When viewed in the context of equal treatment, Title IX is a laudable achievement. Women and girls have benefited from more athletic participation opportunities, more equitable facilities, more athletic scholarships, and greater access to higher education. Studies have also found that girls’ sports participation has a direct positive effect on women’s education, employment and health later in life.
But when looked at from another perspective, Title IX may not be quite so benign.
The focus on women is clearly a reaction to centuries of neglect and discrimination. But my concern is that, in redressing one problem, we may be creating another. Just look at the 2009 agreement by the University of California-Davis to bring female participation in varsity sports closer to the actual percentage of female students on campus. That’s a noble objective, but severe budget problems in California and growing college enrollment among women combined to cause a significant decline in support for male varsity sports. And that combination –- Title IX goals and budget woes –- may open up a Pandora’s Box of problems.
Keep in mind: Females now outnumber males in higher education by about 3 to 2; the recent recession was harder on men than it was on women; and boys typically have lower grades in school and higher dropout rates compared to girls. So the lack of support for male sports -– real and perceived -- may cause resentment among boys. And who can blame them? This is not only happening at the high school level and beyond, but much earlier in life, too. In many circles –- and in many classrooms –- the restless energy of young males is increasingly seen as deviant or abnormal. Early on, these energies –- which are very normal –- are being suppressed.
Perhaps this is one reason why Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has become the most commonly diagnosed childhood disorder in the United States and is rapidly spreading elsewhere. Rather
than addressing the problem head-on, schools have resorted to increasing the level of pharmaceutical drugs as a way to help treat young people with “socially unacceptable” behavior. Sorry, but drugging them is not the answer.
So what is the answer? If, as many believe, sports and games were originally devised as a way for males to get rid of all that extra testosterone, cutting back on opportunities for young men to do those things may not be good in the long run. In fact, it could be dangerous -- especially for us women.
Activities that channel the energies of males will not abate; they will just change. We’ll see fewer pickup games and more Vegas bachelor parties. We’ll see less team sports and more extreme sports. Those who wonder why MMA has become so popular in such a short time might now have a new theory.
But the ripple effect will also hit successful mainstream sports. If men’s athletic programs suffer sustained cutbacks, we will see an even stronger interest in individual sports that boys and young men can pursue on their own –- at the expense of major team sports.
And the growing number of foreign players in American sports will not slow. Pro scouts may have to look even harder for top-notch talent. This could include mining other sports for talent, as the Chargers did when they found Antonio Gates playing basketball at Kent State. Or it could mean scouring nations like China, where men’s sports are supported more than ever. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, unless Olympic medal count and world championship titles are deemed important to our nation’s self-image.
Title IX was a landmark decision with some wonderful results. But women who shake their heads at pudgy guys who play fantasy sports may need to stop hating the player and start hating the lack of games.
-- Follow Erica Orange on Twitter at @ErOrange