of a Title IX and sexual assault complaint. Grambling head coach Hue Jackson had already brought on Simon has an assistant coach, but elevated him to offensive coordinator when Briles resigned. 

It is not a done deal. however, because Simon needs to be approved by the University of Louisiana System board at their April meeting. A spokesperson for the UL board said it was not a rubber-stamping organization and that it would scrutinize the candidate. The UL system, however, is not a shining example of how to handle Title IX issues, so I suspect that they will come out with something like "he denies all allegations against him and was never criminally charged, so he's in!" 

This situation at Grambling demonstrates, to me, the need for some rules regulating the hiring process of collegiate coaches. The system, for all coaches--not just football, is so steeped in all the inequities that is is hard to know where to start. 

My suggestion: don't hire coaches with histories of Title IX and interpersonal violence complaints. The SEC and other conferences and/or schools have this policy as it pertains to athletes,** so why not coaches? As we approach the 50th anniversary of Title IX's passage, I have been thinking more and more about how to improve on the law's application; what other ways can it be used to ensure equity. This seems like an easy one. 

* He has coached at the high school level though. This is a somewhat tangential, but quite fascinating, article about his first season at Mount Vernon High School in Texas. 

** Rumor has it that the NCAA is looking to implement a policy where ALL intercollegiate athletes have to be vetted for violent crimes, including interpersonal violence and sexual assault. I hope to find out more about this and post about it soon. 

Thursday, March 03, 2022

The day the rowers took action

 Today marks the 46th anniversary of the Yale women's rowing team's protest of their deplorable conditions. 

This event is, of course, partial inspiration for this blog--as evidenced by the heading picture. 

This is not a particularly momentous anniversary (especially as we gear up for the 50th anniversary of Title IX this summer), but I did hear a BBC piece about it (done in 2015 but re-aired a couple of months ago) which I am using an excuse to post. 

It is short (8 minutes) but informative for those who do not know the story. It features Chris Ernst and Ginny Gilder who were part of the protest. They talk about their actions; walking into Joni Barnett's office and taking off their shirts to reveal Title IX written on their chests and backs. But they also share things that went beyond that office and speak to a dismissive culture that resulted in more than the lack of a boat house (the impetus for the naked protest). Gilder discusses how the women's team was shunned and made fun of by men when they were using the weight room, for example. 

While it is important to remember the significance of the event, we should also use it as an example--a model--for athlete activism. These women were smart and creative. They called the New York Times to get a reporter to cover the protest. They thought about potential actions ahead of time, including taking a bucket and sponge "shower" in Barnett's office, which I think would have been equally effective! They had a statement ready to read to Barnett and the press. Relatively speaking, it was a small action that caused a large effect (international press and new boathouse in less than a year!). 

There have certainly been significant and important college athlete protests and actions before and  since (Mizzou's 2015 football team protest/solidarity action against campus racism; the 1968 protest by 14 Wyoming football players against the institutional racism of BYU; and many others in intercollegiate football.) 

Students have power, but the system that is Intercollegiate Sports has effectively suppressed it. Teaching and sharing information about past protests and actions can mitigate the suppression. It would also be great to see teams act in solidarity when one team takes a stand. This happened to a degree at the start of the pandemic when athletes in the PAC-12 came together to protest conditions. It could be happening more. 

Wednesday, January 05, 2022

Thanks, Dr. Grant

 I found out last week that Dr. Christine Grant, former AD at University of Iowa and long time advocate for women's sports and women's sports leaders died at the end of December. 

There have been many stories and tributes, which I have posted links to below, but I wanted to offer my own brief remembrance. 

I never had Dr. Grant as a professor when I was at Iowa (she was retired by the time I arrived), but she invited me, when I was doing my PhD in Women's Studies, to be on the gender equity subcommittee of the NCAA accreditation team. This was back when the NCAA actually required DI schools to do a self-assessment and then sent a team to campuses to take a look for themselves. 

The gender equity subcommittee basically did a Title IX review. This is where I learned the nitty gritty of Title IX compliance--especially in regard to quality of experience (per diems, travel and accommodations, support staff, etc.). Dr. Grant was an excellent instructor to everyone on that committee, including administrators from athletics. I learned how to really look at and question and assess what is happening in athletics departments using qualitative and quantitative data. 

Just a few days before Dr. Grant's passing, the final version of my institution's Title IX self-assessment was sent to the President's office. I was on this committee as well, and I would not have been nearly as effective in my work if I had not had the experience with Dr. Grant at Iowa. I was able to pass on what I learned throughout the year-long process in committee meetings and in the final report. 

I learned something else from Dr. Grant that she conveyed in a much more subtle way and that I have taken into all of my committee work: skepticism is healthy and necessary. By watching and listening to her in her leadership roles, I realized that what people say in meetings is not necessarily reflective of how they operate in their positions and that not everyone shares the same mission when it comes to gender equity. That sounds vague, likely because I am attempting not to name names. I prefer to frame it as coming to an understanding about the nuance of gender equity work which included how to read people who are allegedly on the "same team." #multifacetedmetaphor

I didn't really keep in touch with her after I graduated, so I am not sure how she felt about all the horrible things that have happened in Iowa athletics in regard to racial, gender, and sexual orientation discrimination in the past decade. I imagine it was heartbreaking and frustrating, but I see her legacy so clearly at the center of last fall's settlement which reinstated women's swimming and diving and prompted the addition of women's wrestling. I have faith that those of us who have been influenced by her will continue to do the work to which she devoted her life. 

Article about CG's hiring of C. Vivian Stringer and growing WBB at Iowa

Mechelle Voepel's piece from

Iowa Athletics has a great collection of photos (including one with CG, Martina Navratilova, Gloria Steinem, and Billie Jean King!) and stories

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Settlement at Iowa

[this is officially old news now but still important to note]

It was always going to be a toss up. Which would come to an end first: the pandemic or the lawsuit against University of Iowa? 

University of Iowa for 

The lawsuit, brought by women athletes at the school in the wake of the attempted cuts in fall 2020, has ended with a settlement. The women's swimming and diving team had been reinstated while the lawsuit was pending and it will continue on for at least seven years. (Terms of the settlement state that it cannot be cut until then.) AND...

...there will be a new women's wrestling team!! Iowa will be home to the first women's wrestling team in any of the power 5 conferences. And that is quite fitting given Iowa wrestling's renown. Let's give an enthusiastic cheer:


And now the "really?" part of this post. 

The conditions of the settlement, in addition to keeping women's S&D for seven years and $400,000 which will cover expenses, was to add another women's team and the administration chose wrestling. According to Athletics Director Gary Barta, conversations about adding women's wrestling had allegedly been happening prior to the lawsuits and settlement. However:

“Were it not for the Title IX lawsuit, I wasn't ready to add women's wrestling yet,” Barta said. 

[How does this man still have his job? Has any athletic director had so many lawsuits during their tenure as Gary Barta? (Probably, but still, I reiterate past statements about his Teflon-ness.)]

So this historic thing is about to happen and because Gary Barta is the athletic director and it will happen under his watch, he will get credit for it even though it was 1) the result of a lawsuit over the denial of sporting opportunities to women and 2) he didn't even want to do it. 

A significant, but less touted condition of the settlement, is a roster cap on women's rowing. The team cannot exceed 75 spots. Roster inflation has long been an issue and especially so in women's rowing which some schools have used to "balance" out the (inflated but widely accepted as normal) football rosters (approximately 120 students). 

The lawyer for the plaintiffs expressed hope that the capping trend would continue thus creating more quality experiences for women athletes.

Monday, April 05, 2021

Yes...and...but...well...: The NCAA Tourney and Issues of Equality

 The following is an only slightly less contorted path through my original thought process in the wake of  Sedona Prince's Tik Tok revealing the gross inequities between the workout facilities for the women and men at this year's NCAA basketball tournament. (There was also an issue with the swag bags. Side note: interesting that the NCAA is allowed to give gifts to athletes, but no one else is.)

Initial thought

Anyone who is surprised has not been paying attention. 

Some less cynical second [and so forth thought(s)]

It seems that this very obvious disparate treatment brought some needed attention to the issue. We rarely see more than a handful (fingerful? thanks for all you do, Dawn Staley!) of women coaches speak up about issues of inequality. Not surprising given that women coaches are often fired for speaking up (#Iowa, #FresnoState, #FloridaGulfCoast, #manyotherplaces). This is good--the speaking up, not the firing. 

But of course the condemnation was of the NCAA, which is pretty low hanging fruit in terms of places to blame. No institution is going to retaliate against a coach for criticizing the NCAA over this clear mistreatment of women athletes. In short: they spoke out about a fairly one-sided issue. I feel this to be true because I have yet to hear any utterance of "keep politics out of sports." This is interesting because...

...politicians got in on this too. Most notably, Mikie Sherrill, a representative from New Jersey, is leading a group of three dozen representatives in demanding a response from the NCAA. I read this as opportunistic. There is nothing in the recent past regarding Congress's efforts to reform sports or hold organizations accountable (NFL concussion crisis, steroids in baseball) that makes me believe this action will create a reckoning for the NCAA in regard to gender equity. 

The truly less cynical part:

I chose to come to the conclusion that the reason this disparity was so glaring and that the reason Prince and her peers recognized it right away was because there has been a large improvement in the quality of experiences women intercollegiate athletes are receiving. These women are accustomed to better treatment. They have great weight rooms and other training and practice facilities; they have access to amazing coaching staffs and medical staffs, etc. 

Erin and I wrote about Title IX's equal treatment mandate in 2012. We had many, many, many examples of disparate treatment that schools were forced to resolve. I don't know if things have gotten better universally, or even just within intercollegiate sports (versus interscholastic) in terms of equal treatment. Or rather, I don't know how to measure that. 

I suspect that things are better for the top teams. So Oregon State probably does treat its men's and women's basketball team fairly equally. But that is easier to see and achieve because it is a like versus like comparison. How is the field hockey team treated? How is the field hockey team, plus the women's soccer team, plus the cross country team, plus the women's tennis team treated in comparison to the football team? Because that is how treatment is supposed to be assessed. It is not team versus team; it is based on the quality of experience for men athletes and female athletes. So if the 125 members of the men's football team receive locker room space with TVs and couches and other sweet amenities, 125 women athletes should be receiving something comparable. Are they? 

Who knows? Accountability only comes when a complaint or a lawsuit is filed. Some schools do Title IX self studies, but...self studies. How effective are they? 

The NCAA used to have an accreditation process for Division I schools which included a Title IX component, but they stopped those years ago. I argue that one (but not the only) reason this weight room fiasco happened was because the NCAA is out of touch with what is happening on campuses. If NCAA folks were going into schools, they would see what equal treatment looked like. Prince and the other women expected something better because they get much better on their respective campuses. 

What I hope will come out of this:

More student athletes learn about Title IX and what they are due because of this law and act on it.

More student athletes advocate for the equal treatment of all women's teams on campus, not just the ones that are popular or successful.

I was going to add something here about wanting the NCAA to get back into schools, but I don't think the organization, as a whole, has proven itself trustworthy or effective. My wish for its effective governance is countered by my hope that it collapses under the weight of its own dysfunction. So that's a wash. 

Congress will give more funding to OCR so it can effectively investigate Title IX complaints. Maybe it could even do something very pro-active and institute a system through which schools report how they are providing equitable treatment and not just equitable opportunities.


Saturday, February 06, 2021

Update: All those cuts

 Since my last post on cuts to intercollegiate athletics there have been a few developments.

1. The women swimmers bringing a lawsuit against the University of Iowa have put up a $360,000 bond to cover the costs associated with keeping the team in operation pending the lawsuit. If the university prevails in proving it is not in violation of Title IX, then the money goes to the school. Paying the bond is an indication that the athletes (and their counsel) believe they will win and that they will pursue the case even when they are no longer NCAA eligible (i.e., they graduate). 

The school asked the judge to overturn the injunction (from December) which allowed the team to continue operations. Some see this as an indication that this is going to be a long process. This is so disappointing because one, some swimmers are waiting to make decisions about transferring. Two, it just shows that Iowa athletics is once again digging in its heels into some very weak ground as they continue to maintain that the department is an equitable place. 

A line from the above linked article mentioned that cutting women's swimming and diving was a risky move for Athletics Director Gary Barta, who was the center of a Title IX lawsuit a mere four years ago. I don't think Barta sees it this way. He has withstood plenty of controversies and lawsuits in his tenure. I guess Gary Barta is like Teflon...Teflon that costs his employer millions and millions of dollars. 

2. Who decided digging in their heels on the issues of equitable cuts was not a good idea? Dartmouth. They are reinstating all five of their teams (including the three men's teams that were cut in the July 2020 announcement). The reason provided was fear of a Title IX lawsuit, which explains why the women's teams were reinstated but not why they included the men's teams. 

In a statement, the athletic director said: "We have recently learned that elements of the data that athletics used to confirm continued Title IX compliance may not have been complete. In light of this discovery, Dartmouth will immediately reinstate all five teams.” 

Curious. The AD does not know what data to use to determine compliance? Does he know what compliance is? While I am happy for the male athletes who will continue their athletic careers at Dartmouth, cutting the men's teams was not the issue.

Reinstating all the teams was a way to temporarily make this controversy go away. I predict that Dartmouth, which has over 30 intercollegiate sports, will make cuts in the near future, though. But this time they make sure they find all that data before announcing their decision.

Friday, January 15, 2021

COVID and the cuts

 There have been a lot of cuts to intercollegiate teams in the past 8+ months. Most school administrators have cited budget issues related to the pandemic as the primary reason. I don't doubt the veracity of these claims, but it might also be valuable to look at what kinds of decisions and practices athletics admins have been engaged in in the past decade plus (since the last recession) that might have exacerbated the current economic struggles. I will not be doing that work here (that's a long-term project for those with more economic expertise than me). 

This post is a roundup of some of the cuts and the Title IX implications.

Brown University

Brown's cuts, announced in June, are not--administrators say--related to COVID. They did come, however, in the midst of the pandemic. 

Initially the university announced the elimination of 11 varsity teams and the elevation of 2 club sports to varsity status. Brown carried a large number of intercollegiate teams (38, third in the US), but did not have a lot of titles among those teams. The cuts were made, athletics administrators say, to increase the competitiveness of Brown athletics. The cuts allow more money to be put into making teams more competitive, especially in the Ivy league. Thus not a budget reduction, but budget reallocation. (Again, Brown has not provided their athletics budget so no one knows if this is true or, and here is where Title IX comes into play, how the monies are being reallocated.) 

Cut: fencing (MW), golf (MW), squash (MW), women’s skiing, women’s equestrian, and men’s indoor track and field, outdoor T&F, and cross-country

Added: women's sailing, co-ed sailing

Athletes mobilized quickly and worked with the ACLU of Rhode Island and not-for-profit Public Justice to challenge the elimination of the 5 women's teams as a violation of the university's 1998 agreement in Cohen v. Brown , which required to university to offer opportunities to women that are proportional to their undergraduate enrollment. Brown said the elevation of women's and co-ed sailing would meet the proportionality requirement; lawyers for the athletes said that the university cannot count teams that do not exist yet. Not having the background to assess that argument, I will skip ahead to the settlement:

In December, Brown agreed to reinstate women's equestrian and women's fencing. The agreement also sets an expiration date, August 2024, to the Cohen agreement, which the university has said has impeded the desired competitiveness. 

A few things about this case:

  • the argument that having to maintain proportionality impeded the competitive strength of the university's athletics programs is weak. The university can cut women's programs, it just also has to cut men's programs. Proportionality is actually the only prong that allows cuts to women's programs. This is a (mis)management issue on Brown's part. It contributes to the negative "Title IX made us do it" discourse. Brown is saying "we couldn't be competitive because of Title IX." That is not true.
  • This settlement is an important reminder of the power and legacy of legal action. The athletes who argued that Brown was in contempt of the Cohen agreement were not even born when that agreement was made. I hope some history was learned here.
  • The men's track programs were also reinstated, but not as part of the settlement. The university reconsidered its decision after criticism over its commitment to racial diversity. I know this is not a Title IX issue, but it is an opportunity to encourage the historically marginalized to support one another. The cuts that are happening are not just about the single issue of gender. We see this also in the story of Brown student athlete Lauren Reischer, who is on the equestrian team. She also has cerebral palsy and never thought she would have the opportunity to compete in intercollegiate sports. Are the cut makers truly investigating whose opportunities are being taken away?

Dartmouth University

 Elsewhere in the Ivy League, Dartmouth announced, in July, it was cutting 5 sports: men's and women's swimming and diving, men's and women's golf, and men's lightweight rowing. The cuts are to address, according to administration, the costs of recruitment. Included in the announcement was mention that, even with the cuts, the university will remain in compliance with prong 1 of Title IX. Members of the women's golf and swimming teams have retained counsel, however, and their lawyer sent a letter to the school last month asking the teams to be reinstated because the university is NOT in compliance with prong 1 and that it would need to add 47 more opportunities for women in order to be so. (I have not looked at any numbers--which would be a year old anyway--to check the validity of the the conflicting statements about compliance.) The university's response--if they have made one--has not been announced yet.

University of Iowa

The University of Iowa, no stranger to Title IX problems and various athletics-related scandals, announced in August that it was cutting men's and women's swimming and diving, men's gymnastics, and men's tennis.

The university was critiqued for the way it made the announcement. The athletes were brought into the arena (safely distanced) where athletics director Gary Barta told them the bad news and then left the arena to get on with the business of being an athletic director at a Big 10 school whose football season had just been cancelled. He left his staff to address questions and comfort the athletes. Football was the reason, according to Barta, for the elimination of the four programs; the budget shortfalls that would result from a cancelled football season. But when the Big 10 season was reinstated after protestation from parents and player lawsuits, Barta/the university did not reverse their decision. There would be increased costs to COVID testing and precautions that had to be met to run a football season. Also, there were those raises (totaling over half a million dollars) were given to members of the football coaching staff. 

[There is definitely a Title IX issue with football, at many schools, being the only sport that was allowed to happen this past fall. This is an issue for another post.]

The reaffirmation of the cuts resulted in the women's swim team filing a Title IX lawsuit against the university. Iowa claims prong 1 compliance but a 2016 OCR investigation could not confirm that it met proportionality requirements and the current lawsuit states that the university has padded its rosters (for example fielding a women's rowing team whose total roster is more than 40% higher than the average DI team) rather than providing real opportunities for women athletes. The lawsuit also states that the proportionality gap is equal to around 50 opportunities. That is more than enough to field a women's team (or 2...). 

The swimmers won an injunction at the end of December that prevents the university from cutting the team until the lawsuit goes to court.

Eastern Carolina University

In May ECU cut four sports: women's and men's swimming and diving, and men's and women's tennis. Under threat of a lawsuit from the cut women's teams, the university reversed its decision last week. In the announcement, the athletics director said they hired a Title IX consultant after receiving notice that the women were planning a lawsuit. One issue was that 60% of scholarships dollars go to male athletes but the school has a near 50-50 split of men and women athletes. ECU now has to work on hiring back or hiring new coaches for the teams. 

William and Mary

The Virginia college cut 7 sports in September but facing a lawsuit from the eliminated women's teams (swimming and diving, volleyball, gymnastics), all three were reinstated a month later. A spokesperson for the college said it was to avoid costly litigation. It was also announced that the school would do a compliance review and come up with a plan to achieve equity in athletics opportunities. The quick turnabout seemed to be due in part to the initial announcement letter; it was plagiarized from the letter Stanford University used to announce its own cuts. Facing a vote of no confidence, the athletics director (who issued the letter) resigned. 

The college also chose to reinstate the cut men's teams. They will conduct a Title IX review to be completed by the end of the summer.

While I am glad that ECU and William and Mary quickly changed courses, it's curious and worrisome that they made the cuts so cavalierly in the first place, i.e., without any regard to gender equity. In  November, I was on a panel about COVID and Title IX as part of the annual North American Society for the Sociology of Sport meeting. We discussed how the pandemic will (or already has) impact(ed) equality in athletics; how are the decisions made; how are they being framed; what are the more subtle effects that might not be visible to those outside of athletics; how are women coaches being affected in the short and long term. 

There are so many questions currently and coming. Cuts are an immediate effect of pandemic-induced budget shortfalls, and thus they are the easiest (relatively speaking) to discuss at this moment. But I hope to be able to delve into some of the longer-lasting and less obvious effects of the pandemic on equity in sports in the coming months.