Last week on my radio show I had a chance to have a conversation about Title IX with an outspoken opponent in Olympian and broadcaster Kevin Barnett and an outspoken proponent in AVCA Executive Director Kathy DeBoer. What I learned from that conversation surprised me a little. The bottom line is that especially when it comes to the sport of volleyball, even those of us on opposite sides of the issue can find common ground.
You can listen to the radio interviews we did with Kevin Barnett and with Kathy DeBoer to hear where the conversation led us. We need to have more real conversations about this legislation without the anger that can often derail any progress we might make. It is clear that folks on both sides of the issue are extremely passionate. But if we look to where we agree, we have a starting point to begin to talk about where we disagree. Based on the conversation we had last week, here are a few of my takeaways.
1. It is not Us vs. Them
Women athletes do not want to see men lose scholarship opportunities in the smaller sports. What’s happening to small men’s sports looks a lot like what happened to women before Title IX. We have great empathy for what men’s volleyball is going through and we want that not to be the case. I don’t believe men’s volleyball proponents want to see opportunities taken away from women’s volleyball either. We have to remember that we are on the same side here. We want the sport of volleyball to find more diehard fans and flourish for both men and women.
2. The lack of men’s volleyball scholarships hurts the men’s game
We can all agree that if men’s volleyball had more scholarships, that would be an incentive for more boys to play at the junior level and would contribute to growth of the sport. Kathy DeBoer mentioned that when you look at the number of boys playing a sport and compare it to the number of scholarships available at the college level, men’s volleyball is the second most difficult sport for boys to earn a scholarship based on that ratio. Men’s basketball is the most difficult. We agree that we need to change that.
3. Men and Women are different
I don’t think anyone is arguing that men and women are exactly the same. There are inherent differences in the way we think about things, the way we approach things and the reasons we do things. It may be true that women and men play sports for different reasons and that may affect how our participation in sports informs our lives after college. That doesn’t make athletics any less important for women than it does for men. You can find large numbers of both women and men who love sports. You can find large numbers of both men and women who do not love sports. But we need to get away from the idea that a woman who wants to play sports or be competitive is automatically “like a boy” and just let the love of sports be genderless. Some women and some men love playing sports. Period.