Benching the patriarchy: 50 years of Title IX and how 4 women fought for change Fifty years ago, Title IX banned discrimination based on sex in educational institutions. College sports had to change. This is the story of how four women fought to make that happen.

Benching the patriarchy: 50 years of Title IX and how 4 women fought for change

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Fifty years ago today, Congress approved the law known as Title IX, banning sex discrimination in education. This opened the world of competitive college sports to female athletes. But even with the law in place, the fight for equity in sports was fierce. Reporter Emily Harris brings us this story.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: On the wall of Jody Runge's home in Portland, Ore., I notice a framed newspaper clipping almost hidden in a corner. It's about closing an old basketball arena.

JODY RUNGE: I don't mind talking about it, but it's still a scab that gets picked off, I think.

HARRIS: Jody's story didn't start out as a wound. It began in the little town of Waukon, Iowa.

RUNGE: My dad was a teacher. He put a basketball hoop up in the driveway and said if we wanted to go to college, we'd better get out there because he wasn't going to be able to afford to pay for us to go.

HARRIS: It turns out that Jody was really good at basketball. Luckily, Iowa was one of the few states that had high school girls' teams. They played six on six, with rules that were designed to be less physical than boys.

RUNGE: I remember one game, I think I scored like 82, 83 points. To score that many points in a game is just ridiculous, kind of fun.

HARRIS: Ridiculous or fun, the fans loved it. They filled the high school gym. And they packed the stands at the state championships.


UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER #1: Des Moines, Iowa, March 10, 1979.

HARRIS: Jody was named an all-state player two years in a row. This and all her scoring got the attention of the coach at the University of Kentucky. And Jody won a scholarship. She was part of the early wave of women to benefit from Title IX this way.

VALERIE STILL: She looked like she was about 6'7" because she had tons of hair.

HARRIS: This was one of Jody's teammates at Kentucky, Valerie Still (ph).

STILL: She always exudes this confidence - shoulders back, chest out, chin up.

HARRIS: After college, Jody wanted to stay in the game, but for women, there were no options to play pro without leaving the U.S. So she decided to pursue coaching. She bounced around filling assistant coaching positions. Then one day, the University of Oregon called.

RUNGE: It was the head job, and I was just ready to be a head coach and do things my way.

HARRIS: In 1993, two decades after Title IX, Jody became the University of Oregon's first full-time female coach for women's basketball. She faced an immediate challenge, a team that had just tied for last place in the PAC 10. But she stopped their losing streak her first year on the job, and her PAC 10 colleagues voted her coach of the year.

RUNGE: Well, I thought it would be great for recruiting.

HARRIS: Recruiting is a huge part of your job.

RUNGE: Absolutely, yeah, probably the biggest part.

HARRIS: Why is it so important?

RUNGE: Well, because it's - you know, you can't win the race without the racehorse.

HARRIS: But Jody had a problem that made recruitment hard. She had a yearlong contract that had to be renewed every summer.

RUNGE: The other coaches were saying, hey, you don't want to go to Oregon. She's not going to be there if she doesn't have a multiyear contract.

HARRIS: Would people actually say to you - like, parents...

RUNGE: Are you going to be there for my daughter?

HARRIS: They would say that to you?

RUNGE: Absolutely.

HARRIS: Jody was mired in other battles, too, some for basic equity, like the locker room, where women had to cross a hallway between the showers and their lockers; a hallway that male athletes and the staff used all the time, too. Other challenges were cultural. Men's basketball was expected to bring in revenue.

RUNGE: Men's and women's basketball is apples and oranges. It's two different things because you don't make revenue.

HARRIS: Jody wanted a contract that not only lasted longer than one year, but also paid her better and included university commitments to promote women's basketball so her team could have a shot at becoming a moneymaking sport. It took a year and a second winning season, but she got a raise that almost doubled her base salary and promises to market the women's team. She was finally in a position to bring in top recruits, and she did. She took Oregon to the NCAA championships every year.


UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER #2: ...Led by Jody Runge will start...

HARRIS: At one playoff game, the camera shows Jody standing on the sidelines.


UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER #2: When she got there four years ago, they hadn't won in four years. She's done a remarkable job.

HARRIS: Fans filled the Oregon Arena. Parents brought their little girls to games. A group of wealthy women alumni became team and Jody boosters. But some players felt her style was too harsh and her criticism sometimes too public. Jody says it was her job to be straightforward with her players.

RUNGE: My assistants would tell me often that the kids don't even think you, like, go to the grocery store. They're not seeing that soft underbelly side of you.

HARRIS: That soft underbelly - it felt to her like the double bind that many women in male-dominated industries know. Jody delivered wins, but that wasn't enough. She was expected to show a gentle side, too.

BILL MOOS: Be tough. Chew their a**. They need that.

HARRIS: This is Bill Moos. He took over as Oregon's athletic director a couple years after Jody got there.

MOOS: But don't forget to tell them you love them. They came here to play for you.

HARRIS: Bill and Jody butted heads a lot. From Bill's perspective, Jody could be stubborn and disrespectful, while Jody felt she was pushing for the equity guaranteed to her and her team by Title IX.

PEG REES: We were excited and frightened.

HARRIS: Peg Rees headed the PE department at Oregon.

REES: We were excited to see what she could accomplish and what would come from her pushing the envelope because if she's successful, that could bode well for all of us.

HARRIS: Why did she have to do it alone?

REES: Because people were afraid for their jobs. Men have the ability to fail up in sport, and women don't have the ability to fail at all.

HARRIS: Jody's next contract negotiations with Bill left blood on the floor, as a local newspaper columnist described it, but she reached equity in base pay briefly with the men's coach. The tension with Bill didn't go away.

RUNGE: The tension between Bill and I, you know, was not helping me be - show that soft underbelly. You know, I was wound pretty tight.

HARRIS: One Sunday evening near the end of her eighth season at Oregon, Jody was on a live sports TV show. As she was busy talking up her team, Bill was secretly meeting with any of her players who wanted to share concerns about her. Just over half the team went to talk with Bill, and afterwards, Bill hired a law firm to investigate Jody's whole program. The lawyer's report said the players had asked that Jody be replaced, but by the time it was submitted, she'd made up her own mind. She had already resigned.

RUNGE: It just became really clear to me that I can't fix this. It's broken.

HARRIS: Jody took a year off, tried for some other coaching jobs, but didn't get one. She left the university, and she bought a bed and breakfast up in Portland. She never coached college basketball again.


UNIDENTIFIED EMCEE: Good evening again, everybody.

HARRIS: Then last month, more than two decades after she left, the University of Oregon finally honored Jody Runge, adding her to its sports hall of fame.


UNIDENTIFIED EMCEE: Please welcome to the stage Jody Runge.

HARRIS: Jody came up wearing her high heels and standing tall, as always. Jody told me she enjoyed seeing old friends, and she felt appreciated at the ceremony. But one thing the emcee asked really bothered her.

RUNGE: The first question he asked me was how proud I am.


UNIDENTIFIED EMCEE: Just how proud are you of that?

RUNGE: Well...

It's not about being proud. It's about having to have had to fight all those battles. You know, it cost me a career. And for people to say that I should be proud of that is, you know, really insulting because it's not something I'm proud of. It's just something I felt like I had to do to continue to be successful.

HARRIS: What she's saying seems bigger than basketball, bigger even than Title IX. All those pronouncements that women have been dealing with - not athletic, not sellable, not worth investing in, ungrateful for opportunities - who says? Who gets to decide what women or anyone are worth or how they should be?

For NPR News, this is Emily Harris in Portland, Ore.

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