Olympic Changes

Early in my teaching career, I worked in a coed boarding school, which required all of its students to play a sport each season. While the school certainly supported the boys’ teams, there was a subtle but slightly stronger emphasis given to girls’ athletics. This may have been a result of the school’s decision to embrace coeducation at about the same time the government had approved “Title IX”, the federal mandate requiring schools to offer the same number of athletic programs for both genders.

While boys were occasionally criticized for caring too much about sports and not enough about academics, (I remember being taken aback when a colleague referred to a boy who was more interested in hockey than history as a “puck head”), girls were encouraged to push themselves to their athletic limits. There was a lot of “You Go Girls!” on those Connecticut playing fields back in the 80’s.

I was reminded of that emphasis on girls’ sports during the past few weeks, as I watched the American women excel in London. (Someone said that, if the American women were their own country, they’d be in the top 4 of all medal winners.) While I wish the American soccer team had shown a bit more humility after winning the gold medal, especially given some of the uneven refereeing that helped them in the medal rounds, I’d be less than honest if I didn’t admit to being proud of my countrywomen, especially athletes like Gabby Douglass who overcame incredible odds.

But beyond the realm of athletics, my take-away from all of this is that institutional push can change a culture, and that in turn, can change the wider society. In the 80’s we emphasized girls’ athletics, and the results are reflected in today’s triumphs for athletes like Diana Taurasi and Candace Parker.

If we could muster the same sort of enthusiasm today for educational opportunity, just imagine what this might mean for tomorrow’s gold medal winners. If we could be as passionate about scholarship programs and financial aid initiatives as we were about field hockey and the parallel bars, who knows who will end up on that future platform?


3 thoughts on “Olympic Changes

  1. I’m a huge fan of both you and your blog and look forward to reading your posts every week. I read this one several times, trying to come to terms with my strong reaction. I was surprised and honestly a bit put off by the American slant. At a time, like the Olympics, when we are all feeling more patriotic than usual, I’m not surprised that you were celebrating the American athletes but it was jarring for me. There was a sense of “we” and “us” in your post that didn’t include me. It was as though we weren’t on the same team – and I always want to be on your team! I’m sure it had to do with heightened Olympic patriotism (I was also feeling very proud of my countrywomen!) but I think if I reacted in this way, there are likely other Canadians who had a similar reaction.

  2. Here’s my take on Olympics after being in Canada for a good number of years,
    I root for Canadians b/c they are the underdogs and I’m almost embarrassed that the US has won so many.

  3. Title IX has made a huge difference in women’s sports for certain in the U.S. and I think the Olympics, as you note, demonstrates the power of legislation like this. Times for women are getting faster, play is getting better and they are getting more support. I know the television audience for Canada’s bronze medal soccer game was incredible as was the support this team received.

    I still struggle, as a mother of an athletic little girl who begins hockey next month, with the disparity however, and I hope education and other movements to create more equality do better. For instance, the team salary cap for the WNBA is $803,000 a year and for the NBA is about $55 million. While others argue that there isn’t an audience for women’s professional sports (because people only want to see the best, not the female best) and so there isn’t money in it, I wonder if the Olympics doesn’t show us that there just might be a bit of an audience in 2012. Maybe not $55 million worth, but maybe $2 million worth?

    I feel confident we won’t find out in my lifetime, but maybe in my little girl’s? Either way, it’s pretty cool that she can play hockey on a co-ed team at 5. Pink helmet and all!

    I took an amazing history course in university called Sport and Society which reflected on how changes in sport illustrated, and sometimes drove, changes in society. It’s been a lifelong passion of mine and I love the way the Olympics illustrates this. After all, progress from 2000 when women’s beach volleyball players had a MAXIMUM size for their bikini bottoms! Divers and swimmers and gymnasts of all shapes and sizes on the women’s side. Now, when the makeup goes, I’ll feel a lot better! I think society has a lot to be proud of. I think leaders like you who address this and reflect on this make a real difference. Thank you

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