Warren Gerds/Extra! Sports conference keynote speaker: Title IX ‘most important law’ in last 42 year


PHOTO: Sports journalist Christine Brennan talks with  some attendees following her Tuesday morning keynote address at the “A Mirror of Our Culture: Sport & Society in America” conference in Walter Theatre of St. Norbert College. Warren Gerds photo

DE PERE, Wis. (WFRV) – In true sports commentator fashion, writer Christine Brennan ran with an opportunity Tuesday at St. Norbert College. Invited to weigh in on the role of women in sports in her morning keynote address at a national conference on the academic side of sports (shock jocks would insert a snotty comment here, but I resist), Christine Brennan offered this:

“I believe Title IX is the most important law in our country over the last 42 years.”

Title IX – Title Nine if you don’t like Roman numerals – eliminates discrimination in the educational realm on the basis of sex. That’s a real short version of a detailed law. The law applies to an entire institution that receives any federal funds.

Christine Brennan said, “I stand before you as someone who in literally a generation and a half of our country, has watched, I believe, the most incredible cultural change we have had in the United States of America over the last 42 years. June 1972, Richard Nixon signed Title IX.”

Think of all the young women who today participate in sports programs at colleges and universities across the country. Millions. Christine Brennan kicked the thought around at the unique conference.

Every other year, St. Norbert College and the Green Bay Packers team for “A Mirror of Our Culture: Sport & Society in America.” Events in the conference are held over three days on campus and at Lambeau Field. The theme is different at each conference.

Thomas Kunkel, president of St. Norbert College, called attention to the rare air of the event during his introduction Tuesday: “I think I’m safe in saying that there’s just no other professional franchise, maybe in the world, that would entertain the idea of going in with a college or university to do an academic seminar that would take on such important issues as the role of women in sports.”

As I travel, I find people elsewhere identify with and like the Packers because the organization is so different. Here’s another example.

Thomas Kunkel offered a strong introduction for Christine Brennan. On top of listing such credits as sports columnist for USA Today and commentator for ABC News, ESPN and National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” and author of seven books, Thomas Kunkel noted Christine Brennan is “one of the most widely read and influential sports journalists in America… (who) “speaks truth to power.” The two go back to 1981, meeting when he was an editor at the Miami Herald and she was a sports reporter.

Thomas Kunkel said, “Chris was the first female sports writer that the Miami Herald had ever hired at that point – which is kind of saying something. I mean, 1981 wasn’t all that long ago.”

Christine Brennan opened with a tip of the cap to guests of the conference, some of whom were in the audience for her talk: “I want to say a special hello to the women who inspired (the movie) ‘A League of Their Own,’ our All-American Professional Girls Baseball League ladies… Ladies, you opened doors that I and so many of us walk through, and I cannot thank you enough for that. You made it possible for me to be standing here today. Without you, I don’t know what Title IX would have been able to do. (For) all of us millions and millions of girls and women playing sports in this country, you opened those doors, and I cannot thank you enough.”

The title of Christine Brennan’s talk was “Title IX Plus 40: The Incredible Success of Women in Sports, from the Front Office to the Press Box to the Playing Field.” Words flowed from her rapid fire, often spontaneously.

“As many of you know, Title IX was meant to make sure that there was equality in higher education for women going into law school and medical school, etc. But there was the sports component that many did not foresee, and it took about 10 to 12 years, 15 years, for most universities, even high schools, to get with the plan and understand this was not some sports recommendation; this was, in fact, the law of the land …

“As recently as about a month ago, an editor of mine used the word ‘rule,’ the ‘Title IX Rule,’ and I reminded him that it was the law of the United States of America. It has been tough. Some schools have been dragged kicking and screaming into the 20th century, much less the 21st century…

“It is a good thing, a great thing. I believe Title IX is the most important law in our country over the last 42 years. I know there’s a lot of competition for that and I know we could have a great conversation, but let me make my case why I believe Title IX is so important.”

Christine Brennan peered to the future – 20, 30, 40 years ahead – and saw women running for president of the United States, some of them choosing a woman as her vice presidential candidate.

“And, of course, we will have women running universities who have never before and Fortune 500 companies and doing all these amazing things throughout business and in our lives. And the common denominator for all these female presidential candidates, where you’re going to chose between one woman or another to be the next president of the United States… will be that they played sports because of Title IX. They learned incredible life lessons.”

Christine Brennan spoke of how Title IX has crept up on some people.

“If you watched the London Olympics and you cheered for the United States of America, I’ve got news for you: You are a fan of Title IX. The United States women won over 60 percent of the gold medals. If there’s no Title IX, there’s no U.S. women’s soccer team. There’s literally no team…

Christine Brennan looked back, too.

“To think that for all those generations we were telling 50 percent of our nation, ‘You cannot learn about winning,’ more important, ‘You cannot learn about losing’ at a young age. ‘You cannot learn about teamwork. You cannot learn about sportsmanship.’ And we thought that was a good idea as a country. What were we thinking? I frankly think, whoever is the person out here who is the most skeptical of Title IX, I will try to tell you, Ma’am or Sir, that this nation is a better nation. We are a stronger country. We are more able to compete with the world – and that is a big issue, as we all know – because we are letting the other 50 percent of our country learn these fabulous life lessons from sports, not that they’re going to be professional athletes or even scholarship athletes, student-athletes, in college, they’re going to be better people because they played sports. Whatever that girl that you see in the kitchen every morning, whether she’s going to be a mom, a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, a coach, a businesswoman or any combination thereof, she will be better at it because she played sports. And that in a nutshell is the story of Title IX.”

Christine Brennan called attention to resistance, such as from people who want to take football out of the equation.

“Why do we count football? Well, because Title IX happens to be the law of the United States of America. News flash. And in the United States of America, as best I can tell, we have two genders. We have men, and we have women. We do not have men, women and football players.”

Christine Brennan had answers for athletic programs that struggle and drop some male sports.

“Title IX didn’t show up 42 minutes ago. It didn’t show up 42 days ago, or 42 weeks ago, or 42 months ago. It showed up 42 years ago. If there is an athletic director in this country who cannot figure out how to balance his or her program, it sounds to me that they need to leave their job. It didn’t just show up last week (as) a big surprise.”

Christine Brennan spoke of challenges ahead, noting that Title IX has reached “the suburban girl,” the middle class.

“We have not reached the inner city, we have not reached the more economically challenged areas of our country. We’ve got to do a better job of getting girls – and boys, by the way – playing sports in those areas…

“We need to do a much better job of having women coaching women. Interestingly enough, with the rise of Title IX and the interest in women’s sports, the jobs have become more coveted. Makes perfect sense, right? It is cooler now to coach women’s basketball or women’s lacrosse or women’s soccer or women’s softball than it has ever been. And tomorrow it will be cooler than it is today. So these jobs are coveted among the athletic directors, especially big schools, by men. Nothing wrong with that. We love men. Love you guys. It’s great. But most often people hire their friends, people who look like them. So more and more we are seeing athletic directors replace a female soccer coach at a D-I school with a man because these jobs are coveted and so many men want them. What message are we sending to our daughters and our grandchildren and a nieces and the girl next door when all they see is men coaching women?”

Christine Brennan called for more consideration for women applying for coaching jobs, akin to what the National Football League instituted for minority hiring among head coaches.

She closed with this: “Title IX is just beginning. This is just a blink of an eye in our nation’s history. Forty-two years – that’s nothing. And that’s how quickly we have embraced this law.”

The conference continues through Wednesday, May 21. Info: www.snc.edu/sportandsociety/contactus.html.

VENUE: The 725-seat Byron L. Walter Theatre features a proscenium stage (flat front). Its walls are textured concrete blocks laid in a wave pattern. The ceiling includes white acoustical clouds. Seat material and carpeting are the traditional theater red. The theater is located in Abbot Pennings Hall of Fine Arts at St. Norbert College in De Pere. It is the larger of two theaters in the building, the core of which was built in 1955. In 1989, the Walter Theatre was renovated to improve the lobby and interior aesthetic, adding seating and improving the acoustics.

THE PERSON: Byron L. Walter (1877-1954) was a businessman. He operated Green Bay Hardware, Inc. until his retirement in 1953. Walter was co-founder of Paper Converting Machine Co. and for a time served as president. After his death, the Byron L. Walter Family Trust was established, and it made possible the theater. The trust continues to make widespread contributions to community projects and institutions.

You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air features on WFRV between 6 and 8 a.m. Sundays.

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