Nel's New Day

February 2, 2014

Super Bowl – Expensive, Deadly

The highest annual worship of football started at 3:30 pm today in New Jersey, as the Seahawks battle the Broncos in New Jersey. Lest you wonder about my use of the word “worship,”  the event represents religion for many of its fans. A national survey from Public Religion Research reveals that about half of the people from the United States who watch sports are under the impression that supernatural forces are at work in the games’ outcomes which are susceptible to prayer, curses, and/or rituals.

“As Americans tune in to the Super Bowl this year, fully half of fans–as many as 70 million Americans–believe there may be a twelfth man on the field influencing the outcome,” said Public Religion Research Institute CEO Robert Jones. “Significant numbers of American sports fans believe in invoking assistance from God on behalf of their favorite team, or believe the divine may be playing out its own purpose in the game.”

Football fans are most likely to resort to prayer; 33 percent of them ask God to give them the winning team. They are also more likely to think their teams were cursed (31 percent compared to 18 percent) and to take part in rituals before or during games (25 percent to compared to 18 percent). The same survey found that a plurality of Americans (48%) believe religious athletes are rewarded with good health and success.

Team members join the fans in these religious beliefs, holding prayer circles before, during, and after games. After the Super Bowl, as any other football game, expect players to say “God was with me” or “I give thanks to God.” As for health, the average life expectancy for NFL players is 58 years, compared to 78 for the general male population in the U.S. The suicide rate of NFL players is six times the national average.

The NFL is the real winner of the Super Bowl and pro football. Host cities of the annual event see less than a $60 million increase in their economies while the NFL rakes in big bucks from NFL-generated events and NFL-branded memorabilia. The NFL makes $9 billion each year and pays no taxes because it is declared a non-profit organization.

One person is fighting NFL’s extortion. When New Jersey resident Josh Finkelman found that the cheapest price for a $500 seat is $2,000, he filed a class-action complaint in federal court. According to New Jersey law, tickets can be sold for only 5 percent more than “all available seating for the event.”  Only 1 percent of the 80,000 seats are directly available to the public; 75 percent are distributed among the NFL’s 32 teams, and the NFL keeps the others for officials, media, and important corporate sponsors. Last week seats cost between $2,900 and $962,000 for corporate suites. New Jersey law would dictate that 95 percent of the tickets would be directly available to the public for the tickets’ face value. A class-action suit could involve tens of thousands of people.

The biggest problem with football, however, are the brain injuries. For over a century, there have been whispers about the physical dangers of playing football. In November 1905, 17-year-old Vernon Wise was buried on the field by a number of Hyde Park opponents. The fourth casualty of the game happened when Wise’s replacement was kicked in the head. Wise regained consciousness, told his mother he would give up the game, and died two hours later of a broken back.

Alarmed by the large number of deaths from football that year, President Theodore Roosevelt worked to make the game safer. Over 50 years later, significant equipment and rule changes tried to make the game safer again after an increasing number of head injuries. Greater safety from these changes was short-lived because regulations provide little protection against concussions. The skull may not fracture, but the brain bounces around and hits bone, a worse impact than fracturing.

The NFL makes money on spectacular high-impact play. As players became bigger, stronger, and faster, the danger of concussion grew worse. It is common for players to endure hits that are the same as a 25-mph car crash. Although individual hits cause injuries, the biggest problem is the quantity. Concussions come from a totality of blows, according to a Purdue study.

The danger isn’t only at pro-football level. Neurologists surveyed several hundred high school football players in 2002 and concluded that athletes with three or more concussions were almost ten times more likely to experience persistent amnesia. A 2004 study revealed that football players with multiple concussions were 7.7 times more likely to experience a “major drop in memory performance” and that three months after a concussion they continued to experience “persistent deficits in processing complex visual stimuli.” Athletes with two or more brain injuries demonstrate statistically significant lower grade-point averages than students without concussions.

The damage to the three-pound organ in the skull isn’t determined by the severity of the hit: players can walk away from vicious hits while getting felled by incidental impact. No one knows the length of time the brain requires to heal although the latest surmise is 10 days for adults. Adolescents need longer. During restoration, the brain damage’s side effects are painful bright lights, fragile memory full of holes, and impossible focus. With even a secondary impact during this time, the damage to the brain can be permanent. Teenagers are far more susceptible to these problems because their brains are still developing, particularly in the frontal lobes responsible for self-control and abstract reasoning.

The biggest danger from frequently smashing the brain into the skull is chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Symptoms can be indistinguishable from Alzheimer’s—memory loss, mood disorders, and depression. CTE can be definitely diagnosed only after death through dissection of the cortex. A 2009 study, however, found that former players between 30 and 49 have severe memory-related diseases nineteen times the rate of the general population. Ann McKee of Boston University autopsied 15 former players who suffered from various mental conditions, including memory loss and depression, and found CTE in fourteen of them. She also found the irreversible CTE in a multiple-concussed 18-year-old football player, the earliest evidence of CTE ever recorded.

Although more than 60,000 concussions are diagnosed among precollegiate players every year, the true incidence may be approximately 50 percent higher. According to a 2009 study, more than 40 percent of athletes go back on the field too quickly. Sixteen percent of high school football players who lost consciousness went back on the field the same day.

Current equipment can’t stop concussions. Jeffrey Kutcher, chair of the American Academy of Neurology’s sports section, told U.S. Senators, “No current helmet, mouth guard, headband, or other piece of equipment can significantly prevent concussions from occurring … It is extremely unlikely that helmets can prevent concussions the way they prevent skull fractures.” He criticize claims by helmet manufacturers suggesting otherwise, noting that even Riddell’s specialized anti-concussion helmet has only been shown to reduce the rate of concussions by 2.6 percent. Even with better helmets, players would respond with even riskier behavior.

The past whispers of brain injuries from football are developing into a muted shout. The Fox network is broadcasting today’s Super Bowl to a possible 110 million people, but two of their leading athlete/employees, Troy Aikman (Dallas Cowboys) and Terry Bradshaw (Pittsburgh Steelers), have gone on record about the game’s dangers. Bradshaw concluded he wouldn’t let a son of his play football, and Aikman said he wouldn’t “be real inclined to encourage” a 10-year-old boy to participate. Boxing faded after people noted its dangers.

Tony Dorsett, Cowboys Hall of Fame running back, was diagnosed with CTE last November. He is 59 and has the same buildup of the protein consistent with what dissection reveals in the brains of players with CTE. Former player Dave Duerson committed suicide, leaving a note asking that his brain be examined. He was 50 and had CTE. The same thing happened with linebacker Junior Seau. He was 43 and had CTE. Offensive tackle Rayfield Wright told the New York Times that he is suffering from dementia. He is 68. A year ago, Truth-Out published an article profiling Duerson, Seau, and seven other victims of football CTE.

Dorsett and Wright are among 4,500 plaintiffs suing the NFL for not revealing what it knows about the dangers of repeated head hits. The NFL agreed to settle for $765 million, but a federal judge put the settlement on hold, for fear that it won’t be enough to settle all claims.

Pop Warner football membership is down almost ten percent from 2010., and head injuries are the top reason for decline in participation. Patrick Johnson II, 12, is still playing. His father, president of the North Texas Pop Warner program, said, “Kids are kids. They can get hurt anywhere.” NFL rookie Ryan Swope, 22, has far more sense than Patrick’s father. After three concussions he retired, citing his history with head injuries.

While the NFL tries to get information about CTE quashed, the Major League Baseball (MLB) is working to reduce the number of collisions between catchers and base-runners at home plate. Fans aren’t happy about trying to reduce CTE: 61 percent of voters in an ESPN.com poll said that they are “not OK with” these reforms.

The sports fans of the United States are part of a violent culture.They aren’t interested in the skill of sports and will be satisfied with nothing less than violence. For more information about the result of football violence, check out these Frontline reports.

Now I’m hoping for a roar about the unwarranted deaths of football players.

November 28, 2013

Traditions for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Day can be a time of traditions. Each year, for example, friends visit and celebrate their partnership anniversary with us. We talked about anniversaries last evening. I commented that even though my partner and I married at the beginning of October this year that I’ll always think of my anniversary as the day that my partner and I selected 44 years ago to celebrate.

Traditions also change. For many Thanksgiving days, the four of us listened to Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant” starting exactly at noon on our public radio station. If you haven’t heard it, I heartily recommend the experience. This year, however, the programming changed, eliminating the airing of the performance. We briefly mourned. Eating, parades, football, and shopping are other Thanksgiving traditions that have changed over the years.

Some of the history:

Much as people like to think that Pilgrims held the “first” Thanksgiving, its tradition began before that event. The Thanksgiving feast is a harvest festival; thus other cultures celebrated this season, sometimes with thankful offerings to gods. Some claim that the first feast in North America between foreigners—like the Pilgrims—and natives was in 1541 when Francisco de Coronado and his expedition broke bread with the natives at Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas panhandle. Other historians prefer the one in Florida with French Huguenots celebrating on June 30th of 1564 or the one celebrated by the Spanish on September 8, 1565. There were also ones at the Jamestown colony in 1609 and Roanoke in 1586, and Ponce de Leon had one near St. Petersburg (FL) in 1513.

The Plymouth feast took three days. Both Pilgrims and American Indians contributed, but turkey wasn’t served. Colonist Edward Winslow reported that “wild fowl” was on the menu, which could have been duck or geese. The celebrants did eat venison, shellfish, and lobster as well as nuts, wheat flour, pumpkins, squashes, carrots, and peas. Images of clothing provided to school children are also wrong. Because buckles were too expensive, Pilgrims’ clothing used buttons and laces for fastening. The misunderstanding came from nineteenth-century illustrators who used clothing popular among fashionable Englishmen in the 1600s.

Although conservatives like to think that the founding fathers made Thanksgiving a national holiday—and George Washington wanted it to be so—Thomas Jefferson thought the idea was the most ridiculous thing he’d ever heard. The official proclamation of Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November didn’t occur until 1863, after 40 years of Sarah Josepha Hale’s letter-campaign to five presidents. Southern states, which had already seceded from the Union, opposed the holiday because they thought it was a “New England” holiday. Even 150 years ago, conservatives fought the government on the simplest concepts. No nationwide Thanksgiving date existed until the 1870s.

In 1939, President F.D. Roosevelt proclaimed that the day for Thanksgiving would be changed to the fourth Thursday in November to help the economy by lengthening the Christmas shopping season. Republicans opposed the change and called it Democrat Thanksgiving or “Franksgiving.” They celebrated their own Republican Thanksgiving the next Thursday. Two years later, Congress confirmed Roosevelt’s day by passing a law which Roosevelt signed.

“Black Friday” started over 50 years ago in Philadelphia. The term was named after the mass of shoppers that came to the malls causing heavy and disruptive pedestrian and vehicle traffic, and the name stuck. After retailers failed to change the nickname, they defined the term as the day of the year that puts retailers into the “black.” That might be true for smaller retailers, but large retail chains like Wal-Mart start with a positive net income on January 1. Black Friday shopping is known for attracting aggressive crowds and annual reports of assaults, shootings, and throngs of people trampling on other shoppers in an attempt to get the best deal before supplies run out.

The day after Thanksgiving is also the biggest day for bar and liquor sales. Some people guess that it’s caused by the long holiday weekend and being around family.

Conservatives might also be distressed by the origination of the word “turkey,” corrupted from the Hebrew tukki. Columbus’ Jewish interpreter, Luis de Torres, called the wild birds tukki because they looked like peacocks to him. Other linguists think that turkey originated from tuka, the Tamil word for peacock.

Every year, since Abraham Lincoln, the president has pardoned two turkeys for Thanksgiving. (This year’s winner is Popcorn, with Caramel the runner-up. Both turkeys will live.) The tradition began accidentally when Lincoln informally pardoned his son Tad’s pet, Jack the Turkey. Pardoning occurred sporadically until 1947 when Harry Truman made it official. For a while, the pardoned turkeys retired to Disneyland’s Big Thunder Ranch (CA); the location moved in 2010 to George Washington’s Mount Vernon.

Last year, about 254 million turkeys were raised the U.S. A myth surrounding them is that the tryptophan in the meat makes people sleepy. It’s not really enough to make any different. Scientists guess that it’s alcohol, or excessive food, or just relaxing with good company.

Yale and Princeton started the football tradition when they played their first game in 1876. The NFL joined in 1934 when the Detroit Lions played the Chicago Bears. Detroit has played every year since then except during World War II. The Dallas Cowboys added another game in 1966. This year, the Lions play the Green Bay Packers while the Cowboys play the Raiders. A third game is the Jacksonville Jaguars facing the Baltimore Ravens. High school games are called “Turkey Bowls.”

Macy’s first Thanksgiving Day parade in 1924, called “The Christmas Parade,” used live animals from the Central Park Zoo and was billed as “The Christmas Parade.” Three years later, Goodyear added a giant balloon of Felix the Cat. For the next six years, balloons just floated off into the sky at the end of the parade, and Macy’s gave everyone who found a deflated balloon $100. Snoopy, who joined the parade in 1968 and showed up another six times, has the record for the most appearances. In 1946, the parade route moved to its current starting point at 77th and Central Park West, and in 1947, it was first nationally televised. Macy’s thought about cancelling the parade 50 years after the Kennedy assassination, but then decided to continue the tradition. About 3.5 million watch the parade on New York streets with another 50 million seeing it on television.

Native Hawaiians celebrate Makahiki, their own “Thanksgiving” festival, dedicated to the agriculture and fertility god, Lono. Starting in late October, the Hawaiians suspended all war for four months as they feasted, played games, danced, and generally made merry with Lono was in charge. They carried a tiki of Lono, trimmed with ferns and feathers, around each island to mark the start of the makahiki season. When Ku took over again at the end of the lunar calendar of January, they set adrift a canoe with offerings to Lono.

Since 1975, following the 17-month occupation of Alcatraz Island by the American Indian Movement in 1969, the International Indian Treaty Council has an annual “Unthanksgiving Day.” A sunrise ceremony commemorates the struggles of the indigenous native people.

If you enjoy Thanksgiving, thank your progressive presidents and lawmakers who overcame conservative opposition to bring this holiday to the people in the United States. And if you like shopping, be careful that some desperate person doesn’t accidentally kill you tomorrow.

Thanks to T. Steelman for some of the above information and a list of sources:

  • A Taste of Thanksgiving: Curious Facts About America’s Holiday by Christopher Forest
  • Ancient Ways: Reclaiming Pagan Traditions by Pauline Campanelli and Dan Campanelli
  • Hawaiian Mythology by Martha Warren Beckwith

March 20, 2013

Every School Needs to Teach What Rape Is

“If you look at crime statistics these things happen everywhere and we’re not any different than any other community,” said [Athletic Director Mike McKenna] in reference to the charge of second-degree sexual assault of a 13-year-old girl by two of his 18-year-old football players. Other Torrington High School (CT) officials insist that this and other complaints of hazing at the school are just separate instances and not part of a cultural problem.

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Edgar Gonzalez (right) and Joan Toribio have been charged not only with this sexual assault but other crimes involving different 13-year-old girls. Before the sex assault charges against Gonzalez, the team’s Most Valuable Player, was charged in a March 2012 alleged felony robbery. He is accused of jumping three juveniles, 14-years-old, in search of money. Former Head Coach Dan Dunaj let Gonzalez play after a stern talking to: “I reeled the kid in after that, and he walked the line. As a coach I was doing something right.”

The district’s policies for dismissing student athletes are taken on a case by case basis, according to McKenna, Dunaj and Torrington School Superintendent Cheryl Kloczko. McKenna said a “serious infraction” would cause a student athlete to be suspended from play, but couldn’t say, when asked, if that would be a felony or a misdemeanor. He said he did consider violent felonies a “serious infraction.” He also said that he didn’t know anything about the three felony and two misdemeanor charges pending against Gonzalez from the March 2012 incident and that he was never informed of that incident. Dunaj resigned in January 2013 after five years at the school.

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As in the Steubenville (OH) case that led to prison for the rapists, the 13-year-old girl has been victimized by the community. Both males and females have called her a “whore” and criticized her for “snitching” and “ruining the lives” of the 18-year-old football players. Students trying to defend the victim are in turn bullied. These are some of the offensive tweets, sometimes repeated:

 “I wanna know why there’s no punishment for young hoes.”– @asmedick

Twelve days after the alleged incident.”–@AyooWilliam

“I hope you got what you wanted.”

“Sticking up for a girl who wanted the D and then snitched? have a seat pleaseeee.–@ShelbyyKalinski.

Since July 2011, Connecticut state law mandates that school districts address cyber-bullying that takes place off of school grounds. According to the Connecticut Commission on Children, Public Act 11-232, school districts are required to take “Comprehensive steps to prevent bullying, humiliation or assault.” Districts must take action if there are repeated online incidents that affect the school environment or the student’s ability to attend school.

Social media not only shows the original crime but also the following problem: a victim-blaming rape culture that is inclined to take the side of the assailant instead of the victim.

An editorial in Litchfield County’s newspaper, The Register Citizen, clearly stated opposition to school officials’ attitudes and responses toward the students’ actions:

“We hope and trust that the posture of denial and defensiveness Torrington school officials have taken toward the idea that there is a culture of abuse and harassment emanating from the high school football program will be dropped very quickly this morning.

“The city woke up to detailed revelations in The Register Citizen about a coach who tolerated violent behavior and a school district whose policies were vague and not enforced and gave the benefit of the doubt to students who’d been charged with serious crimes but also happened to be key to scoring a lot of touchdowns.

“Worst of all, and what will cause an ugly statewide, perhaps national, spotlight to shine on Torrington in the coming days, the newspaper uncovered dozens of Torrington High School athletes and students, male and female, bullying the 13-year-old victim of an alleged sexual assault by two 18-year-old football players.

“They called her “whore,” “snitch,” blamed her for “ruining the lives” of the players. They harassed and bullied students who dared defend her. Assuming they were unaware of these social media posts (and no doubt, similar conversations in school classrooms and hallways), we expect the stance and leadership of Athletic Director Mike McKenna and Superintendent Cheryl Kloczko to change dramatically.

“McKenna said, “If you think there’s some wild band of athletes that are wandering around then I think you’re mistaken.”

“Well actually, there was a hazing scandal the school district still hasn’t explained, the MVP of the team was allowed to play all of last season despite pending felony robbery and assault charges which also involved another football player, and then the latest incident of a sexual assault arrest of two players. McKenna says he didn’t even know about the felony robbery and assault charges or that the coach knew about them and still allowed his MVP to play. So maybe the athletic director isn’t even qualified to insist that there’s not a “wild band of athletes” causing trouble all over town.

“In fact, the behavior of athletes does appear to be out of control and unacceptable.

“And the suggestion that it’s a ‘few bad apples’ and not a deeper cultural problem in the school district is obliterated by the Twitter and Facebook messages of dozens of Torrington High School students.

“The first step in recovering from this is admitting you have a problem. And after reading the social media accounts of average, “good” students at Torrington High School, it’s clear that Torrington students need an urgent education about blaming the victim, bullying and harassment, what “consent” means, why statutory rape is rape, period, and where football should stand in relation to their education and the rest of life.

“Let’s hope that starts today.”

One of the two teenage rapists in Steubenville said that he didn’t know what he did was rape. A thorough education described above is vital for every school in the United States. We all need to start lobbying for this in order to change the culture of rape within all our communities.

January 7, 2013

Rape & Football, The U.S. Way

Five months ago, two football players in the small town of Steubenville (OH) were charged with dragging a drunk 16-year-old girl from house to house, raping her and using their cellphones to photograph and video their actions. Nothing much else happened: the boys were thrown out of the drama club but allowed to play football.

Then Alexandria Goddard started writing about the case on her blog, asking why more of the young people with the three people were not prosecuted. That was followed by the New York Times article that described, among other things, that the videos showed the girl taunted, urinated upon, carried around while “sleeping,” vomiting in the street, photographed nude, and videotaped while being digitally penetrated.

There was no semen collected, no toxicology tests administered for drugs that might have shown whether the girl was drugged. The family in question received death threats after raising rape accusations. A Steubenville football coach, Nate Hubbard, said, “The rape was just an excuse, I think. What else are you going to tell your parents when you come home drunk like that and after a night like that?” Sheriff Fred Abdulla said that witnessing the crime but not reporting it is not illegal. Thus the “blame the victim” approach.

Then in December two computer hackers entered the picture, setting up websites including stopbigred.com where they posted incriminating tweets, photos, videos, and emails. From that information came the allegation that football players, who called themselves #rapecrew on Twitter, had raped another girl on the night of the senior prom, again with photos and videos of the girl’s naked, unconscious body. Another allegation was that “Big Red” booster Jim Parks, according to his email that included pornographic images, was #rapecrew’s chief, paying football players to rape and then photograph their victims.

Abdalla said that he would not be prosecuting anyone else for crimes related to the case. Referring to a video showing several other young men joking about an assault, he said, “It’s a disgusting video. It’s stupidity. But you can’t arrest somebody for being stupid.” Abdalla claimed to have seen the video only a few days ago although it has been in his possession for months. Anonymous, one of the hackers, also made public the photo of two young men carrying the still victim by her wrists and ankles.

Although three students testified under oath that they took photographs and videos of the victims they walked left court with no charges against them.  They weren’t suspended  from extracurricular activities (including sports) until October 15th, more than two months after the travesty. Attorneys have said that potential witnesses are reluctant to come forward because they are being threatened and pressured not to testify and asked that the trial be moved and closed to the public.

Another disaster connected to football has cropped up in Pennsylvania. Once Penn State former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was found guilty of 45 counts of child abuse and N.C.A.A. sanctioned the school because it had ignored Sandusky’s behavior, the tragedy seemed to be settled and people could move forward.

Now Gov. Tom Corbett is suing N.C.A.A., demanding that there be no penalties for the school’s failure to stop Sandusky’s sexual abuse of young boys. Corbett should have stayed quiet. As the state attorney general in 2009, Corbett began a less-than-enthusiastic investigation into allegations against Sandusky before he was elected governor and served on the school’s board of trustees. Kathleen Kane, the incoming attorney general, has said she will investigate the concerns that Corbett didn’t want to alienate Penn State alumni when he ran for governor. To add to his problems, he is up for re-election next year.

The lawsuit claims that the state is losing money because of the penalties, including a $60 million fine, vacating of victories for ten years, and a four-year ban on postseason play. Legal experts have said that the university accepted the settlement last July.  Penn State is not a party to the lawsuit, and an outsider like Corbett may have trouble proving that he has standing to file the lawsuit.

Sandusky is serving 30 to 60 years in prison. Three university officials, including the former president Graham B. Spanier, have been criminally charged with covering up his misconduct and are facing trials. The university’s investigation found that top university officials had shown a disregard for the welfare of children and actively concealed Sandusky’s assaults because they feared that the publicity would hurt the football program.

GOP legislators are known for dragging their heels in making the United States safer for women. The fall campaign made the subject of rape front and center in the media as GOP candidates tried to be experts on the issue while refusing to renew the Violence against Women Act because it would  have given tribal courts broader jurisdiction over rape on Native American lands. The House continued to play politics with rape during the last days of the 112th Congress as it sabotaged a bipartisan bill that, if passed, would have made tracking down rapists easier.

In December, Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) took The Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry Act (SAFER Act), introduced in the Senate by John Cornyn (R-TX), to the House. If passed, it would reallocate $117 million to make a dent in the nationwide backlog of untested “rape kits” that contain forensic evidence collected after sexual assaults. Approximately 400,000 untested kits are in labs around the country. Without analysis of the DNA evidence, rapists have an easier time avoiding arrest and prosecution.

Passing the legislation wouldn’t cost taxpayers any more money. It would just have required at least 75 percent of federal grants already allocated for rape kit testing to actually be used for that purpose instead of being spent on conferences or processing DNA for other crimes. The money would also be spent for a reporting system and annual audits of untested kits. Even Tea Party member Rep. Allen West (R-FL) supported SAFER.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chair of the House judiciary committee, blocked it (he said) because the act would require law enforcement to report specifics of each backlogged case to the Department of Justice. The Senate tried to appease Smith when it unanimously passed a version of the bill that would require only aggregate reporting.  Trying to look like good guys, the House passed an amended SAFER Act on the last day that it was in session, meaning that there was no time to reconcile the Senate and the House bills. One House amendment would have given grant money to law enforcement agencies as well as forensic labs.

Without these amendments, the bill would have passed, the president would have signed it, and it would have become law. Thanks to the GOP amendments, the untested kits will continue to sit in the labs.

Let’s hope that the courts in Steubenville  and Pennsylvania will be more successful in giving justice to rape and sexual assault victims.

June 22, 2012

Celebrate Title IX

Forty years ago tomorrow, Title IV tried to stop gender discrimination in public education when President Richard Nixon signed the bill. It’s had a rocky road throughout the years while some people try to get rid of it and others just try to circumvent it.

Cornell counts men who practice with the women’s fencers as female athletes under Title IX.  Texas A&M and Duke do the same thing, except in reverse, on the women’s basketball teams. At the University of South Florida, more than half of the 71 women on the cross-country roster didn’t know they were on the team. At Marshall University, the women’s tennis coach signed up three freshmen who didn’t have to practice or travel with the athletes.  Two years ago, a federal judge ruled that Quinnipac University violated Title IX because it required women cross-country runners to also join the indoor and outdoor track teams so that each could be counted three times, a common practice at other universities.

Perhaps the biggest reason for sports gender bias in our schools during the 21st century is football. In the 2010-11 school year, roughly 1.1 million high school boys took part in football, while only 1,395 girls did. But high school football has the booster clubs, the money, and the facilities. In many places, it’s a religion. And the leaders are well-paid. Two years ago, the head football coach’s six-year contract at the University of Oregon was over $20 million.

Yet Title IX has made amazing changes in women’s sports. Teri Mariani, coach and athletic administer at Portland (OR) State University 40 years ago: “There was only one entrance to the training room, and it was through the men’s locker room. As a female athlete, if you needed to get treatment, you would call the trainer to meet you in the lobby, and he would put a paper bag over your head and lead you through the men’s locker room.”

Even after Title IX became law, women had to fight for their rights. In 1976, Ginny Gilder and her rowing teammates at Yale University frequently got sick after practice. Unlike the men rowers, women had no shower facilities so, cold and wet, they got on the bus. Gilder and her teammates staged a protest in a school administrator’s office. “We all turned around, took off our clothes and stood there naked, with ‘Title IX’ on our backs,” Gilder remembers. Team Captain Chris Ernst read a statement that said, “These are the bodies Yale is exploiting. On a day like today, the ice freezes on this skin.”

Nobody knew the impact that Title IX would have on sports because the law doesn’t mention this. The full text of the law are these 37 words:

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

Despite the belief 40 years ago the civil rights laws had already done away with discrimination in education, they didn’t. The 1963 Equal Pay Act covers women and men but exempts education. Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on race, origin, color and religion, but not sex. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act exempts educational activities at schools. And the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution does not apply to women.

Before Title IX, women needed much higher grades than men to get into a college, and graduate schools set a limit on the number of women admitted. Although no man was denied admission to state universities in Virginia before Title IX, about 21,000 women were not allowed to attend these schools. Cornell’s veterinary school admitted just two women a year; now 70-80% of its vet students are women. Before Title IX, women applying for faculty jobs routinely heard, “Your qualifications are excellent but we already have a woman in this department.” Harvard University’s graduate school of humanities and sciences didn’t hire a female faculty member after 1924 until Title IV went into effect.

I remember when girls in the school where I taught started taking auto and wood shop after the administration had to follow Title IX guidelines. Today that sounds pretty normal, but it was a traumatic change for the teachers in our large, inner-city high school. Pregnant women and parents in high school are no longer forced to attend “special schools” when they want to stay in the regular high schools. I also remember the opposition to allowing a pregnant girl, married to a soldier in Vietnam, to attend the school where I taught.

Gradually during the last 40 years, more and more girls also started taking advanced classes, including calculus and physics. Classes in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) showed increasing female enrollment.

Title IX brought an explosion of women in higher education so great that some people complain that more women than men attend college. In 1972, women earned fewer than 100,000 degrees in science and engineering; by 2008, women had about 250,000 degrees in these fields. In 1972, women received 7 percent of law degrees and 9 percent of medical degrees. In 2011, those had risen to 47 and 48 percent, respectively. Women earn four times as many doctorates as in 1972.

Title IX also plays an increasing part in trying to control the violence of bullying. Sexual harassment and assault are considered forms of gender discrimination, and Title IX requires schools to take corrective action to stop this harassment and prevent its recurrence once they know about it.

People have Reps. Patsy Mink (D-HI) and Edith Green (D-OR) and Sen. Birch Bayh (D-IN) for these rights. Mink was the first woman of color to be elected to Congress; she died in 2002. Green was the second Congresswoman elected from Oregon; she died in 1987. Bayh is still practicing law in Washington, D.C.

Bernice Sandler, the first to file lawsuits after failing to be considered for any of several jobs at the University of Maryland and being told in 1969 she came on too strong for a woman, is known as the “Godmother of Title IX” for her activism leading up to this vital equal rights law. One of her stories shows the gender inequity in education.

“When I went to elementary school, I wanted to run the projector,” said Sandler, who grew up in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. “It was very new. It was the height of audio-visual equipment at the time. They wouldn’t let the girls do it. If you asked why, you were told boys were good at that and girls weren’t. I wanted to be a crossing guard, and again they didn’t let girls do it.”

In the 1960s, I was told that I could not have a teaching job because I couldn’t coach football. When I interviewed for another job, I was told that I would have to put off my “family plans” (aka getting pregnant) if I took the job. I thank the people who worked so hard for gender equity in education so that all people today can have some educational equal rights while we work to erase more of the existing inequities.

We can all be grateful to Patsy Mink and Edith Green and Bernice Sandler and Birch Bayh and the others who think that all people should have equal rights.

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