Title IX through the eyes of an athlete, coach and researcher

As a young, single mother of two, Yvonne “Vonne” Taylor played on the first two women’s basketball teams at Merced College in 1992-93 and 1993-94. She has coached basketball at every level, played semi-professional ball in Italy and had a long career as a college basketball referee.

The Bridgeport, Ohio, native was the first girl in her hometown to play baseball with the boys, after her parents sued the local Little League organization the same summer that Title IX passed. 

Now 59 and the recreation coordinator for the City of Dublin, Taylor chose Title IX as her dissertation topic for the education doctorate she will complete at Maryville University in St. Louis, Mo., this winter. 

During a recent visit to Merced, Taylor discussed her Title IX research with us. 

(Note: Conversation has been edited for length.)

How did it come to be that you set out to study Title IX for your doctoral thesis?

Well, I’ve coached and refereed and heard parents scream at me from the stands and complain about their kids not playing. My thought process was that I could always tell them, “Why don’t you zip it and get involved?” So I put that question to myself.

A friend of mine said, “Why don’t you write?” So I wrote a children’s book that is being published in October. That process got me thinking about Title IX and diversity and inclusion. I’m such an advocate for that cause. I talked with my mentor from the University of Maryland, who is the Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer there.

I told her I was so sick and tired of hearing [from the world] that I should be thankful for the advancement women have seen through Title IX. She just told me, “You can’t be afraid. Go get your PhD. Do it in something you’re passionate about. Then doors will open, and you will make a difference.” The title of my dissertation is, “Title IX: 50 Years Later, Where Are All of the Women in Division I Athletics?”

What did you find in your research?

During my initial literature review, I was dumbfounded to find that Title IX has been extra successful for participants, for people and women who play sports, but had the opposite effect for women’s leaders and head coaches. Since Title IX was passed, sports participation for women has increased 1,000 percent. Within five years, the numbers had risen like that.

What I’m looking at are the unintended circumstances of Title IX. Prior to Title IX, 90-95% of college coaches for women’s sports were women. Now it’s less than 35% [women coaching women] across college athletics. The main reason was that women fought for higher pay for women’s coaches and men started chasing those job openings that they’d never considered before. Before Title IX, coaching women had no prestige and no money. Now, coaching women’s teams has more prestige and more money.

There is a theory called homologous reproduction that says people in charge of hiring will hire people like themselves. Mostly men make hiring decisions at colleges. That underlying discrimination we already know about is still there—assumptions that women athletes are gay, and assertive women are “bitches” and assertive men are successful. That women should take care of the children. Yeah, it still boils down to that.

So you’ve found that discrimination on the basis of sex still exists within the application of Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex?

Yes. As I talk to more women’s [college] coaches, they say that even the few women who have become ADs start making decisions like a man. They have a preconceived idea about what an AD is supposed to do. The other thing I found so odd was this notion that women cannot possibly lead a school with a football program because those ADs have likely never played football. Yet over 70 percent of male NCAA Division I ADs have never played football either.

I have always believed I can be a vehicle for change. Even if I contribute just a little bit to the work, I want to change all of that.

What has surprised you while doing this deep dive on Title IX?

The surprising thing that I did find was that definition for the concept of men hiring men or people hiring people like themselves. [Note: This peer-reviewed research also defines homologous reproduction as “the old boys’ network.”]

Another thing that surprised me was finding out that before Title IX, the NCAA sent out a ‘letter of commitment’ to its member schools. It wasn’t a law or policy they were pushing. It was just a letter asking schools to promise to do a better job at diversity hiring for gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, everything. It took me aback to find out that there were no consequences tied to that letter. Title IX says you will lose federal funding if you are non-compliant, but no one has ever lost their funding. Schools have been sued by individuals for Title IX violations and paid damages that way, but no one has ever lost federal funding.

Where is Title IX headed?

Title IX has evolved beyond sports and is being used in all kinds of ways, like as a basis to protect women against sexual assault and sexual discrimination on campus. It’s becoming more and more important in case law. I won’t touch on that in my dissertation, but that is where it is heading.

Title IX is 50. Anything else we need to know in this moment?

The anniversary is another opportunity to get it right. We’re going to have the spotlight shining on it this summer. Overall, I think we need people like [Stanford women’s basketball head coach] Tara VanDerveer and [retired Notre Dame women’s basketball head coach] Muffet McGraw to spearhead the next steps. We have the research through the Tucker Institute and through The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports. The NCAA needs to open up and let those institutions help find the solution to get more qualified women into leadership positions.

 

Blue Devil's Advocate

For more on Title IX and the history of women’s sports at Merced College, view the June issue of the Blue Devil’s Advocate

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