Sunday, August 19, 2012

Olympics Post Game: The Triumph of Title IX, The Triumph of Community

This year, the U.S. Olympic Team came in first in the medal count, with 104 total medals and 46 golds. The big story, though, is the U.S. Women, who accounted for 58 of those medals and 29 of the golds. If the U.S. Women's Team had been their own country, they would have been fifth in the medal count. What's more, these women are not being shy at all about the role Title IX played in their success. Soccer star Abby Wombach says that Title IX is the reason she has a national championship ring. Fencer Mariel Zagunis, who carried the flag for the U.S. team, credited her increased opportunities, and even Scott Blackmun, the executive director of the U.S. Olympic Team, said it gives the U.S. team a leg-up on the competition because more female athletes start training earlier.

So, what we have here is a situation that indicates that Title IX isn't just good for female athletes, although it is; it isn't just good for ALL athletes, although it is; it isn't just good for sports fans because it gives us more sports to watch, although it does; it's objectively making U.S. sports more competitive on a global scale.

That's worth celebrating.

But what's really interesting here is that so many female athletes are so quick to credit Title IX. It's not just in the Olympics; Theresa Edwards wrote lovingly of the law, along with Brandi Chastain and Jennie Finch. But it's still striking. I think athletes, as much as anyone and more than most, have the privilege of considering their accomplishments to be solely personal triumphs. They're the ones on the floor after all, they're the ones who put all the hours in the gym, they're the ones everyone's coming to see (That's why this blog takes the players' side so often in labor disputes). And yet, the fact remains, every athlete has had considerable help to get where they are; an incredible teammate or a good coach or an understanding front office; good schools or gyms or trainers; and yes, Title IX and state funding. That athletes* acknowledge this when people would hardly bat an eye if they didn't is pretty great. That people with inarguable individual talent recognize that we're all dependent on each other speaks very highly of them.

*- And it's by no means only the female athletes; Michael Phelps has spoken at length about how great his coach is. The female athletes are just the ones who were saying it this week, and it gives me a good springboard.

If you're noticing a parallel with current political debates here, well, good job, you caught me being un-subtle. But I really think there is something to the fact that when it comes to opportunities to compete, training, organized competitions to find and mold talent, and education, athletes know they didn't build that.

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