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June 20, 2012

Law banning sex bias struck a national sports nerve

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Bayh still remembers the visit he got in his Washington, D.C., office from two titans of college sports: University of Alabama football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant and University of Notre Dame Athletic Director Edward "Moose" Krause.

"They said, 'You better get off this Title IX thing. It's going to destroy our football programs.'"

Bayh didn't buy it. Nor did Ford, a former University of Michigan football player who got a similar message from the athletic director at his alma mater.

Title IX backers also had to rebuff influential Texas Senator John Tower, who wanted to amend Title IX to exempt football and men's basketball – the revenue gold at most big schools.

"It was a knock-down, drag-out fight," Bayh said. "But I used to box when I was a kid, and I grew up wrestling hogs on the family farm. I wasn't going to back down from a fight like that."

'Confidence to face adversity'

Tower's amendment was defeated, but many more fights ensued, in and out of Congress. The guidelines set out to enforce the law were exhaustive in what they covered, but plenty of educational institutions had to be poked, prodded, sued or embarrassed into compliance.

On a March day in 1976, the women's rowing team at Yale University made headlines when they stripped naked in the office of the women's athletic director. Denied access to the warm showers of the Yale boathouse - reserved only for the men's team - they were fed up having to wait a half-hour or more on the team bus after drenching workouts in the freezing cold.

On their chests and backs, written in bold marker, was: "Title IX." The team captain who led the protest was 19-year-old Chris Ernst, who would go on to become an Olympian.

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