Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

Some Women Athletes Follow a Sordid Path

Commentator Frank Deford says that some women's college athletic teams are engaged in the same behavior that's given men's teams a bad name.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

In an ideal world, women's athletic programs would achieve parity with their male counterparts.

Commentator Frank Deford believes there are some aspects of sports best left unequaled.

FRANK DEFORD reporting:

With apologies to Annie Oakley of musical fame, college female athletes seem to be singing a refrain that goes, anything you can do, I can do just as bad.

Yes, the irony of Title 9, the hallmark law that brought gender equality to intercollegiate sports, is that it shows that sometimes you achieve equality by stepping down.

The decline of women into the depths of the male athletic syndrome probably started in the 1980s, when the recruitment of female athletes began in earnest. By the start of this century, the monumental study of college sports by William Bowen and James Shulman entitled, The Game of Life, documented the way women athletes had begun to mimic their fellow male jocks in all the wrong ways.

Their grades had declined significantly; more and more were lodged near the bottom third of their classes. Even those who came to college with modest grades were performing worse than could be expected. Fewer of them were going on to graduate school or participating in other activities. Generally, like so many male athletes, the females were concentrating more and more on their sport, to the exclusion of campus life. They had hopelessly succumbed, as Bowen and Shulman described it, to the athletic culture.

The most recent revelations have been even more dispiriting. They come from a website that goes by the name of badjocks.com. It was begun in 2001 by a disillusioned fan in Michigan named Bob Reno. He was immediately amazed at the sheer huge number of athletes acting badly. But more recently, he's been shocked that women in sports are, as he puts it, holding their own, as malefactors in the athletic realm.

Mr. Reno has even catalogued a considerable number of cases where female coaches are seducing their students. He calls it, the desperate housewives effect.

More recently, badjocks.com has displayed scores of ugly photographs of female teens hazing their newcomers. I am presenting the Tonya Harding Memorial Award to Catholic University of Washington's lacrosse team, which had a male stripper in a thong pose intimately with some of the younger players. But Catholic is hardly alone.

Other women's teams' initiations feature players being blindfolded and beer guzzling, with some players apparently passed out. In some instances, players had drawn pictures of male genitalia on their bodies or their clothing, or written crude sexual messages on themselves.

Dr. Susan Lipkins, an authority on hazing, told me that with women team initiations, the degree and intensity of the sexuality has increased. The complete lack of respect for one's body is what is so shocking. There is a dehumanizing aspect, which is disturbing.

Oh, my. We had hoped when women started coming into sports in large numbers after the passage of Title 9 that they would improve the institution, investing it with the finer feminine values. Well, the results, so far, seem to indicate that instead, sports has won, and womanhood has lost.

MONTAGNE: The comments of Frank Deford. The Old Ball Game, his latest book, is out in paperback. Frank joins us each Wednesday from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford