#FromtheArchives: 'Sport Is Unfair to Women' (Sports Illustrated, 1973)
Part 1 of our look back at a game-changing series on gender inequity in sports, pre-Title IX.
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In today’s newsletter, we’re combining two of my favorite parts of Power Plays: Our #FromtheArchives series, where we look back at old coverage of women’s sports, and the Book Club!
We’ll be looking at part one of a groundbreaking three-part Sports Illustrated series in 1973 on inequity in women’s sports.
Remember, the Power Plays Book Club is currently reading “Inaugural Ballers: The True Story of the First U.S. Women’s Olympic Basketball Team” by Andrew Maraniss. (Here’s more information about where you can get the book! You’ll love it, I promise.)
Before we get into it, a couple of quick Book Club announcements:
On Thursday, December 15 at 7:00 p.m. ET we’ll be hosting a Virtual Power Plays Q&A on zoom with Andrew Maraniss, the author of “Inaugural Ballers” and Mary Anne O’Connor, one of the players on that historic 1976 team!
I’ll be sending out the zoom link to paid subscribers next week, but wanted to let you go ahead and get it on your calendars.
The January/February Book Club selection is: “Hail Mary: The Rise and Fall of the National Women’s Football League” by Frankie de la Cretaz and Lyndsey D’Arcangelo!
Okay, friends. Let’s do this.
‘We do not need that kind of character in our girls’
In the early pages of “Inaugural Ballers,” Maraniss describes what the world was like for women in sports in the early 1970s, in the years just before the famed 1976 team took the court.
I was struck when he brought up a Sports Illustrated article, “Programmed to Be a Loser.” Maraniss writes that in this article reporters Bil Gilbert and Nancy Williamson “exposed the big lie in American sports, eviscerating conventional wisdom by claiming that it was not women’s frailty that limited their athletic opportunities, but men’s.”
Obviously, I immediately knew I had to find the article.
When digging through the Sports Illustrated archives, I found that this article was actually a three-part series published in consecutive weeks in the spring of 1973, right before Title IX was signed into law. And these articles are absolute GOLD.
This month we’ll be looking at all three of these groundbreaking articles, because Gilbert and Williamson’s phenomenal reporting paints the most thorough picture of women’s sports in the years prior to Title IX that I’ve ever seen, and they do such a good job of seeing through the bullshit excuses for the inequities.
Today, let’s start with the first part of the series, which was published on May 28, 1973.
The article is very long so I’m not going to screenshot it in its entirety. Rather, I’m just going to summarize some sections and pull out the excerpts that really bowled me over, either with their sharp analysis or devastatingly revealing/infuriating reporting. (I screamed *out loud* multiple times while working on this newsletter.)
Here’s one of the intro paragraphs, which really sets the stage for the series:
Read those last few sentences again:
There is a publicly announced, publicly supported notion that sports are good for people, that they develop better citizens, build vigorous minds and bodies and promote a better society Yet when it comes to the practice of what is preached, females – half this country’s population–find that this credo does not apply to them. Sports may be good for people, but they are considered a lot gooder for male people than for female people.
The piece goes on to provide some examples of gender inequity in sports on high school, college, and NCAA levels:
“In 1969 a Syracuse, NY school board budgeted $90,000 for extracurricular sports for boys; $200 was set aside for girls. In 1970 the board cut back on the athletic budget, trimming the boy’s program to $87,000. Funds for the girls’ interscholastic program were simply eliminated.”
“At the University of Washington, 41.4% of the 26,464 undergraduate students enrolled are women. However, when it comes to athletics women get only nine-tenths of 1% of the $2 million the university spends annually on sports.”
Of course, at the top of this pyramid? The NCAA. Gilbert and Williamson report that in 1973, the NCAA (est. 1910) had a budget of $1.5 million and 42 full-time employees. As we’ve discussed in Power Plays before, the NCAA didn’t oversee any women’s sports at the time, it didn’t see the point. So a group of women founded the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) in 1971 to oversee women’s college athletics. In 1973, the AIAW had a budget of $24,000 a year and employed one part-time executive and one assistant.
All across the country, men were losing their minds at the thought of girls and women encroaching on their sporting kingdoms
Where this feature really shines is getting direct, DAMNING quotes from stakeholders across the country.
Here’s an anecdote from California about a men’s team walking off the floor because they couldn’t even fathom the indignity of playing against a woman. It was, the coach said, “humiliating.”
The Mission Conference, an eight-team league of California junior colleges, agreed not long ago that women could compete in varsity sports with and against men. Last February in a game against San Diego City College, Ray Blake, the basketball coach of San Bernardino Valley College, took advantage of the new ruling. Leading 114 to 85 with three minutes and 12 seconds to play, Blake sent in a substitute, Sue Palmer. The San Diego coach, Bill Standly, responded by calling time and asking his men, “Do you want to be humiliated any further by playing against a girl?” The team, to a man, said no, and San Diego walked off the court.
Here’s a high-school coach from Wisconsin indignant about not being able to use the girls’ gym 24/7, because girls are having the audacity to use it. So, naturally, he turns into the femininity police.