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Op-Ed

Sports are performing arts

June 21, 2024

Of course I’m a fan of Caitlin Clark. But more than that, I’m a fan of Title IX.

Robert Kahn

By Robert Kahn

Deputy editor emeritus, Courthouse News

Title IX, a 1972 civil rights law (Public Law No. 92-318, 86 Stat.), prohibits sex-based discrimination in schools that receive federal funding — including discrimination in sports. Title IX was, and still is, the greatest promoter of women’s sports in our country’s history. (Title IX was introduced in Congress by U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink, Democrat of Hawaii.)

Sports are performing arts.

Any art — all arts — demand self-discipline. Whether it’s practicing the clarinet, drawing still lifes or running laps, discipline helps form character.

Whether you make it to the concert stage, manage to sell your art, get a college scholarship or not, the habit of discipline can improve your life and make you a happier person.

I’m not a sports nut, and I’m no athlete. My best marathon time was 3:03:34 — not good enough to even qualify for Boston. But I love distance running.

I was born crippled. My feet were twisted inward, so the big toes could have kissed each other, had they had lips, which — praise god for small favors — they did not.

Fortunately for me, my father was a medical professor at the University of Cincinnati. He arranged to have my feet and lower legs encased in plaster for the first six weeks of my life, while my bones were pliable, to straighten me out. And it worked.

My Mom, blessed be her memory, told me much later that she felt so bad for me, her crippled son. Every time she fed her newborn, she had to haul up hard with her right hand, where my plaster casts were, to bring me to her breasts.

After they cut off the casts, the first time Mom picked me up to feed me she heaved way too hard on the legs and dropped me on my head.

True story. I’m not saying it to defend myself from my online attackers. I’m just saying: Gimme a break.

So. Whether it was my rickety legs or the ultimate design of the universe, I grew up rather weeny in the sports department. Skinny. Weak up top. Easy target for bullies.

Skip ahead 14 years. Freshman year in high school a pal told me he’d gone out for the cross-country team, and I should too. I didn’t even know there was such a thing. But I did.

My first day’s practice — second day for the team — coach told me to run 3 miles on the track. That just about killed me. Next day it was on to wind sprints, interval training, fartlek, long day Saturdays … man. But aside from running, I was still a weeny guy. Bookish. Skinny. You know the type.

Then sometime in junior year, one of my longtime enemies — I barely knew his name or why he hated me — caught me in the boys’ room and commenced to pummel me for no reason. Until his pal said, “Nah, he’s all right. He runs track.” Then my nemesis backed off, and even straightened out my shirt.

But that’s not why I love distance running. It’s because in other sports — and I am thinking here of boxing and football — your job is to make the other guy hurt so much that he gives up. But in distance running, your job is to make yourself hurt so much that everyone else gives up.

What does this have to do with women’s sports, and liberation? Well, a great deal of the long sad history of the human race involves men inflicting pain upon women: in private, in public, incessantly.

I’ve seen the pride that getting in shape and excelling in sports instills in young women. The good kind of pride — not swagger, like my old nemesis — the self-assurance that helps them realize they need not let men push them around, that they can do something about it.

Not bragging here, but I coached cross-country at a high school in a small town and we won state, twice. That, or something, inspired a young lady in my English class to lose 40 pounds one summer and go out for cross-country in the fall. She was tough. She was not made for running: She had horrible form, but she ran down other teams’ girls like a fast bulldozer. Straight-A student, too. I was so proud of her.

Any attempt to “roll back” Title IX protections, as — need I say it? — Republicans are trying to do, is an attack upon women. Without Title IX, there may never have been a WNBA. Caitlin Clark would be a footnote in the back pages of the Des Moines Register, if that.

Even more than her three-pointers, what impresses me about Caitlin Clark was her reaction to being left off the USA team for the Paris Olympics. She said it would give her a reason to work even harder over the next four years. What a class act.

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