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.