Sorry if this has already been posted, but I thought that it was relevant to some discussions that we have had on here in the past:
Posted: Thursday January 23, 2003 2:43 PM
If you are a woman, there are only three ways to get the sports world to notice you:
1. Strip down to your panties and bra and wrestle over beer.
2. Play crappy tennis but look hot pulling the second ball out of your briefs.
3. Tweak Hootie's nose.
Break records? Win at unthinkable rates? Push the envelope of female athletic achievement? Forget it, sweetheart! How 'bout a boob job?
Exhibit A: The Connecticut women's basketball team wins its 55th straight game last Saturday, breaking the alltime women's record. But unless you happened to get the feed from the Connecticut Public Television network, you couldn't see the game live. ESPN will show men fishing heroically, and Fox will show a man trying to outrun a giraffe, but televise one of the landmark events in women's hoops history? Sorry, baby, you haven't come a long way.
Exhibit B: Tennessee's women's basketball genius Pat Summitt quietly wins her 800th game on Tuesday of last week, becoming the first woman and only the fourth Division I coach to do it. Nationally, it made all the splash of a marshmallow landing in a bog. When North Carolina's Dean Smith hit 800 in 1994, there was so much coverage, you'd have thought he'd just returned from Mars.
"I'm surprised she hasn't gotten more attention for it," says no less than John Wooden, the former UCLA coach who is one of Summitt's biggest fans. "She's only 50. She could win many, many more games." In fact if she coaches as long as Smith did -- until she's 66 -- and keeps winning at her current pace, she'd blow by Smith like he was roadkill and wind up with more than 1,200 wins. Hey, maybe then she'd get on Live with Regis and Kelly!
Exhibit C: At the Australian Open, Serena Williams tries to win her fourth consecutive major -- the Serena Slam, if you will -- and America barely looks up from Joe Millionaire. Of course when Tiger Woods completed his Tiger Slam at the Masters in 2001, a national holiday was nearly declared.
You remember Tiger, right? Used to be Most Dominating Golfer in the World? Not anymore. That title belongs to Exhibit D: Annika Sorenstam, who is coming off one of the most brain-bending seasons since Byron Nelson in 1945. The Ice Queen of Sweden won more than half her starts last year, 13 victories in 25 tournaments around the world. Tiger in 2002? He won six of 22 starts.
You mean you didn't see her on the cover of TIME? Or this magazine? Or Golf Digest? Or Golf? Or on the Today show? Or Letterman or Leno? No? Maybe that's because it never happened. "If Tiger had a year like Annika," says LPGA player Jill McGill, "they'd reschedule sunsets for him."
Sorenstam's agent, Mark Steinberg, also happens to represent Tiger. "She and I talk about it all the time," Steinberg says. "She'd love to have more opportunities, but what can you do?" Last year Tiger did whip Sorenstam in one department. He earned more than $60 million in endorsements to her $2.5 million. Hey, Annika, ever tried a short tennis skirt?
And forget anybody having heard of Exhibit E: Paula Radcliffe. All she did in October was run a marathon in 2 hours, 17 minutes, not only shattering the women's world record but also narrowing to 12 minutes the gap between the men's and women's best times. That means, in the past 40 years, women have improved their record by more than an hour and men by nine minutes. (And to think they used to warn women not to run because their uteruses might fall out.)
All of this crinkles the nose of Exhibit F: Gail Goestenkors, coach of the No. 1 women's basketball team in the land, Duke, which also happened to have the No. 1-ranked men's team last week. The Duke men have sold out every home game since 1990. The Duke women have never sold out.
It doesn't bother the unsquashable Coach G. "We play for ourselves," she says, "for our own excellence." In fact the only opponent who really scares her is George W. Bush. "I'm afraid he's going to change Title IX," she says of the law that requires equal opportunity for men and women to participate in sports at schools that receive federal funding. "He's talking about making [compliance] voluntary. That would be a travesty."
She would know. In seventh grade her school did not have a girls' track team, so she had to run on the boys' squad. The guys hated her for it, and when she'd get into the starting blocks, they would comment on her butt. Or the way she looked in her shorts. "We can't lose Title IX," she says, "because I know what girls would have to go back to."
True, Title IX has caused brutal cuts in men's sports over the past 30 years. But women suffered for 100 years without it. As Wooden says, "The problem with Title IX is that it started way too late. I wouldn't want anything to happen to that program."
A piece of advice, Mr. President: Don't touch Title IX, because the only thing women resent more than being ignored is being denied.
Issue date: January 27, 2003
Sports Illustrated senior