It was 40 years ago this week that a woman first ran in the Boston Marathon. In 1972 Kathrine Switzer was an athletic pioneer, running among the men– even when a man tried to stop her.
The picture is much different 40 years on thanks to Title IX and changing societal attitudes. Women are bona fide sports stars. By the end of the NCAA tournament the names Skylar Diggins and Brittney Griner were well known. Boys now lobby to play with girls and not the other way around (as I’ve written about before, co-ed high school swimming in Massachusetts has stirred great debate– though they have finally decided to have separate male and female tournaments each fall).
Of course, problems remain. A huge pay differential still exists between male and female athletes, and male and female coaches. While some felt it was offensive when Notre Dame’s female head coach said of Griner, “She’s like a guy playing with women,” I thought this showed how far we have come. Yes it is terrible that some taunt Griner for her voice and physique, and that should not happen. At the same time it’s seen as a huge insult to say to a man that he “plays like a girl.” Now a woman is insulted for being told she plays like a man. Eventually everyone will hopefully just be complimented for skills and great playing on its own.
And things are not nearly as rosy in the rest of the world. Last month I wrote how wonderful it was that it seemed as if all nations would send a female athlete to this summer’s Olympics. Now, unfortunately, Saudi Arabia has decided not to put forward any female competitors.
We can only hope that someday a female sports star in the Middle East will be told she plays as well as a man.