You are seen as an inspiration to others. But who is an inspiration to yourself? What have they done to inspire you?
I’m inspired by women who coach – assistant coaches, head coaches, high school coaches, college coaches, professional. I know what they’ve sacrificed to be there. Coaching is not a nine to five job, it’s 24/7, especially in season and even out of season. There’s so much work that’s being done that we don’t see and women still are essentially responsible for a lot of the production of life in the home as well. So they often lead at home in terms of responsibilities. They lead obviously in their workplace and especially women with children. These women never rest. I’m inspired by women who will continue to work hard in what is still a male dominated career, and they just lift me up.
Can you describe some of the myths about Title nine about women playing sports?
One of the myths is that boys and men’s sports were cut because of Title IX, and that’s actually against the intention of the law. Some of them were cut, but those were leadership decisions. Sometimes it was strategic and sometimes it was just a lack of creativity on the part of athletic directors. But it wasn’t because of the law.
Another myth is that the number of opportunities for boys and men have decreased because of Title IX, as if when you give opportunities to girls and women, the opportunities for boys and men are decreased. Actually more males are competing now than they ever have. And the numbers of participation have grown more on the male side of the scale. So in reality, guys haven’t been hurt by Title IX.
Another misconception about Title IX is that it’s about sports, because that’s where we mostly hear about it. That’s where a lot of the gains have been made with Title IX, but Title IX is an education law. Title IX says that both sexes have equal opportunity to all educational opportunities. Guys can get into home economics, girls can take shop, and I think it was basically intended to help girls get into the STEM courses, sciences, math technology where we were really lacking and kind of being held back from having those opportunities. So it was to increase female participation in some of those things. But one of the main ways we’ve seen the gains obviously has been in sport.
There’s a myth that football funds all the sports, especially at the collegiate level. And actually, only about 30 NCAA football teams run at a profit and cover their own costs, much less cover everybody else’s costs. Most sports are funded through TV contracts, donors, ticket sales, things like that. And so while every athletic department that has a football team benefits from the amount of money that football can generate, only 30 teams run at a profit. So it’s a myth that football pays for everybody else. Most men’s sports don’t run at a profit. Most women’s sports don’t run at a profit. But you only hear about women’s sports not really taking care of their own. And I think that’s hurtful.
What myths about women playing sports existed around the time Title IX was passed?
I had a professor who told me that in her college days, she was a high jumper, and a faculty member saw that she was high jumping and came over and stopped her. They were very concerned that she was going to invert her uterus, that somehow jumping was going to hurt her. When in fact the female reproductive system has the most protected organs in the body, compared to the male reproductive system. And we don’t seem to be concerned about any kind of contact or jostling of reproductive system for males. So that’s a double standard that’s thankfully seen it’s time.
There was a concern for a long time that sports were detrimental to females, that somehow we didn’t have the physical, emotional, mental capacity to perform and handle rigorous activity. And what we’ve actually found is that women are more capable of endurance competitions than males and that over time women might actually catch men in some of these endurance competitions. And you can see the gaps in times closing in activities like marathons and long runs.
So we’re actually built for endurance. Males might be more prone to excelling in some of the strength categories, but that doesn’t mean that females can’t also excel in strength competitions. I like to think about the differences between males and females in some ways, like weight categories and wrestling. You know, in wrestling, we acknowledge that there are different categories and we put the guys, and now women who wrestle, in different categories so that you’re competing apples to apples and not apples to oranges. And so that’s how I like to think about men and women sports sometimes, as you can’t compare apples to oranges. We may have some differences in speed and strength, but when we’re able to compete apples to apples, we compete at extremely high levels. And I think you can see that in competitions today, that women’s sport is fascinating and extremely entertaining and I think has really captured the imagination of the American public.
How far away would you say women’s athletics are from being seen and treated equally to men’s athletics? What do you think needs to be done to fix this?
We have made incredible strides to improve girls and women’s sports since Title IX. Without a doubt, we have come so far. It’s remarkable and it’s exhilarating for people in my generation to see. I think we’re seeing things I never thought I’d see in my lifetime. And yet we’re so far from being equal that it’s crazy sometimes, that when you look at statistics or the numbers, we still spend so much more money, so many more resources on boys and men’s sport than we spend on girls and women, that even though the law Title IX is 50 years old, it really hasn’t had the impact that that it could have.
Change happens slowly, and so if you just look at categories of sport, different things in sport, compare the salaries of people who coach women to people who coach men. And the differences are extraordinary both at the assistant level and at the head coach level. In many schools, compare equipment, compare facilities, compare transportation, compare access to quality coaching. You can see gaps that you’d think wouldn’t be legal, and actually in a lot of places they’re not, and schools are still struggling to comply with Title IX.
So I’m excited, happy and fascinated with how far we’ve come. And I’m discouraged and doubtful that we will maybe even ever get to equality.
What do you think still needs to happen to get to or even closer to equality?
In order to get closer to equality between the sexes in sport, we have to value women the same way we value men. And this is a societal issue. This isn’t just sport, this is in the bigger picture. We have to value our females, our daughters, our sisters the same way we value men.
So the fix is valuing girls and women the same way we value boys and men in society, in sports, in the home, in the workplace. It’s a big picture issue. And when we start to do that and do it from very young ages on up, then sport will follow. In some way, sport can also lead, if people who are in charge of the decisions made around sport will make decisions that impact both sides of the house equitably, then we can lead the conversation. And I think you see that happening in the world when you see the United States women’s national soccer team suing their home organization for equal pay. That’s going to impact women in all parts of life.
What is the best way for people, students, athletes, coaches, fans, and staff to make a positive difference in U.S. women’s athletics?
Student-athletes, coaches, their support staffs need to continue to advocate for themselves inside the department and outside. You probably noticed that women athletes and their coaches make themselves more available to their fans. We go out of our way to thank our fans, to acknowledge our donors and to be accessible to them.
The women’s sports experience is more personal. You see more interaction. You see a lot of interaction on social media. You see it after games. The teams stand, go over to the pit crew and wave and thank them for being there. That’s pretty standard in women’s sports. So we’re still trying to make that personal connection to bring people with us and to thank people for being there. Men’s sports is so big they kind of don’t have to thank people for being there. For fans, the best thing that we can do is show up, is that we need to be there for women’s sports, to buy tickets. Demand that there be jerseys available for purchase at the bookstores. But to be there when we can in person, to increase attendance and the visibility of women’s sports.
Do you have any other stories to share about your experience?
I’d like to tell you a story about just before I got to the University of Oregon. I got here in the fall of 1973. The volleyball team had just competed and finished fourth at the national tournament, which at the time was the AIAW (the NCAA didn’t take over until the 1980’s), and our setter had been hurt. She’d sprained an ankle and the athletic trainer told her that when she was on the road, that she should put her foot in the toilet and flush it a few times to get that whirlpool effect. So that was the level of our treatment on the road in the seventies.
Another one is when I was an athlete, specifically when I was a freshman, an 18 year old, we would travel in station wagons and vans. We didn’t fly unless it was to national competition. I remember one trip specifically where we drove to Boise to play in a softball tournament, and I drove a car with about five teammates in it and all our luggage packed into the back of it. And I’m an 18-year-old and I’ve got the lives of my teammates, you know, in my hands. And so we had a three vehicle caravan to Boise, played for about three days and back. On that trip, some of my teammates got in the back and switched everybody’s clothes from the luggage. They just opened everybody’s bags, started pulling stuff, throwing things back in. When we got to our destination, nobody’s stuff was where it belonged. So we were pretty irreverent with some things.
One other thing that’s terrible that we used to do is that when the coach would be just ahead of us, I would hold a newspaper looking like I wasn’t driving. The person next to me would hold their hands over on the wheel and they were actually driving the car. And it looked like as the driver, I was holding a newspaper just to freak our coach out a little bit.
Since I’m on the topic of transportation, when I would drive a van, say have my teammates in the van with me, I would have had to pick up the van myself, which was at a city lot downtown. So we’d go to Portland or Seattle and we’d come back that night. And at 2:00 a.m., I’m driving all my teammates to their homes and dropping them off. And about 2:00 a.m., I pull into the city lot and have to do the short paperwork and return the keys and go out a gate that locks behind me. And as an 18-year-old, 19 year old, get home through town by myself, and that seems a kind of precarious situation to have been in. But I did it over and over. But times are different now.