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Some reflections on the media's coverage of the Quinnipiac decision

posted by Title IX Blog
Tuesday, August 10, 2010 at 8:01pm EDT

An interdisciplinary resource for news, legal developments, commentary, and scholarship about Title IX, the federal statute prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded schools.

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I've been reluctant to post links to the media coverage and commentary regarding the Quinnipiac ruling. This is because most of it that I've read sounds as if the author didn't even read the judge's opinion, but rather, used a generalized version of its conclusion as a starting point for his or her own view about whether cheerleading is a sport in some larger sense. Common themes included, "This judge must just think cheerleading is still about pom poms and good looks -- doesn't he know that it's different now?" "Let him try a partner stunt and then tell me it's not a sport!" "Doesn't this judge know how physically demanding cheerleading is?" "But there are injuries! Cheerleaders work hard! It must be a sport!"

Of course, anyone who read the opinion knows that physical athleticism, sports injuries, and hard work were not issues that were in dispute in this case. The judge didn't overlook those factor, he agreed that cheer athletes work hard at physically demanding, dangerous stunts. Additionally, however, the judge appropriately went on to evaluate the quality of the competitive cheer athletes' experience in comparison to that of other athletes' at QU, and finding them non-comparable for Title IX purposes. No other varsity team had to play against club and high school teams as their primary competition. No other varsity team lacked a championship that evaluated athletes on different criteria from what they had been using all season. The judge was not answering the "bargument" question "is cheerleading a sport?" He was evaluating one program, and determining its lack of similarity to other sports that that institution includes in its Title IX equation. It's not as sexy when you say it that way, so no wonder the media turned it into something else.

But this morning two articles about the decision came across my screen that I thought were worth sharing. First, here is an article titled "Victory In Defeat" from the Ohio State All-Girls Cheerleading website. This commentary is proof that some from the cheerleading community read the decision for what is was: not a dis on contemporary cheer, but a "blueprint ... that identifies the shortcomings of the current collegiate model and nearly walks the NCSTA [National Competitive Stunts and Tumbling Association, the governing body of competitive cheer] by hand towards the necessary policy implementations and other solutions needed to bring the sport into compliance with T9."

Second, Nancy Hogshead-Makar of the Women's Sports Foundation published this op-ed on ESPN.com, which takes issue with another media trend of using the Quinnipiac decision to denigrate Title IX and the role of courts in enforcing it. Responding particularly to Gregg Easterbrook's column on the same publication (in which he, among other things, cried that "playing volleyball is not a civil right," Hogshead-Makar responded by putting the right to equal athletic opportunity in schools into proper context:

[T]he results of a large body of research continues to confirm with certainty that a sports experience leads to higher educational attainment and success in the workplace, life-time lower rates of obesity, breast cancer, osteoporosis, heart disease and depression. (See the Women's Sports Foundation's report, Her Life Depends On It II). Sports for both boys and girls are an investment in our collective future that we're all paying for with tax dollars, as student loans are the lifeblood of most schools. Title IX need not justify itself. Its results over the past 30 years, allowing a new generation of women to develop and showcase their abilities through education, should calm the critics. Instead of these repeated attempts at fault-finding with a 38-year-old law, let's work together to fulfill the promise of Title IX for both men and women, and increase the number of sports opportunities for all of our youth.

Glad there was some media commentary about the Quinnipiac ruling worth sharing on the Title IX Blog this morning.

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