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First They Came for the Wrestlers

The forces of Title IX have an unlikely new ally in their quest to destroy men's sports: ESPN.

12:00 AM, Jun 20, 2002 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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HAVE YOU SEEN the ads for The Truth? They're the ones with the annoying, rebellious youths campaigning to expose the harmful effects of cigarettes and the wicked ways of the tobacco industry. The ads are designed to be, as they said on Madison Avenue ten years ago, edgy.

They're also creepy. The Truth ad campaign is paid for by a group called the American Legacy Foundation, which was created by the mammoth 1998 tobacco settlement. So the American Legacy Foundation and The Truth are funded by the tobacco industry, which they're trying to demonize and destroy. Talk about political coercion. It's a little bit like China where after they execute you, the government bills your family for the bullet.

Some similarly creepy programs are scheduled for ESPN this weekend. On Saturday we have "On the Basis of Sex: The Battle of Title IX" and its companion show "On the Basis of Sex: An ESPN Town Meeting," followed on Sunday by another Title IX special, "On Equal Ground."

I haven't seen any of these programs, but judging from the glowing ads ESPN has been running (featuring Billie Jean King, Brandi Chastain, and every other significant female jock of the last 30 years) for the Saturday shows, and the fact that the Sunday show was funded and produced by the left-wing Women's Sports Foundation (according to the group Saving Sports), it's probably safe to assume that in the end, they're going to come out for Title IX. Which is strange, since ESPN is a sports network devoted largely to men and Title IX is briskly and efficiently killing many men's sports.

Consider the following: Bowling Green University's men's swimming, men's tennis, and men's track and field; the University of Iowa's men's swimming; Providence College's baseball; Howard University's baseball--all eliminated in recent years in an attempt to force the schools into Title IX compliance (this small sample isn't even the tip of the tip of the iceberg). Why? Because Title IX is, quite simply, the most rigorous and ruthless quota regime American policy has ever seen.

People are, slowly, beginning to understand the pernicious effects of Title IX. Jessica Gavora's outstanding book, Tilting the Playing Field: Schools, Sports, Sex and Title IX, exposes its consequences, showing how the law has been used to impose strict quotas on college athletics. (If America eventually rejects Title IX, "Tilting the Playing Field" should get much of the credit.) Title IX--or to be more accurate, the bizarre interpretation of Title IX propagated by the courts and the Department of Education--mandates strict proportionality: If 60 percent of a school's students are female, then 60 percent of the school's athletes must be female. Most schools have tried to comply with the law in good faith by creating a myriad of women's teams. But at college after college, women have failed to commit to sports at the same rate men do (of course studies have shown that women have higher college GPAs than men, so perhaps they're just spending their time more productively). And when the numbers don't work, no matter how hard a school has tried to attract female athletes, Title IX has been used to cut men's programs to bring the ratios into balance.

So now the Title IX boosters, suddenly on the defensive, are blaming football. "It's not Title IX's fault," says Donna Lopiano, the executive director of the Women's Sports Foundation. "It's chicken college presidents and athletic directors who won't bite the bullet on the irresponsible spending of their football programs."

Lopiano's party line has quickly filtered down the women's sports food chain. During a recent NBC broadcast of a WNBA game between the Houston Comets and the Sacramento Monarchs, the (female) commentators spent several minutes discussing the beneficial effects of Title IX and dismissing the harm it does to men's sports by blaming college football. (During this stretch they ignored the play on the court, adding further evidence that at nearly every level, the WNBA is about politics, not sports.)