Fairness in sports focuses on gender, not race. So the gaps continue.

In 1998, Tracy Green and her Florida teammates posed with the NCAA Women’s Tennis Championship trophy after defeating Duke in five of six matches. Green, who received a full scholarship to Florida, smiled proudly, kindly.

“I knew I was a beneficiary of Title IX because of the history,” Green, 43, said in an interview, acknowledging the opportunities the federal law has created for women and girls in sports since it was enacted in 1972.

But Greene also knew that she—a black woman on a team full of white women—represented a minority of athletes.

“It hasn’t changed that much,” said Green, now the women’s tennis coach at Harvard. He added: “You won’t find more than one black player on a tennis team.”

Despite the progress made by Title IX, many who study gender equality in sports argue that it has not benefited women of all races. White women, they point out, are the main beneficiaries of the law because the statute’s framework for gender equality — without the intersection of gender with race and income — ignores important issues that many black female athletes, coaches and administrators face.

“It’s kind of good news, bad news when you think about Title IX,” said Ketra Armstrong, professor of sport management and director of diversity, equity and inclusion at Michigan. She added: “We talk about gender equality, but if you look at the numbers, we see white women breaking barriers to these leadership roles far more than black women, and that’s because we’re more comfortable talking about gender.

Some sports experts believe that Title IX will not solve racial disparities in athletics.

“Title IX is strictly a gender filter. “It’s hard to ask Title IX to close the gap along the lines of race, family income or any other category,” said Tom Farray, director of the Aspen Institute, which conducts research on youth and school sports in the United States. He added: “The question is whether we need additional policies to address these gaps, and I would say yes.”

Others, like Armstrong, argue that issues of race and gender are intertwined and that Title IX conversations about gender are incomplete without race because “often the essence of their race defines them.” She said she feels like people see her blackness first, not her gender, when she walks into a room.

“She advanced the opportunities of black girls and women, and that should not be diminished,” she said. “But let’s not make the mistake of thinking we have come, because we haven’t. There are still unfulfilled promises of Title IX.”

According to the NCAA’s demographic database, white women made up the largest percentage of female athletes in all three divisions at 68 percent for the 2020-21 school year. Black women were 11 percent, and most were concentrated in two sports: basketball, where they represented 30 percent of female athletes, and indoor and outdoor track and field (20 percent). Black women were barely represented in other sports — 5 percent or less in softball, tennis, soccer, golf and swimming.

“It’s harder to break into these sports because of these stereotypes of what sports black girls play,” said Amira Rose Davis, an assistant professor at Penn State who focuses on black women in sports.

Divisions in college athletics follow similar trends in youth sports.

A March study by the National Women’s Law Center found a wide divide in athletic opportunities between high schools that were overwhelmingly white, with a student body at least 90 percent white, or overwhelmingly nonwhite, at least 90 percent nonwhite. The study found that white schools had twice as many athletic opportunities as heavily non-white schools. And girls from non-white schools had far fewer spots on teams than girls from white schools, the study found.

The study found that some of the gaps were “strong indicators of Title IX ineligibility” and that sports like volleyball and football with fewer non-white athletes were more likely to play in college.

In college sports, track and field and basketball were more accessible and common for black girls.

Carolyn Peck, who coached college and professional women’s basketball from 1993 to 2018, recalled watching women’s basketball coach C. Vivian Stringer in the late 1980s. Stringer, a black woman, showed Peck what was possible.

“All eyes were on him from the black community because he was pretty much the only one coaching on the national stage,” he said.

Hailing from a predominantly white community in Jefferson City, Tenn., Peck had access to a variety of sports when he was young — including basketball and swimming. He chose basketball partly because he had talent and was one of the tallest kids in his school, but also because it was the only sport he could relate to.

Peck played at Vanderbilt on a full scholarship and earned her first coaching job as an assistant at Pat Summitt, the influential Tennessee women’s basketball coach who won eight NCAA championships. As Purdue’s head coach in 1998, Peck became the first African-American woman to win a national title.

“If it wasn’t for Title IX, I might not have had, not only the opportunity to play sports,” Peck said, “but also the opportunity to go to college with a free education so I could learn a trade. Coaching”.

Access and cost remain huge barriers to entry for girls of color. A boom in girls’ high school participation rates — 3.4 million in 2019 from 1.85 million in 1978-79 — has greatly helped girls living in school districts with the resources to offer more sports teams and opportunities. But girls of color, even those from middle-class or wealthier families, often grow up in school districts with fewer opportunities.

Maisha Kelly, 44, Drexel’s athletic director and one of the few black women to hold the university’s top athletic job, said that in her elementary and middle schools in Philadelphia, sports were just basketball and industry.

“Access to sports and the types of sports that are offered were not offered in areas that were more racially diverse,” Kelly said. He added: “If I wanted to do another sport, it would require the financial means, the physical access to get me into an organization where I could participate.”

Kelly said she was fortunate to be introduced to swimming by the Philadelphia Parks Department, but the lack of access to some sports for many young girls has meant that “race is disproportionately represented in certain sports.”

“It’s either not diverse because of socioeconomics, or it’s not diverse because of where the programming is,” Kelly added.

Kelly added that he didn’t think much about Title IX before he started working in sports (he was once the Title IX coordinator at Bucknell).

This is common. In a national survey of 1,000 people of color conducted by decision intelligence company Morning Consult on behalf of The New York Times, more than half of respondents said they were completely unfamiliar with the law. Of the 133 women of color who responded that they played a middle school, high school, or college sport, 41 said they felt they would benefit from Title IX.

Armstrong, who played basketball at Itawamba Community College in Mississippi and then at the University of Southwestern Louisiana, said she believes black women today have more opportunities in an era of increased empowerment and representation. Black women have dominant figures to admire in many sports, including Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka in tennis, as well as Simone Biles, the world’s most decorated gymnast.

“When I was growing up, you didn’t see that,” he said. “And we often say you can’t be what you can’t see.”

Most of the work still needs to be done at the coaching and administrative levels, Armstrong said. In 2021, fewer than 400 black women coached women’s college athletic teams, compared to 3,700 white women and more than 5,000 white men (and very few women coached men’s teams).

The disparity was even more stark at the administrative level, and the trends persisted even in sports with the largest number of black athletes.

“The struggle to be the head coach of a black women’s women’s basketball team has been fierce,” said Davis, who added that the lack of black women at the administrative level is linked to racist stereotypes that they are not strategic thinkers. “They’re often the most qualified because they’ve played and been an assistant coach for a long time, and they’re often the first to get fired.”

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