Women’s sports blogs have been abuzz recently with the news that an Alabama softball coach has filed a Title IX complaint against Mobile County schools. In the complaint, coach Tyler Murray alleges that girls sports are denied access and facilities given to the boys football team and also questions the extra summer pay given to football coaches. It will be interesting to keep an eye on the news coverage of this complaint, given the opportunity it provides sports journalists to address the unquestioned cultural superiority of football.
We have argued that in Title IX news coverage, most mainstream news outlets agree with the law’s underlying basic premise: everyone deserves equality and justice. In fact, in our analysis of Title IX op-eds written by national newspapers over a recent three year period, not one opposed the law.
Good news, right?
But even while supporting the idea of Title IX, the op-ed authors in our analysis often described sports as a space naturally owned and defined by men. As one stated, it is time for boys to “share, not surrender, their field.” Narratives within arguments touting the law’s righteousness also saw women as naturally less interested in sports, allowing the writers to develop an argument that essentially positioned Title IX as right and just but not really needed. Why should we dedicate equal resources (and take away from men who naturally deserve them) if there isn’t equal interest and aptitude among women?
In order for opinions on Title IX to change in a way that benefits women’s sports along with “minor” men’s sports, advocates must go beyond simply arguing for gender equality. Suggesting only that women and men deserve equal money does not challenge fundamentally patriarchal ideology that undermines the logic of Title IX. Rather, we must speak about Title IX and sports in ways that disrupt troubling taken-for-granted notions of sports, like the unquestioned supremacy of football in our culture or the idea that boys and men are naturally suited for sports.
Supporting equality is still critically important, but only part of the necessary rhetorical equation. And unless new frames enter the debate, Title IX will continue to be viewed as something that is good in theory but illogical in practice.