On this week’s 51%, we’re talking women in sports. Professor Amy Bass of Manhattanville College shares her thoughts on the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. We speak with two-time Olympian Tricia Mangan as she heads to the slopes, and Ithaca College Professor Ellen Staurowsky discusses the upcoming 50th anniversary of Title IX.
51% is a national production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio. It’s produced by Jesse King, our executive producer is Dr. Alan Chartock, and our theme is “Lolita” by the Albany-based artist Girl Blue.
You’re listening to 51%, a WAMC production dedicated to women’s issues and experiences. Thanks for tuning in, I’m Jesse King.
We’ve got a great lineup of interviews for you today. It’s all about women in sports, and where else would we start besides the Olympics? We wrapped today’s show just before competition launched for the Winter Games in Beijing. It’s the second Games to be impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, after the Tokyo Olympics last summer — but it comes with its own challenges to navigate.
Our first guest today is Dr. Amy Bass, a professor and author at Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York. She’s been a commentator for WAMC, but she won an Emmy for her work with NBC Olympic Sports on the London Olympics in 2012. Bass recently shared with me her thoughts about the latest edition of the Games.
“I think that apprehension is affecting teams right now. I think that one of the things that we learned in Tokyo is that these athletes are incredibly isolated because of COVID protocols. They’re not traveling with their families, they don’t have their cheering crowds there, which fans are an important stakeholder in sports,” says Bass. “So, I think some of the psychological tension that we saw around a star athlete like Simone Biles is something that I think we should be on the lookout for in Beijing, especially because we have some of those really intense pressure sports like figure skating where, if your head’s not in the right place, your sport suddenly becomes very dangerous.
Who should we be looking out for at these games?
I think Nathan Chen is our is our headliner, always. He didn’t do what he wanted to do in 2018 Pyeongchang, but I would also put the one and only Chloe Kim on that list. She took gold in Pyeongchang, took a break, I think she had a broken ankle. She tried college, and now she’s back and she looks pretty unbeatable. I hate saying that in a sport as sort of crazy as halfpipe, but Chloe Kim is definitely someone to watch. Makaela Shiffrin is someone to watch. Obviously, she got two medals in Pyeongchang, she took a third overall World Cup title a year later. She’s also had a lot of ups and downs: she lost her dad, she’s been really forthcoming about managing grief, and managing grief in terms of its physical and mental impact on being a world-class skier. But she’s awesome. You know, she’s 26 years old. Now she’s back for another Olympics, and I think that she’s something amazing to watch.
And the other thing that I would put up there is women’s hockey. And we can talk about hockey. You know, it’s just a great Olympic sport. Obviously, one of America’s greatest sports moments is men’s hockey in 1980, but the rivalry between the Canadian and American women, I think, is one of the great sports rivalries. I feel like they’re the Yankees and Red Sox of the Olympic Games, and I’m all in for women’s hockey.
Last time they met who won?
The US took gold and Canada got silver.
Well, aside from COVID, what are some new things coming to the games this year?
We’re seeing new percentages this year, this will be the most women ever to compete in Winter Olympic Games. Up to 45 percent of the athletes are going to be female. Winter Games tend to have fewer women than their summer counterparts, but that is changing. The hockey tournament is actually one of the reasons, there are more men’s teams who compete than women, so you’ve got, you know, 230 women’s hockey players and some 300 men.
We’re going to see some new sports launched, we’re going to see some newer sports. So things like team figure skating is actually something that I find fascinating to think about, men and women competing together for a team score for their nation. You know, those new twists on sports that we’re familiar with. And I think that we also have the United States in a position to think about sports that they didn’t used to be good at or that they didn’t have a legacy. You know, in Pyeongchang we saw Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall win Team USA its first ever gold medal in cross country skiing. I think the Nordic events are super exciting, and more people should watch them. Jessie Diggins is back, let’s see what she does. Kikkan has retired, but Diggins could become the first American to win more than one Olympic medal in cross country skiing, and that’s a cool thing to keep our eye on.
I think that we have an intense political atmosphere surrounding Beijing, we have a pretty widespread Western diplomatic boycott of these games. We have issues like Hong Kong and the Uyghurs and human rights in general front and center. We have China coming off of, you know, sort of a spectacular games in 2008, so what kind of presentation of the country, and of the city of Beijing, is going to come forward?
And then we have [even more] new sports. And I think that new sports are always something that can be a game changer, because you may not know what the next big thing is going to be. There will be notable absences – the U.S. women who were the revolutionaries who got women’s ski jump on the Olympic program, they didn’t qualify. So now we get to see, you know, what is what is Germany going to do with the absence of the Americans? So I think that you have to wait and see, and you have to go with stories that pop up that you weren’t expecting. There’s going to be some stories that we know, again, Nathan Chen, men’s figure skating, the return of someone like Shaun White – not as a favorite, but as someone who’s just sort of trying to say goodbye to the sport that they helped build. You know, there will be new stars that we haven’t even met yet.
That was Dr. Amy Bass, professor of sports media and chair of the division of social science and communication at Manhattanville College.
Our next guest actually spoke with me from Germany while awaiting her flight to Beijing. Tricia Mangan just competed at the Alpine Ski World Cup and is participating in her second straight Winter Games. In 2018, she took ninth in the alpine team event at Pyeongchang, and this time around she’s slated to compete in at least the women’s alpine combined. She’s just 24 years old, but she started skiing near her home in Buffalo, New York at the age of 2.
“I grew up skiing there with my five siblings and parents when I was pretty young, and started racing around 6. We skied at this little hill called HoliMont in Ellicottville New York. I just did a million sports when I was younger, but ultimately liked skiing the most, and have definitely skied on a lot bigger hills than HoliMont now,” says Mangan. “But I think that being from Buffalo is definitely a big part of my story, and it’s kind of shaped my road to the World Cup a lot. And now heading into my second Olympics, I leaned on my community a lot for support this year. So it feels really nice to be able to achieve this goal and to share that with all of them as well.”
When did you know that you wanted to pursue skiing professionally as an athlete?
People always asked me this question, and I don’t know. Never when I was younger was I like, “I’m going to be an Olympian,” or like, “I want to be in the U.S. Ski Team.” I didn’t even know what the U.S. Ski Team was, I really was just focused on trying to beat my twin brother and just get a little bit faster. There was never like, these big, huge goals. I think I’ve always been a little bit hard on myself. So maybe I was like, “I’m not good enough for that.” But I’ve always worked really hard, so I think that I just put in little steps. And then over the years, it’s like, “I did this. That’s cool.” And then it’s like, “Oh, I made it this far!” And then yeah, here I am today. This year I’m actually focused on the speed events, which are downhill and Super G. And then at the Olympics, there’s also the combined, which is one run of downhill, and one run of slalom,
What is Super G, for those who don’t know?
So for the speed events, downhill is like the straightest – not that many turns, you’re in your tuck a lot of the time. And then Super G is also the speed event, but there’s a couple more turns. So it’s not just like going straight down. It’s a little bit more technical.
What’s the processes of preparing for that? That must be some insane work.
Yeah. Preparing for the World Cup or the Olympics in particular?
I guess both!
Well, that’s good insight, because most people are like, “Oh, my gosh, it’s crazy to prepare for the Olympics.” But in reality, the World Cup, like our season regular, is probably actually a little bit harder, because there’s more girls there then there’ll be at the Olympics. So there’s been a lot of work that’s gotten into this year. There’s a lot of training, a lot of physical conditioning, a lot of time on snow, lots of travel. I’ve definitely this year tried to focus more on my consistency, because my top level speed is good, but in order to perform on the World Cup, you need to be fast all the time, for the whole run. So yeah, consistency has been a big thing for me.
What’s it like returning to the Olympics this year? Is it a little less nerve racking, maybe?
Yeah, it will definitely be very different. My aunt told me the other day, she was like, “People who get to the Olympics twice, or like the Super Bowl or something big like that, they always say that the first time is a blur, and they don’t remember anything. And then the second time, they’re able to enjoy more.” And I think that will probably be the case, because the first time it was so much like, “Oh my gosh,” like there’s so much pressure, and it’s really stressful. Or it was for me, last time. And then this time, I definitely know to kind of appreciate being there and take in everything and enjoy the moment a little bit more. And I think that you can still do that while working really hard, which maybe I didn’t know last time.
Are there ways in which you see your sport changing?
Oh, that’s a great question. I hope that it changes, change is always good. I think that there are changes with events, like there are more parallel events where people compete next to each other. And I think that is to attract more viewership and to make it a little bit more exciting, which is great, because the more popular the sport will be, the better for athletes, because more sponsorships and deals and everything. Yeah, I think that everyone’s always pushing the limits of sports, so it’s definitely progressing.
You mentioned that Buffalo shaped a big part of your story. Can you go into that a little bit more for me?
Coming from Buffalo, even when I was really young, I always knew that there were the states like Vermont and Colorado, California, where the racers trained so much more. I think that this definitely added to me not really thinking like I was ever going to be – or not really thinking that I was very good, and I just kept the focus on working hard. I definitely had an underdog mindset when I started to compete more nationally, and I think this really fueled me, because it kind of took away expectations. Because I was like, “Oh, I’m from New York, nobody thinks I’m gonna do well,” but like, I know how hard I’ve worked. So I definitely think that was a really big part of my success when I was younger. That underdog mindset has been a big part in my ski racing career so far.
Was there a first competition that you did, where you realized, “Oh, I’m really good?”
Yeah, yeah. So I went to U16 nationals. I had won, like, a couple Super Gs for the eastern region – but even then, I was like, “Oh it’s just this one run, who knows?” And then I went to U16 nationals, and I got absolutely crushed. And then I remember thinking like, “I want to come back the next year, and like, actually do well.” And I really ramped up the training that year. And then I went back the next year and did really well. I remember, I got fourth into GS. And after coming down the first round, I was kind of in shock. And then the next day, I kept doing well and ended up second, and then that’s when I qualified for like the junior national team. So that was definitely a very big turning point. I was like, “Wow, I didn’t know I was going to do that well.” So yeah, I think that was a big turning point in my career.
Lastly, for people who maybe want to get into skiing, or for younger people who are looking about how they can get into the sport, what is your advice for them?
I think that there are so many race programs, so I would just say don’t be discouraged if you’re starting even with a small ski resort race program. It’s so much fun. And most of all, the community that skiing has is super, super special, and really unique. So I think that is a great reason to join it. And hopefully they love it. It’s an awesome sport, so I would encourage anyone to try it out.
Of course, it’s not just the Olympics driving headlines this time of year: Ash Barty just became the first Australian woman to win the Australian Open since 1978, the Super Bowl is set, and college basketball championships are just around the corner. In case you missed it, February 2 was the Women’s Sports Foundation’s 36th annual National Girls & Women in Sports Day. To celebrate, hundreds of community programs, schools, and professional sports teams across the country are hosting events to get people active and recognize the achievements of women in sports. This year, the Foundation itself is hosting a virtual 5K throughout the month of February, as well as a 50-mile challenge stretching to the 50th anniversary of Title IX on June 23. Title IX, of course, is the federal civil rights law that — from the court, to the campus, to the classroom — prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school that receives funding from the federal government.
So how is Title IX holding up, 50 years on? To learn more, I spoke with Ithaca College professor and author Ellen Staurowsky, who has co-written a number of reports on Title IX, gender equity, and more for organizations like the Women’s Sports Foundation and the National College Players Association.
How does Title IX look, 50 years later?
In terms of women, 50 years is a terrific time. You come into your own, you gain more power, you look ahead to see how you can take the wisdom of the previous 50 years and really mobilize it to do good in the future. And I think, in a lot of ways, that this anniversary gives us an opportunity to think about that. At the same time, just looking at the state of gender equity in school sports and in college and university athletics, there are all kinds of signs that show that we are not fulfilling the gender equity mandate, and that there’s still a great deal of work to be done.
I was going to ask about that. Like how do you feel that Title IX is being enforced? What are some of the ways that you feel there’s a gap in equity in college sports?
I think we’re seeing it across the board and every in every area of athletics. Whether we’re looking at proportional opportunities available to female athletes relative to their enrollment – we’re seeing very large gaps in terms of how many opportunities female athletes could have. We’re seeing tremendous gaps that still remain. If we look over the span of 50 years, and we go back to the 25th anniversary, or we go back to 40th anniversary, the spending on recruiting has largely remained unchanged over that entire span of time. In terms of athletic scholarships, there’s an expectation that schools are going to offer athletic scholarship support that is proportional to the number of female athletes in an athletic program within 1 percent. There are many schools, in their EADA reports – the EADA report being that public document that people can go to see how spending occurs in athletic departments – and what we’re seeing in those documents is that there are many schools that are really quite off the mark from that 1 percent.
We do see that some schools are closer in terms of their gender equity patterns. If we look at non-football playing schools versus football-playing schools, junior colleges compared to NCAA institutions, for example, there are some sectors where we’re seeing something that looks closer to what it should look like. But there’s tremendous work that needs to be done.
How do we go about implementing some changes to make sure that these things are better monitored and enforced?
I think one of the number one things is to make sure that the enforcement mechanism that’s supposed to be in place in colleges and universities and in high schools, to make sure that mechanism is working. It was very interesting to me to find reports from the federal government that were showing that there were still schools, maybe just four years ago, that still were not designating Title IX coordinators at their schools. You know, this was a requirement that was expected in the 1970s. And to think that we still have some schools that have not even designated a Title IX coordinator – and then along with that, we have large percentages of employees who still don’t know who their Title IX coordinator is – that really is a sign that the commitment to enforcing Title IX on the ground, in schools, is just not happening the way that it should.
And even in places where Title IX coordinators are designated, there remains a large amount of either misinformation or lack of information about what Title IX requires, and what it doesn’t require. A wonderful former student of mine who’s in law school at Drexel, we did a study of Division I Title IX athletics coordinators – and just large portions of that sector, they’re not educating people about how to read an EADA, coaches and athletes are not receiving Title IX education. All of those things are things that add up, because you can’t hold an institution accountable to what they should be doing under Title IX, if you just have people closest to the action, closest to the athletic department, that don’t know what their rights are and what their obligations are.
Broadening the subject a little bit, how do you view the overall playing field for women in sports right now?
The expression, “It’s the best of times and the worst of times” probably applies. Because there’s absolutely no question, if you think about the opportunities that were available for girls and women in the early 1970s – we’ve just seen tremendous growth in all areas of athletics for girls and women. At the same time, we have so many places [that need improvement], and I think if we reflect back, just for a moment, in terms of the NCAA men’s and women’s tournament last year, and those very stark contrasts in terms of unfair treatment – and this is the nation’s premier women’s basketball tournament. For that kind of inequity to exist, and then also to have the NCAA external reports reveal that that the women’s basketball tournament was not the only tournament, but in fact, there was systemic gender inequities across the entire system – that’s really a wake up call for everybody.
And then along with that, though, not all people, and not all women, are served equally within the gains that are made. So if we look, for example, through a racial lens, African American women have been largely invisible within the overall scheme of full opportunities in sports. Like basketball and track and field, we’ve seen that kind of growth, but we have not seen that kind of growth across the board in terms of the large array of other sports that are available. And this is very much in keeping nationally with the fact that women of color, and African American women, have less access to sport opportunities overall. So that’s an area that we really, futuristically, need to be addressing.
We know that girls typically enter sports later and exit sooner than boys. What do you see as some of the obstacles for girls getting into sports? And how can we address them, particularly for girls of color?
We need to be looking at our financial models, and really adopting principles of equity and fairness. You know, it’s one thing to sort of have an idea of fairness. I think it’s something entirely different when you begin to make decisions and hold yourself accountable, to really see whether or not you’re actually doing that on the ledger. And that’s really where having principles of gender equity that are written down, and having specific goals about what you want to achieve in a three- and five-year period of time [helps].
I think there is a bit of a disconnection between general support – you know, Title IX has become sort of synonymous with gender equity, it also pulls on our general sense of fairness. So you know, the vast majority of people that you talk to would say that they are relatively supportive of what Title IX’s goals are. But what I found, and where I think the conversation needs to happen, is that female athletes in athletic departments – I think their experience is actually different than that broad narrative. I think they notice that they don’t get the same kinds of meals. They notice that their gear isn’t as good, or the way in which fundraising happens for their programs is different, and that it oftentimes puts more of a burden on them than some of their male colleagues. And certainly, I think one of the areas where we’re going to see much more increased scrutiny is in the area of marketing, in the area of television contracts, in the area of promotion, and athletic communications. That whole area of publicity is something that has been in the regulations from the 1970s forward, but I don’t think that it’s really gotten the kind of scrutiny that I would suspect that we’re going to be seeing in the years ahead. And the reason why that becomes so important is that, you know, just as a matter of media exposure – if you don’t see female teams regularly, you don’t know who to follow. And we’ve seen all kinds of evidence, from women’s gymnastics to women’s basketball, to women’s volleyball to women’s softball, and many, many other sports where, when audiences get exposed to those sports, there are audiences for them. But the mechanism to market those programs within colleges and universities has largely continued to be operating on a 20th Century model, rather than on a 21st Century model.
In terms of girls and women of color, you know, within communities, creating safe spaces for girls and women to access sports opportunities is incredibly important. Being able to preserve sport programs within high schools is very important. Trying to have them publicly funded rather than pay-for-play models is incredibly important. There are other kinds of things we could talk about, but those are some of the things that really need to be addressed.
Lastly, what are some of the benefits for women of playing sports?
We can never underestimate the power of joy. I think all of us who have sport as a passion, we can all relate to the fact that, at some level, we all got bitten by sport joy. So that would be number one. Number two, what we know from the research is a woman’s life is incredibly affected over the long term by her participation in sport. We know in terms of long-term health, we know in terms of cognitive functioning, we know in terms of social life, that being able to participate in sport can be incredibly important as a quality of life issue. So all of those things are things that we should take into account. You know, the nation has a stake in this, from the standpoint of the health of our girls and women.
Ellen Staurowsky is a professor of sports media at Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York and the author of books including: College Athletes for Hire: The Evolution and Legacy of the NCAA Amateur Myth and Women and Sport: A Continuing Journey from Liberation to Celebration. You can learn more about her work at the college’s website. To learn more about the Women’s Sports Foundation, find a National Girls & Women in Sports Day near you — or to register for the Foundation’s virtual 5K and 50-mile challenge — go to womenssportsfoundation.org.
That’s a wrap on this week’s 51%. 51% is a national production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio. It’s produced by me, Jesse King. Our executive producer is Dr. Alan Chartock, and our theme is “Lolita” by the Albany-based artist Girl Blue. A big thanks to Amy Bass, Tricia Mangan, and Ellen Staurowsky for participating in this week’s episode. You can also find us on Twitter and Instagram @51percentradio. Let us know how we’re doing, and if you have a story you’d like to share as well. Until next week, I’m Jesse King for 51%.