Wednesday, February 01, 2012

A day to remember women in sports

Happy National Girls and Women in Sports Day!

Today serves as a reminder of the accomplishments, contributions, and struggles of girls and women in their journey through sports and will be celebrated nationwide throughout the week. This year, the National Association for Girls and Women in Sport chose a theme that marks the anniversary of Title IX, a legislation crucial to opening doors for girls and women at educational institution: "Title IX at 40: In it for the Long Run."

For those of us who have enjoyed the privilege of participating in athletics, particularly in intercollegiate athletics, today also serves as an opportunity to reflect on the state of intercollegiate athletics and on our own experiences.

Let’s start with intercollegiate athletics.

In the thorough report issued by Vivian Acosta and Linda Jean Carpenter, we find out that the numbers of women in athletics in many areas have reached the highest ever in 2012. The “Women in Intercollegiate Sport: A Longitudinal, National Study” indicates that the number of female professionals in intercollegiate athletics is up to 13,792, the number of women’s teams is up to 9,274, the number of female head coaches is up to 3,974 and these are only the highlights.

These are good news. The troubling findings, which really are “old news” at this point, are the low percentages of female athletic directors. In Division I, merely 10.6%, a total of 36, of all athletic directors were women (p. 33 of the report).

For years now I have been following this annually updated report. Every time I access it, besides going through a roller-coaster of emotions as I see the numbers in various categories, a feeling of appreciation overwhelms me.

As an athlete and a graduate assistant coach, I had one of the 36 female athletic directors. My institution was also among the 4.10% that had a female athletic director, one female associate AD and one male associate AD in the administrative structure (p. 35 of the report). I spent six years at an institution where it was “normal” to have a female director of sports medicine, a female director of athletic academic advising and a female director of marketing.

Unlike the earlier generations of women, who are now in leadership positions and from whom I learned so much, I had female role models in athletics. I did not question if women should be there. In that environment, I also did not question if I, as a woman, belonged to the sports arena.

Unlike the young women who grew up and continued to be in an environment where "male" equaled "leader," I saw women who were breaking down social stereotypes about gender roles which, as much as we have progressed, still exist and are particularly prominent in athletics.

I went through my undergraduate and early graduate years without constraints on my potential career path not only in athletics, but in my academic life. My athletic director was a woman; I saw no ceiling.

Moreover, these women made a conscious effort to mentor and educate student-athletes in a way that often went beyond their job description. They sent me articles about Title IX, they encouraged me to read about issues of discrimination, and they generously shared their wisdom.

The National Girls and Women in Sports Day is an opportunity to remember the multiple contentions in sports. But, most importantly, it is an opportunity to express our gratitude to the women who through their activism, coaching, pedagogy and mentoring have enhanced the quality of our lives.

--Dunja Antunovic