Sports Source: Augusta National's move A big step forward for women
By BRETT MARSHALL
Mondays in August are usually a little sleepy with major news in the sports world.
Normally, it's the dog days of late summer, with baseball pennant races, the early portion of preseason NFL football and fall drills for college football teams.
This week was an exception, when Augusta National Golf Club, one of the last bastions of sexism, discrimination and holdouts for privacy, made its way into the 21st Century by announcing that Condoleeza Rice, former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State to President George W. Bush, and Darla Moore, a banking executive from South Carolina with close ties to former Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson, were given memberships to the club.
It was Johnson who said a decade ago that Augusta would not be held up at the end of a bayonet to admit women. It was his successor, Georgian Billy Payne, who likely guided this breakthrough into perceived gender equity.
I first stepped foot on the grounds of one of golf's most famous and historic layouts in March 1992 while I was the executive director of the Kansas Golf Association. I had been fortunate to receive an invitation by a then member of the USGA Executive Committee and an Augusta National member to be his guest for a Saturday round of golf.
Twenty years after I was there, Augusta National has finally chosen to select a pair of high-profile, wealthy women to become members and to be presented with their green jackets when the club re-opens in October.
What is the significance of this?
In 1995, Wichita native and Colorado Springs, Colo., resident Judy Bell was elected as the first woman president of the USGA. It only took that organization 100 years to make that breakthrough gender decision. At the time, virtually every USGA president had been invited to join Augusta National, as well as the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, Scotland. She was not on the invitation list to join either club, but chose not to make an issue of the situation.
Well, at least now there is a modicum of forward movement in the gender battle that has raged throughout history in the United States.
I always felt that was a moment missed for progress to correct gender discrimination.
But we must remember, this latest move should be viewed as taking baby steps in the larger walk for equality.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of Title IX, the gender equity legislation that granted women the right to compete in sports at the high school and college levels and theoretically put them on a level playing field with their male counterparts to compete on teams and earn a collegiate scholarship if their skills warrant. That legislation was part of education amendments that were approved June 23, 1972. It opened up a new world of opportunity for young girls and young women to participate in athletics.
As a result, little girls today can dream of being the next Missy Franklin in swimming and Allyson Felix in track and field, or the next group of U.S. women's basketball stars to win an Olympic gold medal. They can dream of being another 1970s version of Nancy Lopez or the current young whiz Michelle Wie in women's professional golf or the newest Serena and Venus Williams in women's tennis. Or they can have goals of becoming the next Danica Patrick of auto racing fame. Doors were opened, and the females walked right through.
How has Title IX impacted high school sports in Kansas?
According to the Kansas State High School Activities Association, member schools reported during the 2011-12 school year that there were 40,314 girls participating in high school sports. That number represents 65 percent of the 62,041 boys who were out for athletics.
Some notes of interest culled from those statistics, which appear in KSHSAA's Journal, indicate 13 girls were playing football in 2011. There were 95 girls who were wrestling in boys programs. Two girls were playing boys baseball, and 200 girls were competing on boys golf teams, likely schools that didn't have a girls golf team.
Volleyball had the highest number of participants (8,617), with basketball (7,090), track and field (6,945), softball (4,796) and soccer (3,361) rounding out the top five sports. Cross country (2,898), tennis (2,552) and swimming (1,798) were among the other more popular sports for girls. In fact, there were more girls in swimming than boys, one of just two sports to make that claim.
Lest we forget, it took more than 140 years after our nation's birth for women to gain voting rights. First introduced in the late 1870s, a woman's right to vote in federal elections was passed as the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920. Are we surprised then that it took another half century plus to grant rights to women to compete in sports?
And since Augusta National is located in the deep South of Georgia, are we at all surprised it took the all-male membership nearly 60 years to admit its first African-American in 1990 and another 22 years to admit its first females? Perhaps more surprising is the fact that the club released a statement to the public announcing the inclusion of its first two female members.
We should know by now that our society moves slowly when it comes to discrimination, be it gender-based or race-based. We would hope that the clock will tick faster on future issues of discrimination. For now, though, we celebrate the steps that Augusta National has taken to admit women to its membership.
Our society needs to look at itself in the mirror if it truly wants to exemplify those words bestowed in our Declaration of Independence of July 1776: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." One could make a case in today's culture that men equates to women, as well.
Let's hope the march of progress continues.
Sports Editor Brett Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.