by Chris Hartley, director of athletics
As most of you may already know, and for those that don’t, the month of March is Women’s History Month. Today, women are recognized, supported, and celebrated more than ever in high school, college, and professional sports. But that wasn’t always the case. And while the support and celebration of female athletes has come a long way, inequities and challenges still exist.
Just fifty years ago, women did not have access to play sports like men did. One well-known example is in the history of marathon-running: women were told that they could not run marathons because their bodies could not handle the challenge.
In another example, the rules of basketball were different for women. I remember talking to a friend’s mother: she was a gifted athlete who played basketball in college. I was shocked when she told me one of the biggest differences in the rules: they only competed on half the court. Once the defense had the ball or once a basket was scored, the offensive team had to retreat to the other half of the court. There was no press-defense. Defense wasn’t even allowed to be played until the ball crossed mid-court! Again, organizers did not think women could handle that much exertion.
Title IX, which I’ll talk more about later, opened new doors for female athletes. But before that, there needed to be some fierce, brave female athletes who broke through barriers.
Kathrine Switzer was one of those people. She decided to run the Boston Marathon in 1967, when women were not allowed to run marathons. She signed her name on the registration form with her initials, K.V. Switzer, so that organizers did not know she was a female. On the day of the race, some people were upset, and she was even accosted during the race by an official. Here’s a short but great piece on Kathrine’s race.
In 1972, President Nixon signed Title IX into law, a bill that, among other things, ensures equal opportunities for women in collegiate athletics. Specifically, Title IX states this:
“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
What this means is that all schools receiving federal funding must provide fair and equal treatment of men and women in all areas; this includes athletics.
To learn more about the history and impact of Title IX, please look at these resources:
While we can celebrate that women now can participate fully, we also need to recognize that there is still judgment about female athletes.
Nike recently ran a great ad highlighting some of the issues and stereotypes around women in sports.
As I watched this, I found myself thinking about conversations I have had with peers, family, and students about women participating in sports. What biases exist? Why is there such a huge gap in pay between men and women in professional sports? What messages did I hear as a male athlete in regards to female athletes growing up in the 70s, 80s, and 90s? What could Lakeside be doing better to support female athletes?
We have come a long way in supporting female athletes, and there is more work to do. In 2019 at Lakeside, we tend to see all of our athletes, male and female, as being treated equally and fairly. And, for the most part, this is true. But there still are inequities that we need to recognize and work to improve. Much of that starts with me and filters down to our coaches. My messaging to coaches is that if you coach a boys team, make sure communication, language, and actions show strong support for our female athletes; and if you coach a girls team, continue to support, and let me know what can be improved or what support you would like to see.
If you’re interested in learning more about how transformative high school athletics can be for female athletes, here are two profiles that speak to that well:
Chris Hartley is Director of Athletics at Lakeside School. Follow the Lions on Twitter at @LakesideLions.