Former athlete discusses Title IX at Tucker Center event

H By Christine Hunter

hustling down a basketball court that had a low ceiling and no bleachers, the women on the Stanford basketball team wore red pinny jerseys with masking tape for numbers.

The year was 1974, and Mariah Burton Nelson – a stand-out high school athlete – turned down several schools in favor of playing for the Cardinal team coached by a volunteer graduate student.

Despite the passage of Title IX two years earlier, which bans sex discrimination in academics and athletics, the Stanford women still bought their own high-tops and taped their own ankles.

Things were tough, but “we had the same athletic passion as you do,” Nelson told approximately 300 people gathered at Cowles Auditorium on Wednesday night.

Nelson, now a professional speaker and author, visited the University to promote her new book, “We Are All Athletes,” and to lead a discussion about how sports have transformed women, girls and society. At the event, sponsored by the University’s Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport, she also critiqued the status of Title IX, since this summer marked its 30th anniversary.

“It is obvious that Title IX should be enforced, and it is not fully implemented,” Nelson said.

She criticized the media and said according to a report by the Los Angles-based Amateur Athletic Foundation, only 6 percent of media sports coverage is devoted to women.

Nelson debated options of enacting Title IX without cutting men’s sports, a factor that opponents to the law often point to. She said while men’s sports should not be eliminated, schools should raise more money for athletics or reduce football team rosters.

“Discriminating is illegal regardless of where the revenue comes,” Nelson said.

Some athletes in attendance, including members of the University of Wisconsin-Madison women’s basketball team, who drove more than 250 miles for the lecture, said they were impressed with Nelson’s presentation.

“I feel like a stronger person from being here tonight, and I learned a lot,” said Michelle Lieder, a senior member of the University’s women’s swimming and diving team.

However, not everyone supports the Tucker Center and its lecture series.

J. Robinson, men’s wrestling coach and founder of Simply Common Sense – a Twin Cities-based organization opposed to the proportionality element of Title IX – said the public needs to be wary of the Tucker Center’s message.

“A lot of the stuff is very slanted,” said Robinson, who did not attend Wednesday’s lecture but has attended several Tucker Center events in the past. “The Tucker Center has an agenda. The feminist agenda doesn’t look at the data: Title IX is killing men’s sports,” he said.

Robinson said in the future, he hopes the University will incorporate both sides of the issue into a forum, rather than focusing solely on women’s experiences.

“In an educational setting, you should not be presenting an agenda, but you should be presenting facts from both sides,” he said.

The Tucker Center started in 1993 after University alumna Dr. Dorothy Tucker gave an endowment. It is the first research center of its kind to explore how sports, recreation and physical activity affect the lives of girls and women.

Wednesday night’s visit was Nelson’s second to the University. She came in 1996 to talk about her book, “The Stronger Women Get, The More Men Love Football.” In response to that book, she received death threats while speaking to a crowd in Nebraska and had undercover police officers protecting her during her first visit to Minnesota. Her latest book has been received with less criticism.

Christine Hunter is a freelance writer. The freelance editor welcomes comments at [email protected]