Who decides what is a sport?

Last week USA Today wrote about the growing popularity of flag football for girls in high schools, especially in Florida, where it is a state championship sport.

Flag football also has been introduced at the varsity level in Washington, D.C., and is growing as a club sport in parts of Texas.

More girls coming out to play sports — this is a good thing, no?

No, if you’re an official mouthpiece for a leading women’s organization. Neena Chaudhry, senior counsel, National Women’s Law Center:

“You can add sports as recreational or intramural — it’s great to have activities to help girls be physically active. If you’re going to add a varsity sport, it is relevant if that sport is going to provide the same opportunities as the boys have. So, to then add flag football as opposed to a sport, like volleyball or soccer, that does allow girls to get college scholarships is not equitable.”

Nancy Hogshead-Makar, director of advocacy for the Women’s Sports Foundation, echoes Chaudhry:

“The thing that makes sports valuable is having a goal and postponing the short-term. If you want to have fun, you don’t train for the Olympics. What purpose would anybody have to swim four hours a day if they didn’t have a long-term goal?”

Hold on now. I’ve never seen anywhere in my reading of Title IX a stipulation about high school sports being added to accommodate athletic scholarships at the college level. Just because flag football doesn’t translate doesn’t mean it should be nixed from consideration in high schools for Title IX purposes.

On the other hand, women’s sports activists have endorsed the addition of college sports for women — such as rugby and bowling — that have little to no interest or organization at the high school level, just to meet Title IX demands.

Both of these women are lawyers, and I’ve heard them and others like them say often that the law is meant simply to give females an opportunity to play. It says nothing at all about whether such activity is required to be a gateway to a college scholarship.

The reaction of these activists smacks of the fight over varsity cheerleading at Quinnipiac University. A federal judge ruled in 2010 that it wasn’t a sport for Title IX purposes, satisfying the urgings of women’s sports activists when the Connecticut school dropped its women’s volleyball program.

The latest crusade from the NWLC is to go after school districts that aren’t doing right by Title IX, and here are some school districts that are trying to address those disparities. We have two activities here, in cheerleading and flag football, that are generating some considerable interest from young females, and the activists are resisting this.

Is it because these sports are considered just a bit too traditionally feminine?

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3 Comments

  1. James
    Posted May 14, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    Flag football, Ultimate frisbee, CrossFit, and a few other activities that some might not consider “sports” are better for kids than some things that are (bowling, baseball, and softball for instance) because they make kids MOVE more.

    If people are worried about obesity, have kids move more and eat fewer carbs.

    Flag football gets kids moving.

  2. Bern
    Posted May 18, 2012 at 4:26 am | Permalink

    I continue to be amazed at how disingenuous legal hacks like Chaudry and Hogshead-Makar are capable of being. Like most attorneys they can argue any side of an argument at any time depending upon their prejudice, mood or objective.

    Their general approach has historically been that athletic opportunities equip girls and women to compete in the “real world” against dudes who have always had these opportunities. That said whenever new women’s sports surface that don’t fit their true social engineering objectives their true colors come out. It’s never been about letting girls compete in things they want to compete in like cheerleading or flag football, it’s about their agenda, which at base has little to do with sports.

    There is now plenty of proof out there that these women and the organizations that support their philosophies are purely the “sports subsidiaries” of their larger social movements. The unfortunate truth is that political correctness prevents a discussion of what actually drives these people.

    The only thing we know for sure is that now that the battle has moved into the courtrooms we are assured that positions will continue to become more polarized and significant difficulties lie ahead.

  3. Kat
    Posted May 22, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    I’ll bring up a few more points…

    1) There are no specific college scholarships for theater, band, flags, Science Olympiad, Math League, and a whole host of other high school endeavors. Are these activities not valuable? And does this mean these activities don’t help prepare students for college or help them get into the school of their choice? Of course not–college scholarship sports aren’t the only valuable high school activity.

    2) I expected to play Division 1 (tennis) from before I entered high school. I decided I also wanted to play field hockey in high school. I ended up playing Division 1 tennis in college (full ride). Does this mean my time spent playing field hockey was wasted? Me personally, I enjoyed high school field hockey a lot more than high school tennis.

    3) My field hockey team made the state finals my senior year. I estimate that our entire starting line-up could have played D1 hockey somewhere and D3 hockey anywhere. We had 3 players make the 1st Team All-State and 1 make the 2nd Team All-State (me). Of our starting 11, only the All-Staters went on to play college sports at any level. All of the All-Staters played Division 1, but only 2 played field hockey. I told some of my teammates that they could go play in college (and go to school for free), but they weren’t interested. If players who were capable of getting a college scholarship weren’t interested, why should we assume that’s the ultimate goal?