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Title IX, Harassment and Sportsmanship

Lessons in and out of sports

Title IX comes up in a sports context so often that we tend to forget that the law bars sex discrimination in any educational program that receives federal funds.  Sports is not a prerequisite for a Title IX claim. It just seems that way. Donald C. Collins

The most recent reminder that Title IX violations can occur outside of a sports setting occurred at Yale, where female students recently filed a Title IX complaint, alleging that a hostile sexual environment has been allowed to exist.  The female students cite a number of incidents, including a rather offensive - and stupid - frat boy incident where fraternity pledges publicly chanted, "No means yes.  Yes means  *@**@..." 

If you happen to be a parent of a Yale student - girl or a boy - you have to wonder whether you're getting value for your $50,000 per year tuition when you read about this type of environment.  After all, you can pay a lot less money to have your daughter harassed.

Those involved in interscholastic sports, whether it be at the middle, high school or college level, of course, already know they have to address Title IX.  However, sports people generally think of Title IX as a numbers counting problem.  Sports people ask whether there are enough girls sports or enough girls playing.  When sports people are not pondering the number of girls playing – or proportionality – they think of Title IX in terms of economic equity.  Even sports people don’t generally think about flat-out harassment. 

Well, rest assured that sports people have generated their fair share of Title IX harassment claims.  Indeed, it’s been less than two years since Fresno State faced Title IX charges stemming in part from male sports administrators posting their "Ugly Female Athlete of The Week" Award prominently on bulletin boards. 

Lesson in sportsmanship

The Yale situation tells us a few things.  Of course, it reminds us that the same issues that affect us in sports affect people in a non-sports context.  However, it also reminds us that, left unchecked, one group’s innocent fun (and I’m assuming that the Yale frat boys thought that they were both innocent and witty) can make another group’s life most unpleasant.  This is, in effect, a sportsmanship lesson:

When we tell our children and athletes that sportsmanship matters, do we ask them what that means?  Do we ask them where sportsmanship matters?  Do we try to tell them that winning with dignity and losing with grace can be a life lesson, and not just an attitude that will avoid a fight after the game? 

If we do that, then youth athletes can still have fun; they’ll just be less likely to have their fun in an ungraceful manner that makes others suffer.  In short, sports and life intersect in more ways than we generally think.  Lessons from sports do impact life – and, we would hope that if one of the Yale frat boys happens to be on a team, his coach instills some values in him that should have been instilled by his parents and his youth and high school coaches.

Posted July19, 2011