Title IX at the Aspen Ideas Festival

Saturday night, I attended Aspen Ideas Festival panel The Promise of Play/Women & Girls: You Go, Girl! How Title IX Galvanized Play for Women

Key players:

  • Beth A. Brooke, Ernst & Young global vice chair of strategy, communications and regulatory affairs, ranked among Forbes’ 100 Most Powerful Women in the World, former Purdue basketball player
  • Nancy Hogshead-Makar, board of stewards for Women’s Sports Foundation, director of the Legal Advocacy Center for Women in Sports, law professor, Olympic gold medalist in swimming
  • Alana Beard, Washington Mystics pro basketball players, former Duke star
  • Moderator: Tom Farrey, ESPN Reporter and author

Overall, I thought the panel was an interesting cheering session for the law, but it was poorly attended (no surprise) and not at all a discussion about the future of the law–rather, a celebration of the law’s “success.” I suppose I should have known from the title of the panel that it wasn’t about to be a discussion …

I did love much of what Beth Brooke had to say, and I think she’s a strong role model for women in both sports and business. She said: “I attribute all my success in the business world to a sports background.” She went on to elaborate that sports teach women how to fail. Women learn how to win, how to lose, that you go to practice the next day no matter what, and that correlates into walking into a meeting or business situation prepared every time. True.

Beth also said, interestingly enough, “I’ll hire an athlete and train them in the competencies.” That’s a bold statement from the VP of a global accounting giant.

Nancy Hogshead-Makar agreed, saying “You can’t teach how to win or lose to a team on a blackboard. Olympic-caliber training is 800 laps a day, and there were days I didn’t want to do it with every cell in my body. I had done it the day before and the day before that, but I still did it because I was committed to something else. That’s discipline.”

Of course, I agree with all of this. While the comments are interesting, I don’t know of anyone who would argue that women don’t benefit from sports. That’s not the question. Is it? I mean, does anyone really doubt that women need opportunities to play sports? That participation in sports statistically improves women’s lives? (higher graduation rates, college attendance, lower rates of pregnancy, so on) This is true of men too. Sports improve lives across the board.

For me the question isn’t if Title IX is important, valuable, and making a difference–it obviously is. For me, the question is: is Title IX, and how it is enforced today, the BEST way to create opportunities for women?

Toward the end of the session, the conversation turned to viewership–who watches women’s sports? Should they still be televised if no one is watching? Nancy made a very interesting point: that during the Olympics, men’s and women’s sports have equal viewership. She postulated that this is because the Olympics have a humanistic approach to coverage, where we learn about the athletes’ families, lives outside of their sport, and so on. Moderator Tom agreed, saying that ESPN is on to this difference and studying how to create sports coverage that women want to watch.

The final commenter from the crowd pointed out that women have 85% of the purchasing power in the US, so why aren’t we changing things?

It’s a good question. To play devil’s advocate, if women aren’t “purchasing” sports, why are we legislating their participation in them? Is there really a difference between interest and opportunity? And yes, it takes time to affect change. How much time?

The panel might not have addressed these questions, but if it raised them in me, I suppose it was indeed a success …

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