Federal legislation prohibiting gender-based discrimination in collegiate athletics has been great in some respects – but the prospect of lawsuits against colleges may actually hurt opportunities for women.
Girls in the football locker room – a dream for most hot-blooded boys. For some female athletes, though, it is also their dream. Unfortunately, due to the recent sex-discrimination settlement to former Duke football kicker Heather Sue Mercer, fewer women are likely to realize such dreams anytime soon.
Because Ms. Mercer was ‚illegally cut from the football team solely because of her gender’ in 1996, Duke University must pay her $2 million dollars in punitive damages (Washington Post, ‚Kicker Cut By Duke Gets $2 Million,’ October 13, 2000).
Justice was served. Duke officials knew about the discrimination and did nothing to stop it, as proved in the trial. Discrimination on the basis of sex is wrong. However, the settlement rewarded in this case stands to perpetuate the very crime that was prosecuted. While strides have been made to promote opportunities for female athletes, this case highlights the fact that the playing field is far from level. The infamous Title IX legislation that prohibits the very discrimination Ms. Mercer was subjected to has opened many doors for women.
In the span of 15 years, the National Federation of State High School Associations saw a rise in the number of female football players – from 8 to 658 (Washington Post, ‚Kicker Cut By Duke Gets $2 Million,’ October 13, 2000). The Powder Puff league this is not.
But women who now play for high school teams just had all their hopes dashed. The advent of Ms. Mercer’s trial caused recruiting lists to get shorter because schools are now less willing to grant scholarships or walk-on status to females. U.Va. may not be recruiting women for next year’s team, but we could stand to have a kicker who can nail a field goal from 48 yards. Heather Sue Mercer could, and so can many other women. But with a $2 million dollar price tag, who’s going to buy?
Now that signing women to the team presents such a burden to administrators and coaches, discrimination against women will still subtly pervade our country. Weary of lawsuits like the one against Duke, recruiters will avoid approaching women players altogether.
In effect, the football locker room just turned back into the good ole’ boys club. This lawsuit will not compel coaches to appreciate female athletes. Instead, it reminds them why they didn’t want girls in the first place.
Even at schools where female players have done well, coaches are scared by the implications of the Mercer settlement. Because the law doesn’t require giving women the opportunity to try out, a simple cost-benefit analysis is reason enough to keep girls out.
Our own football Coach George Welsh couldn’t be reached for comment but said in a previous interview that ‚if a woman was the best kicker out there, he’d think about using her, but wouldn’t want his authority as a coach undermined just because the player was female’ (Washington Post, ‚Kicker Cut By Duke Gets $2 Million,’ October 13, 2000). Clearly, there are few coaches willing to assume this risk. There is no clear-cut solution to this problem. Although Heather Sue Mercer deserved compensation for her losses and suffering, a more pragmatic resolution was in order. The settlement could have had ordered University officials to receive training in dealing with female players. Or it might have had the money put toward a scholarship for women athletes. Coaches must understand that excluding women is not the only option.
The precedent set by the Mercer decision has the potential to affect college-age women for years to come. Now seen as a liability, women hoping to earn a place on traditionally male athletic teams face fewer chances and more prejudices. Collegiate athletic programs can’t afford the type of penalty that was slapped on Duke University a few weeks ago. As a result, the cost of female athletes has risen and the quality of athletics has been cheapened.
It is true that far more opportunities for female athletes exist now than twenty years ago. The Mercer settlement, however, just struck a blow to the wrong team. Women put back on the sidelines? Yes. But keeping us out of the game forever? Keep dreaming.
by Katherine Martini
|in some respects||pod pewnymi względami|
|to prosecute||ścigać sądownie|
|to make a stride||posuwać się dużymi krokami naprzód|
|in the span of||w okresie (czasu)|
|to pervade||szerzyć się, przenikać|
|weary of sth||znużowny, wyczerpany|
|dealing with||zajmować się|
|to strike a blow||ujmować się|