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Women, Sport, and Film - 2002
Student Papers
On Serendip

Unseen Effects of Title Nine

Tasneem Paghdiwala

Using the four topics, history, race and class, gender, and sexual orientation in sport,
assume you are a screen writer in the year 2010. You have been commissioned to
write a movie script about women's sports and current society. What is the theme?
Who are the protagonists? What are the issues and how does the movie end?

When Annie came in with an idea to do a sports movie, the first thing I did was laugh in her face. She quickly cut me off.
"Harry. Harry what do you know about Title Nine?"
"What is that, some new soy product?"

"Title Nine, enacted in 1972, represents a large change in attitudes toward women and their aspirations. Since sports affect boys and girls as they grow up, the way we treat women's sports may prove as important to changing social attitudes as anything else we do. If girls are socialized the way boys are in taking part in sports, and if boys and girls grow up with the idea that girls are strong and capable, it will change the way girls and women are viewed by themselves and by civilization."

"Oh it's a movie about the fate of civilization! Are there any explosions? Aliens?"

"Title Nine. It's this law that says that boys and girls are entitled to the same resources when it comes to sports. Like, at a public school they can't give nice basketballs to the boys and crappy sacks to the girls. And they can't hire this all-star retired big shot for the boy's swim team and get some lifeguard to coach the girls. Everything has to be equal opportunity across the board."
"Well that's something I'm happy to see at PTO meetings, but I don't give a damn about seeing it on the big screen. Annie, no one wants to shell out eight bucks to read the Constitution."

"Ok look. This girl, Jane, grows up in this wealthy family, goes to a prestigious prep school, plays lacrosse, the works. Her aunt from the Bronx comes to visit her one weekend, and her aunt and her mother get into a huge fight because the Bronx cousin accuses he mother of spoiling Jane. She says Jane will never have to fight for anything, everything's always handed to her. She doesn't earn any of the stuff and privileges she has, she just gets it. Naturally Jane gets all huffy about this and it affects he deeply. Around the same time her family faces some reversal of fortune and they end up moving to a city. She has to attend the local public school.... You see where I'm going, Harry?"

"Heeyyy, Annie, I think you're on the something there. Ok so she imagines that she's just going to keep playing lacrosse like she did back in New England, but there's only a boy's lacrosse team. There's girl's softball, swimming and intramural aerobics, but no lacrosse. Now our girl is resourceful, so she goes investigating in the athletic storage facilities, or maybe she's making out with her love interest in there, and she sees that they have girl's lacrosse equipment but it looks like it hasn't been touched in years. She investigates further and discovers that there did used to be a girl's soccer team, and a basketball team, even a track team, but something happened... but what? Some covered up murder case? A secret teleporter to an alien race?"

"Well Harry maybe we can use this one interesting thing I learned about the effects of Title Nine in the plot. Title Nine was supposed to get equal coaches for boys and girls teams. Like I said, it wouldn't be fair if the boys got these all-star coaches and the girl's only got some PTO member with a little extra time on his hands. No offense, Harry. So after 1972 the school had to make sure it had really good coaches for both boys and girls teams, so it fired all of the existing coaches for the girl's teams and hired these retired sports stars as new coaches. That meant two things. First, it meant that the school had to cut back on some of the teams for the girls. The logic was that they were going to hire celebrity coaches for the girls, meaning they were going above and beyond the requirements of Title Nine, but they wouldn't be able to hire as many coaches.

"I get it. So the lacrosse team got nixed, along with the soccer team, etc..."

"Right, but the remaining softball team gets this world-famous coach. It's a trade off. The second consequence of this whole thing was that no new female coaches were hired. Because females didn't have as many opportunities to get into coaching positions before Title Nine, it's obvious that there weren't that many celebrity female coaches floating around when this school was hiring new coaches."

"Annie, you're on to something here. So there's no lacrosse team, no basketball team, and no female coaches whatsoever in the school. All because of Title Nine. So Title Nine is the bad guy here. What drama!"

"Well hold on Harry. All because this school went by the letter and not the spirit of Title Nine. Title Nine's not the bad guy, and we don't need some "creepy bad guy" to make this story interesting. This one girl figures all of this out and gets the address of one of the ex-coaches from the old lacrosse team. She goes to visit her, she's an older lady now, and they sit and talk with milk and cookies like the kids in Sandlot with James Earl Jones. The lady reminisces about how excited all of the female coaches were when they heard Title Nine was going to be put into effect. They knew that their girls would finally get the fair amount of practice time, they would finally get budgets for new equipment, they would finally get to compete in as many championships as the boys did. But something went wrong, and instead of having equality across the board and enough resources for all, the school cut back the girl's programs even more and the ex-lacrosse coach and her friends got fired. They just didn't know how to fight back. If they raised their voices, they would be criticized for attacking Title Nine and all of the opponents of the new law would have a weapon against it. So they just had to stay quiet."

"Annie, that's beautiful. So this girl decides that she will fight the fight that the ex-coaches generation couldn't, and sets up protests and rallies and fundraisers at the school to get the lacrosse and basketball teams reinstated. Of course there's the usual drama, and she gets a lot of heat from a lot of the girls in the softball and swim teams who don't understand why she has to rock the boat and possibly take away all of the advances they've made in the last few years. It's interesting because it's the same fight that Betty Friedan and the Women's Libbers were fighting years ago, but with a new twist."

"Right Harry. And finally the school sees that it made a horrible mistake and reinstates the old teams and rehires some of the fired coaches who are still young enough to coach. But it comes at a cost: the celebrity coaches for the swim team and softball team have to be fired. These two teams have been undefeated for five years in a row, and the softball team reached national championships last year. So the audience is left to ponder the following: In the days before Title Nine, is could be argued that although boys and girls did not get equal resources, many boys benefited greatly from the resources and attention they got and went on to be outstanding athletes. Some of these resources were taken away from them after Title Nine. In this same way, before this girl came along the girl's swim team and softball team received the prime resources and attention. After the girl demanded that resources be shared among a larger group, the swim team and softball team lost some of these resources. Is it better to have a large group of mediocre athletes or a small group of stellar ones?"

"Something to think about..."

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