In a time of so much bad news, let’s pause to enjoy and celebrate women champions. The Washington Mystics brought joy to all of Washington with their decisive march to the WNBA championship. Congratulations to all of the players, coaches and fans of the Mystics! This championship is the culmination of years of hard work and dedication to building the talent of this franchise. These women demonstrated time and again that they have the talent, the grit and the dedication to excellence in their sport to succeed. They set an example of teamwork, persistence, conditioning and athleticism that will inspire many other girls and young women to persist in team sports. They also are devoted to improving their community and standing for social justice.
The Mystics championship comes at a remarkable time for women’s sports. Who can forget the Women’s U.S. National Soccer Team and their amazing play and decisive victories as they took this year’s World Cup?
And let’s pause for a long moment in admiration and awe of the talent of gymnast Simone Biles whose 25th championship medal this week put her at the very top of the all-time medal count for gymnastics. Like the Mystics and the USWNT, Biles didn’t get there by luck — she has worked hard every single day, pushing herself and her body to extreme places in order to do those flips and twists and spiraling dismounts and all her other amazing feats.
Celebrating women champions of sport is about more than great athleticism, however. Today’s champions are the latest proof that the nearly four decades of hard work to ensure the strength of Title IX is worth it. What? What does Title IX have to do with any of this? A brief primer: Title IX is the federal law that mandated equal opportunity for women in sports in schools, colleges and universities (and also in academics, a point not always emphasized…). Title IX sparked a true revolution in women’s sports, moving the women’s teams from cramped low-ceilinged gyms stuck in poorly lit buildings on the edge of campuses into the big arenas where the men play. As women’s collegiate teams gained bigger budgets, improved facilities and coaching, women athletes also improved and women’s athletic performance also became far better and more competitive. With coaching and training facilities equal to those afforded to men, women athletes grew stronger, faster and competitively tougher; women’s sports became big business, and women Olympians were soon stealing headlines from the men’s performances.
But Title IX was about equality of educational opportunity, not about equality in the professional sports workplace where men’s professional sports — especially football, baseball and basketball — reign supreme. Laws protecting women’s equal opportunity in employment do not apply in the same way to, for example, the U.S. Women’s National Team that is paid less, shamefully so, than the men’s soccer team that has a hard time winning any games at all. In the same way, the champions on the Mystics do not earn nearly the kind of big paychecks that the men on the Wizards earn — and, consequently, the women have to work other jobs. For that reason, the women will not have a championship parade in Washington this week because they have already dispersed to their other jobs, mostly playing basketball abroad. Yes, that’s right, our women champions have to leave the country to keep working to earn a decent living.
Meanwhile, in D.C., we are rooting for a World Series to come our way, and you can jolly well bet that if the Nationals win the World Series, there will be a parade.
And over in Landover, there was practically a parade last night at the news that the hapless, hopeless Washington Football team managed to win despite almost losing in the final seconds. Men are different. So are men’s sports. Those men, no matter how awful, will not have to flee the country in their off-season to work to make ends meet.
So, let’s celebrate our women champions, but let’s also keep fighting for women’s right to equal pay for equal work, and equal recognition for success — in sports, at work, and in all walks of life.
A footnote: the Trinity Center for Women and Girls in Sports is one of the great legacies of Title IX. We conceived of our sports complex in the 1990’s when the Washington region was bursting with more than a billion dollars worth of construction for men’s professional sports. At that time I worked with the late Susan Williams, chair of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, on an effort to get the 2012 Olympics to D.C. During that time, Susan introduced me to the Women’s Sports Foundation whose founder was tennis legend and women’s rights champion Billie Jean King. The Women’s Sports Foundation was trying to create a women’s Olympic-style event to be held in the Washington region — the Women’s Global Challenge — and through that partnership we were inspired to conceptualize the Trinity Center for Women and Girls in Sports. We also knew that if we wanted to maintain a first rate women’s college, it was high time to provide a modern sports facility not only for our athletes but for our student body to enjoy recreational sports, wellness and fitness programs. We worked with the local community as well to be sure the center could provide recreational opportunities for our neighbors. After the Trinity Center opened in 2002, we continued to build the kinds of partnerships that bring many events to the Trinity Center, and one of our great partners became Sheila Johnson, a Trinity honorary alumna, and co-owner of the Washington Mystics. When the Mystics were a young team, before having their own venue in Congress Heights, they would sometimes come to the Trinity Center to practice. We are so thrilled for their success, it’s been great to watch the team grow into the great champions they are in 2019!