Discrimination in School Athletics
I have been a softball player for almost my entire life and had the opportunity to play for competitive club teams. It was not uncommon to play on the best fields with the best equipment. When I started playing softball in high school during the late 1990’s, one of the first things I noticed was that the girls' fields were in terrible shape and hidden back in the corner. The dirt was very hard, and filled with sharp rocks and thorns, which was typical for fields in Phoenix that were not maintained. After games and practices it was not uncommon for almost the entire team to be bleeding from the rough ground. The softball team soon became very envious of the boys' baseball team because they had very nice facilities and equipment.
The boys' baseball fields were right up in the front of the school as if they were trying to show them off. They had huge banks of lights, green grass that was always perfectly mowed, nicely appointed dugouts, and several sets of bleachers. They would often have games and practices at night, when it was much cooler outside because they had lights on their fields. This only created hard feelings toward the baseball players because the girls' softball team did not have lights on their fields. As a result, all our games and practices were held in the middle of the afternoon when the sun and heat was beating down on us. It became very obvious that something was not right here.
My mother decided to contact the athletic director at the high school to see why there were such differences between the boys' and girls' facilities. She was informed that the difference was due to the fact that the boys' teams have done fundraisers to receive such nice facilities. Of course this excuse was not justifiable because both the baseball and softball teams did the same fundraiser every year, bringing in approximately the same amount of money. It was then that my mother threatened to bring in Title IX to make things equal between the girls' and boys' facilities. As Title IX states, "no person in the US shall, on the basis of sex be excluded from participation in, or denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal aid." My high school was clearly violating this law.
The athletic director tried to explain that the boys' baseball teams had been around a lot longer than the girls' softball teams, and that was why they had such nice facilities. They had more years behind them, which in turn meant that they had more money because of the past years fundraising. If we did call in Title IX, they would simply tear down the nice things that the boys did have in order to make it equal. The athletic director had also explained that they were slowly trying to get nicer facilities and equipment for the girls' softball teams, but their budget simply did not allow it at that time.
Although the athletic director was trying to give a nice explanation of the differences, there was something more that motivated her. She was one of the few females in this male dominated school district and was slowly trying to work her way up to the top. If Title IX came in and made an issue about the discrimination, she would not be promoted to any higher positions and would be lucky to still have her job. She had to try to ease things over and not have any problems.
This whole incident was simply shocking to me, as I had never been discriminated against. I am the youngest and only girl in my family with two older brothers. I had never thought that being female was a disadvantage as I was always treated equally to my brothers and if anything, I was at an advantage being “daddy’s little girl”. It was a good thing, to my mind, to be considered the "other" in my family. It was through this incident that I realized that people are being discriminated against every single day for things that are out of their control, even when there are laws in place to prevent such things.
This realization has enabled me to empathize with other forms of discrimination as well, and has allowed me to identify it more readily. It can be subtle and easily reasoned away with somewhat logical explanations, such as the ones my athletic director presented to my mother. But knowing the history of why the discrimination occurred is not justification for allowing it to persist. As a result of this experience, I am more aware of my actions towards others and have a desire to eliminate discrimination when I see it. Hopefully, if I have a daughter someday, she will not have to experience discrimination of this kind or any other.
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