A Reality of Inequity

The time is well overdue to level the playing field. There exists on college campuses a fundamental divide between athletes and their fellow students. The issue, however, is more complex than a simple division between between those who play sports and those who do not. Title IX, part of a 1972 federal law that mandates equal treatment of male and female athletes, has done much to provide athletes with equal resources. But still there lingers a persistent and intangible biased distribution of social clout between high profile male athletes and lower profile male and female athletes.

It is delusional to pretend that full equality in athletics and in social dynamics involving athletes has been reached simply because of Title IX. Even if men and women’s teams have equal time on the practice fields and fencing and football receive proportionate funding, the fact remains that high profile male athletes fill a community niche that other student-athletes do not. Historically, men’s sports such as football, basketball, ice hockey, and lacrosse have occupied a more visible place on college campuses than other athletics. A school is more likely to receive wide acclaim for being national basketball champions than it would if its dance team were awarded the same honor. This tradition continues today. If we claim to want real equality between athletics, we must realize that the differences do not lie in the numbers; they lie in the way that members of the college community perceive different sports.

In “Reclaiming the Game,” written by William G. Bowen, former president of Princeton and Sarah A. Levin ’00, a majority of the statistics are broken down into three categories: male high profile athletes, male lower profile athletes, and female athletes. This distinction is interesting in and of itself, without the numbers attached to it. Football, basketball, and ice hockey are considered high profile men’s sports, while there do not seem to be any sports that are considered high profile for women. Clearly, if there is a need to separate the male sports into two distinct categories, there is a statistical disparity worth noting between the two.

The statistics speak volumes. According to a database cited in “Reclaiming the Game,” of all three demographics, male high profile athletes are the least academically qualified. In a study from 1995 that controlled for differences in race, field of study, and SAT scores, the data shows that in the Ivy League academic setting, male high profile athletic recruits significantly underperformed compared to lower profile male recruits and female recruits. In some women’s sports, athletes even outperform their non-athletic peers academically. While there are many high profile male athletes who are as smart and qualified as their non-athlete peers, you can get away with being grossly under qualified for college if you play a high profile sport.

The Title IX amendment was intended to guarantee equality in college athletics, especially between men and women. However, the only measures of equality that are possible to calculate are statistics on paper like the amount of college sports offered to both sexes, the provision of equipment and practice time and space, and funding per player for things like coaches, travel, and publicity.

These institutionalized criteria are only half the battle. Title IX has done little to change the perception of collegiate athletic culture and the aura of intimidation that surrounds men’s high profile sports. As of now, the stipulations of Title IX do not take into account that men’s high profile sports are recipients of significant outside funding from alumni that lower profile men and women’s sports entirely lack. Athletic opportunities have been institutionally equalized, but are not yet fair in execution.

The unofficial but intense favoritism of high profile male athletic teams fosters an atmosphere of power of and catering to the athletes. Athletes, especially well-known males, receive more publicity, more media attention, more popularity, and more respect than their female or lower-power counterparts, even though many prove themselves consistently unable to measure up in an academic setting. In the eyes of the colleges, and in the eyes of many other students, these players are not student-athletes; they are athlete-students.

Colleges are misleading themselves if they think that the relative success of Title IX has eliminated inequality in the athletic university setting. One only needs to observe that the alleged rapists at Duke were constantly referred to as “lacrosse players” and not “students” or that being a member of a sports team is a sure way to guarantee being punched by a final club at Harvard to know that this is true. Students and administrations need to recognize that high profile male athletes are perceived differently than other college students and think about the ramifications of this. If they deem it a problem at schools, then appropriate adjustments should be made to athletic and admissions policies. If not, then we can accept that social stratification occurs as a result of athletics and not continue to operate under the illusion that it does not.

Emma M. Lind ’09, a Crimson editorial editor, lives in Grays Hall.