Turned up to eleven: Fair and Balanced

Wednesday, May 29, 2002

I was going to write a screed about George Will's recent inane column/right wing book review in Newsweek about Title IX, but upon starting I realized 1) He's a known idiot, and 2) everyone who reads my website knows he is an idiot. He is, however, a somewhat influential guy, so I will just take one quote from the article and point out how ridiculous it is.

The industry prefers the word “gender” to “sex” because “sex” suggests immutable differences, while “gender” suggests differences that are “socially constructed” and can be erased by sufficiently determined social engineers.

Actually, this makes no sense whatsoever; The "industry" (I thought he liked industries, but apparently this is a perjorative in this case) uses "gender" instead of "sex" to distinguish this from discussion of sexuality. They are in fact completely wrong, linguistically, to use "gender", which is a grammatical term, but that is beside the point. There is no evidence whatsoever of "social engineers" attempting to erase differences between men and women. What seems to offend Mr. Will is the notion that girls might like sports, rather than staying in their rooms making pretend tea for their dolls. The notion that a girl might like to do both (my 2 year old kicks a ball around with me for a while, then serves me imaginary juice and cookies) seems to boggle certain right-winger's minds.

Ok, so I lied about the just one quote thing. Re-reading this column made me want to "Fisk" it again, so here is some more;

Colleges have killed more than 400 men’s athletic teams in order to produce precise proportionality between men’s and women’s enrollments and men’s and women’s rates of participation in athletics. And Title IX has given rise to a huge “gender equity” industry of lawyers, sensitivity-trainers and consciousness-raisers

I am not sure that the internet contains enough data processing space to handle all of the logical fallacies in this pair of sentences, but I will give it a shot. First of all, is there evidence that Title IX was the reason in every case for the "killing" of a men's athletic team? Let's compare Mr. Will's interpretation of Title IX with the actual wording of the law (from the NCAA Gender Equity website)

"No person in the United States shall on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."

Title IX of the
Educational Amendments of 1972 to the 1964 Civil Rights Act

An athletics program can be considered gender equitable when the participants in both the men's and women's sports programs would accept as fair and equitable the overall program of the other gender. No individual should be discriminated against on the basis of gender, institutionally or nationally, in intercollegiate athletics.

NCAA Gender-Equity Task Force

Boy, that is a very rigid law, forcing those poor, desperate college administrators to "kill" men's programs in order to force unwilling girls to play sports when they would rather be home taking care of their husbands! In the most recent assessment I could find on the NCAA website (a PDFn review over the last nine years), participation by women in athletics had increased by about 45%, while participation by men remained essentially flat (fluctuating around a mean, with a slight increase or decrease depending on where you started measuring. There has been a slight decline in men's participation over the last 3 years, but there was an increase before that, etc. It is my humble opinion that college administrators have used Title IX as an excuse to cut unprofitable men's athletic programs, blaming it on the dreaded political correctness, rather than spending precious football dollars (Football is a big moneymaker at many large colleges) on women's athletics. As far as the "huge 'gender equity' industry", it seems that the many changes in our society over the past 30 years have not made it onto Mr. Will's radar, and only the brutal forcing by evil big government liberals of these unconscionable rules for gender equity in college athletics have caused those rapacious lawyers and greedy "sensitivity-trainers" to exploit us in this manner. Is it possible, just maybe, that Title IX reflects a change in society that allows women to pursue different careers and goals than what Mr. Will would like, such as fulfilling work or athletic achievement, rather than being a cause of this change? Is it possible, just maybe, that women and men can get along in a world where women are allowed to compete with men on an equal footing? I think it might be.

The U.S. soccer players who won the 1999 Women’s World Cup were called “daughters of Title IX,” and when the WNBA began playing in 1997, arenas displayed THANKS TITLE IX! banners. This propaganda pleased people who believe all progress comes from government. But throughout the 1970s, the years of the most rapid growth of participation of girls in high-school sports, which presaged the growth of women’s college sports, Title IX was, Gavora says, unenforced and unenforceable because no athletics regulations had been written.
The first Title IX implementing regulations for athletics were written in 1979, and through most of the 1980s athletics were exempted from Title IX coverage. By which time, the women of the 1999 soccer triumph and of the WNBA were already excelling in their sports. By 1979, one in four high-school girls was participating. Since then, the Title IX “revolution” has made the number one in three. Clearly, autonomous cultural change, not Congress, produced the increase in female participation, which carried over into college athletics, where the real Title IX revolution has been perverse.

This paragraph is a ridiculous non-sequitur. In point of fact, many of the women on the 1999 World Cup team were very recent college grads, or even upper level college students (one of the reserves, Lorrie Fair, was in my sister's high school class, and I believe graduated college in 1999). So these women had the chance to compete in a broad, large scale women's athletic program precisely because Title IX forced colleges to expand women's athletics. Of course, the girls who turned into soccer World Cup champs and WNBA stars were excellent athletes, and likely would have excelled no matter what. But without the cauldron of competition to emerge from, it seems to me unlikely that the World Cup team in particular could have won. Of course, it is the (disingenuous) hallmark of opinion journalism to pass of any successes as the result of autonomous causes, out of our control, while simultaneously blaming any failures on the objects of the column. We have seen this before, in many contexts. For example, Bill Clinton had nothing to do with the economic boom of the 1990's, but he sure was to blame for every conceivable problem!

As for the second half of this quote, the mathematical dissembling here is also rather striking. For one thing, he is talking about high school athletics, not college (where Title IX is most important), but secondly, he tries to downplay a rather significant improvement, by deceptively using fractional descriptions. Although only a 3rd grader would actually be deceived by this trick, I will run it down anyway. Female participation increased from 1/4 to 1/3 over about 20 years. In other words, the percentage increased from 25 to 33 percent, an increase of 8/25 ~33 percent. This is a pretty big increase. Since there are a lot of girls in high school, this really means that there are millions more teenage girls pursuing sports as an extracurricular activity, yet Mr. Will would like us to believe that no impact has been made. Considering that this is a derivative effect (i.e. Title IX is not really directed at High School athletics), it is actually pretty impressive. As I mentioned above, the effect on women's participation in college athletics has been even more profound.

Sadly, this article also goes on to allow a blatant lie by a U. of Chicago wrestling coach (no conflict of interest there!)

Leo Kocher, University of Chicago wrestling coach, explains the Alice in Wonderland logic:

“Say there’s a school that has equal numbers of boys and girls and it decides to offer 200 athletic opportunities. If they have 100 girls who want to play sports and they have 1,000 boys who want to play sports, the law says you must give 100 opportunities to those 100 girls and you must give 100 opportunities to those 1,000 boys. In the end, 100 percent of the girls are fully accommodated but only 10 percent of the boys are taken care of.”

Here is the relevant information from the NCAA website on Title IX compliance;(NCAA Gender Equity Index FAQ)

Q. How does an institution comply with Title IX?

An institution must meet all of the following requirements in order to be in compliance with Title IX:

1. For participation requirements, institutions officials must meet one of the following three tests. An institution may:

a. Provide participation opportunities for women and men that are substantially proportionate to their respective rates of enrollment of full-time undergraduate students;

b. Demonstrate a history and continuing practice of program expansion for the underrepresented sex;

c. Fully and effectively accommodate the interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex; and,

2. Female and male student-athletes must receive athletics scholarship dollars proportional to their participation; and,

3. Equal treatment of female and male student-athletes in the eleven provisions as mentioned above.

Now, leaving aside the obvious conflict that a wrestling coach might have with a law that might give administrators an excuse to cut his money-losing athletic program, and the further possibility that the occasional wrestling coach might not be the strongest logician or legal strategist at the institution, his example is demonstrably false. As long as all female students who want to be athletes are satisfied, there is no problem having more spots for boys, based on the official guidelines.

This column is really a book review, for someone named Jessica Gavora, who has written a book called "Tilting the Playing Field: Schools, Sports, Sex, and Title IX". She is a "senior policy adviser at the Justice Department", so we know she couldn't possibly have a political axe to grind!

STOP THE PRESSES! It turns out she's Jonah Goldberg's WIFE!! (found in an obscure reference from the English language version of Pravda). She is also part of the Independent Women's Forum, a noted conservative women's anti-feminist group. I think now we might have a slightly better perspective on her than "senior policy adviser at the Justice Department."

I won't bother quoting the rest of the column (here's the link), but suffice to say that it doesn't get better. I don't usually bother reading Will's column's but the where the hell does he get off thinking that women are somehow being forced to play sports against their will, ignoring all of the known benefits of team sport participation (for men and women), and in 2002 trying to promulgate the idea that we shouldn't give young girls and women an opportunity to pursue dreams of athletic excellence because some idiot wrestling coach is getting played for a fool by college administrators who know a way to save a buck when they see it. I wish people would stop taking this tool seriously.