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

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Women like Shannon Leinert were able to compete in college because of the gender equality law known at Title IX. And as commentator Frank Deford points out, that law changed college athletics for women and for men. And he considers what it will mean going forward.

FRANK DEFORD: Saturday is the 40th anniversary of Title IX, which although almost nobody anticipated it then, resulted in women gaining the right to participate in sports commensurate with their numbers attending college. Title IX not only had a huge effect on women's participation in sports, but also culturally it influenced the way both men and women view the idea of women in athletics. It's mattered greatly in our American society.

But now what of the future effects of Title IX? First of all, I see a potential of a great grand collision between the old law and a recent major medical revelation. As the attendance of women in college has increased, so-called minor men's sports, like wrestling and tennis, even baseball, have had to be dropped to keep in compliance with the law.

But now, as the number of women in college approaches 60 percent, while concurrently evidence mounts that football damages boys' brains, king football may be the sport in jeopardy - especially as it's so expensive and has no female analogue. Already in one prominent school district, it's been proposed that football should be eliminated, that schools have no business promoting a gladiator sport.

How ironic it would be that women's academic predominance would play a part in America's most popular sport being cut down at its roots.

But ah, on the other hand, even as women's participation in sport has soared, there's been no corresponding interest in women watching other women play sports. The only pro female team sport of any sustaining viability is the WNBA, which is allowed to serve at the pleasure of its NBA benefactor in basketball off-season.

The most visible women's sport is tennis, on those few weeks in major tournaments when the females gain a share of the spotlight alongside the more popular men.

To be sure, yes, there are many women sports fans. But their numbers and passion are miniscule compared to the mass of male spectators. But so what? Is it really necessary to have it, as Lerner and Loewe wrote in "My Fair Lady," for the misogynistic Henry Higgins...

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "MY FAIR LADY")

REX HARRISON: (as Henry Higgins) Why can't a woman be more like a man? Men are so honest, so thoroughly square, eternally noble, historically fair, who when you win will always give your back a pat. Why can't a woman be like that?

DEFORD: Why can't a woman be more like a man? Myself, I think we've already got a quota enough of men being like men. But still, the question for the next 40 years of Title IX will be: Why can't a woman be more like a fan?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: Commentator Frank Deford joins us each Wednesday. His most recent book is a memoir, "Over Time: My Life as a Sportswriter."

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

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

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