Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Legal Scholars Examine The Heart of the Game

The current issue of the Virginia Sports & Entertainment Law Journal includes an article that combines three of my favorite things:
1. law review articles that take films seriously
2. films that take women's sports seriously
3. Title IX scholars Debbie Brake and Verna Williams (OK that's actually four things).

The Heart of the Game: Putting Race and Educational Equity at the Center of Title IX examines the interrelated themes of race, pregnancy, sport, and education in the 2006 documentary film, The Heart of the Game. If you haven't seen it (and seriously, if you're reading this blog, you are the type of person who really ought to see this film*), the film profiles the Roosevelt High School girls' basketball team and its star player, Darnellia Russell. Bucking the de facto segregation of Seattle public schools, Russell enrolls at predominantly white Roosevelt where she is the only black player of the girls' basketball team. Despite challenges, she emerges as a good student and a star player and forges cross-racial friendships with her teammates. Their loyalty is put to the test when Russell loses her eligibility after becoming pregnant. Risking forfeiture of the season's wins, the team stands by Russell as she challenges the Washington Interscholastic Athletic Association's denial of her hardship waiver.

Brake and Williams use the film to explore some undertheorized aspects of Title IX's applicability to athletics, including its limitations in providing access to African-American teenagers to opportunities in sport. Such limitations arise not only from the statute's focus on the single axis of sex discrimination, but also from the interplay of racial stereotypes that operate to particular effect on black female athletes, as well as patterns of segregation that create inequities in public education on the whole. The authors then focus on the film's pregnancy narrative, tying in the effect of antidiscrimination law as well as society's views about teen pregnancy, which are modulated by race. The authors also make the interesting point that the WIAA's refusal to accommodate Russell's pregnancy as hardship-- irreconcilable with a truly educational model of sport -- could reflect the ever-widening gap between sports and education and an overreliance on the view that girls' sports are (only) important for their tendency to mitigate teen pregnancy.

Citation: Deborah Brake & Verna Williams, The Heart of the Game: Putting Race and Educational Equity at the Center of Title IX, 7 Va. Sports & Ent. L.J. 199 (2008).

*In fact, consider using my favorite tactic of armchair activism: asking your librarian to purchase a copy.