Female Athletes of Color
Thirty-six years after Title IX of the Education Amendment became a law requiring equal participation for men and women in collegiate sports, colleges and universities are challenged with assuring the participation of minority female athletes.
A report released by the Women’s Sports Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded by tennis star Billie Jean King, indicates that female athletes of color are being segregated by virtue of their overwhelming participation in three sports: basketball, indoor track and field, and outdoor track and field.
The report, “Who Is Playing College Sports: Money, Race and Gender,” was authored by John Cheslock, Ph.D., of the University of Arizona’s Center for the Study of Higher Education.
“You have to go back and see that the sports where women of color are represented now are the sports that were popular when Title IX was passed,” says Marjorie A. Snyder, Ph.D., chief program and planning officer at the Women’s Sports Foundation. “But once all the colleges, universities and high schools began adding new sports, it was soccer, lacrosse and rowing — sports with very low minority representation. Change will come when recruiters, institutions and schools introduce [women of color] to a variety of sports early in their lives.”
Critics of Title IX have long argued that growth in women sports will come at the expense of opportunities for male athletes. According to the report, however, both women’s and men’s participation levels have increased over the past 25 years. The growth in women’s sports initially favored athletics with the highest level of racial and ethnic diversity, but that growth is shifting to sports traditionally less diverse.
The report attributes the shift to developments at National Collegiate Athletic Association schools that already sponsor most of the sports with high participation by female athletes of color. Of the 10 sports with the largest percentages of athletes of color, five (basketball, volleyball, cross country, softball and tennis) are offered by more than 83 percent of NCAA institutions. Two other sports (indoor and outdoor track and field) are sponsored by 59 – 68 percent of NCAA schools.
“By the time the students get to college, it is very unlikely that they will change their sport or take on a new one,” Snyder added. “But recruiters can and should discuss opportunities in sports like rowing that are out there for women of color, like G-Row Boston or Ice Hockey in Harlem.”
G-Row Boston was founded in 1998 by gold medalist Holly Metcalf to diversify rowing in Boston and its surrounding areas. The program reaches more than 200 girls a year and provides educational support and training. Ice Hockey in Harlem, which started in 1987, offers the same instructive and guidance programs for minority boys in New York City who are interested in the sport.
Other key findings in the report show a correlation between students from wealthy families and the sports they choose to play. “As institutions of higher education increasingly view students as a major source of revenue, those sports that contain students from wealthier families will become increasingly attractive,” the report states.
The report’s author concedes that actual figures on which to base this connection are not available, but he notes that by studying data from the Educational Longitudinal Study of 2002, a national sample of tenth graders, projections can be made as to which sports athletes will choose in college.
The ELS findings show that for both women’s and men’s sports, lacrosse is the clear choice for children of parents with high-education and high-income levels. The findings also show that family incomes are high at schools that offer women’s field hockey, men’s and women’s gymnastics and women’s or men’s ice hockey.
“The key is to tackle this issue at the grassroots level, to have more urban centers offering a variety of sports, public school systems offering them as well, so that the students can see that there are many sports that will open professional and
educational doors for them,” Snyder says.