Over the weekend I drove by the public park where I used to play softball as a girl, in the years just before Title IX.
I noticed a group of a half dozen girls, in their competitive full attire, from gloves down to socks, stirrups and cleats, huddled on an infield as an adult female coach offered instruction.
On an unseasonably warm, sunny and beautiful Sunday afternoon in January, two months before this league’s season began, these young ladies and a dedicated woman were putting in the work when most everyone else was enjoying a day off.
At first I thought this was remarkable, as I momentarily waded into the nostalgia of my youth. This used to be my playground, etc. In my day, when all we had was a primitive, slow-pitch version of the game, such a sight would be especially rare, getting ready for a season so far in advance.
But then I shrugged and smiled at how unremarkable this was.
Today girls and women across America are being asked to share their stories about what sports mean in their lives. It’s called National Girls and Women in Sports Day, and it began in 1987. At that time, when women’s college sports were getting used to being under NCAA auspices and Title IX battles were heating up, it might have made sense to have such a day. There were still obstacles to playing and having something resembling equitable opportunities.
This gesture was undertaken for all the right reasons — to honor the late Flo Hyman, one of America’s best volleyball players ever. Many colleges, universities, high schools and sports organizations, including the WNBA, will have special observances today and throughout the week.
Stories are being retold of females who preceded my generation and who faced barriers we cannot imagine today.
But I hate to admit that NGWSD has outlived its usefulness. I first made this argument a decade ago when I wrote a commentary in my former newspaper, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. My views startled some male editors, who may have been anxious about the response from women’s sports advocates who often complain that the media ignores them.
One of my worries is that this day has been folded into larger political and legal issues over Title IX, which gets enough uncritical fanfare every June when the anniversary date of its passage rolls around. As this blog is registered on the Women Talk Sports network, I’ve been asked to send the link to this post to e-mail addresses at the National Women’s Law Center, which will be including them on its issues blog.
I’d be shocked if this post ends up there, since groups like the NWLC don’t like their ideas challenged. But beyond that, and amid the breathless rush to get emotional about the “meaning” of sports in our lives, I fear that women’s sports advocates remain stuck in the past, cocooned in the same sentimentality that enveloped me on my old stomping grounds the other day. I admit I had to shake myself out of it. They probably never will.
I’m afraid that that this advocacy, eternally fueled by the many battles over Title IX, discrimination and access that have been waged over the past four decades, cannot see into the future at all.
This is something to be worried about. I blogged yesterday about the hiatus of women’s professional soccer and how ensuring the viability of women’s professional sports is the next frontier in women’s sports. But you hear very little from the leading figures of the women’s sports movement about any of this. It’s as though the business of women’s sports is an alien topic.
Late last year, when WPS was fighting to be re-sanctioned by the U.S. Soccer Federation, the best some could come up with was a petition drive. Others wanted to “convince” Ellen De Generes and Rachel Maddow of the virtue of owning a WPS franchise. To “save” the league.
The longer women’s sports is treated as a cause, as a charity, by very women who claim to care the most about them, the longer they will be consigned to the second-class status they have now in the larger sports world. This cannot be chalked up to sexism or invisibility in a male-dominated domain.
Unfortunately, NGWSD has become an agent in a never-ending nostalgia parade that trafficks in emotion and ignores the necessity of moving forward. Sports is seamlessly incorporated into the everyday lives of the women involved in them. We celebrate it daily by doing what we love the most.
We don’t need National Girls and Women’s Sports Day because the focal point of this celebration, about participating in sports, is no longer a pressing issue in this country, as my softball heirs in my former youth sports league can attest. It’s not about “getting in the game” any longer, or being melodramatic.
What we need instead are smart, intelligent, and non-whiny efforts to ensure the viability of women’s pro sports, among other pressing issues of the present and future. But you probably won’t hear much in the way of tangible ideas about that today.