I recently went to a Chicago Sky game. My boyfriend got free tickets at his job. If you’re not familiar with the team, you’re not alone; my mother and several of my friends had no idea who the Sky are—and they all live in the Chicago area. The Sky is Chicago’s WNBA team, that is, a professional women’s basketball team.
I’ve seen a lot of basketball games—I grew up on the south side of Chicago and “hoops” were part of the culture there. I played in junior high and went to a summer basketball day camp one summer long ago. As little kids we all played hoops at the playground. The area around the nets was not paved; it was gravel. I remember the times that I went home to pick bits of gravel out of my knees after taking a bad spill.
But as I got older, I wasn’t really encouraged to play team sports. It’s not that girls didn’t. In 1972 Title IX was enacted. It was a portion of the Education Amendments of 1972, It states (in part) that: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance…”
I was 14 years old that year, but in my schools—including later in high school—it really hadn’t taken hold. Many school administrators didn’t want to take money from boys’ sports to finance girls’ teams, which they thought were less important.
I think about the difference nowadays. Many of my friends encourage their daughters to play sports (especially soccer and track). One of my old college roommates made a point of taking her two daughters and her son to see women’s basketball at the college level. They’re young adults now, but excelled in track and tennis and other athletics in high school and college. They are very healthy, adventurous young people, the kind who go hiking in Costa Rica.
I think there has been a shift in perception, although it may not be as widespread as we might hope. Which brings me back to the Sky game. It was in a great arena, with a broad range of concession stands and excellent views of the court. But I was disappointed at how few fans were there. The team had just made the play-offs, which I think is a big deal, but many of the seats were empty. I saw a few families with a flock of preteen girls, daughters and their friends, I would guess. And there were a smattering of folks in Sky t-shirts and hats—the die-hard followers, probably. But it was nothing like a Cubs, or White Sox, or Bulls game. It was a lot of fun anyway but I wondered about it. The tickets are less expensive than other Chicago teams.
What about you? Were you involved in sports? Were you encouraged to be athletic and active when you were growing up? Would you go to a professional sports event if the team was all female? Would it make a difference to you?
Kate Elliott is editor of Gather magazine.
Photo by San Francisco Foghorn. Used with permission.