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Strike 3, You're Female--and Out

The city justifies clearly discriminatory practices by citing 'no demand.' But that's a case of blame the victims.

September 27, 1998

Editor's note: This article was written by Mark Rosenbaum, legal director, and Rocio Cordoba, staff attorney, ACLU Foundation of Southern California; Paula Pearlman, supervising attorney, California Women's Law Center; and Jeffrey S. Gordon, a partner with the law firm Kaye, Scholer, Fierman, Hays and Handler, counsel for plaintiffs in the case against the city of Los Angeles.

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As a nation of children and their families watch in amazement the feats of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, the city of Los Angeles organizes its athletic leagues and allots its public parks as if it were the special and exclusive prerogative of boys to emulate these sluggers.

An investigation of city practices in the running of its athletic programs since the filing of a discrimination lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union has revealed that while the city's neighborhood recreation centers operate well-publicized baseball leagues for thousands of boys on an abundance of city-owned diamonds, equal opportunity for girls to play softball in city-run leagues or on city-owned fields is nonexistent.

We began this case on behalf of West Valley Girls Softball (WVGS), a privately run girls' softball league in the San Fernando Valley that has been forced to scramble each season to secure temporary, alternative playing fields because the city of Los Angeles has failed to provide it with equal access to city-owned facilities that historically have been available to area boys' baseball leagues. As a result, WVGS has been relegated to inferior playing fields at local schools that have no outfield fencing, spectator bleachers or dugouts and have inadequate backstop areas that fail to protect nearby players and spectators.

The girls' parents, supporters and league personnel have carried their own dirt, pulled weeds, installed bases and done their best to smooth uneven playing surfaces with no guarantee that they will be able to return to these fields and enjoy the fruits of their labor the following years.

On the other hand, the city of Los Angeles has afforded private boys' baseball leagues exclusive and permanent use of city-owned fields in which the leagues could make long-term investments, such as batting cages, backstops and outfield fences, bullpens and equipment storage facilities, electronic scoreboards, spectator bleachers, lights for evening play, permanent snack stands and merchandise sales facilities. The city has also provided city-run boys baseball leagues priority use of recreation center facilities of similar quality.

Despite public pronouncements that these inequities would be corrected, it has now become clear, after months of reliance on pledges of trust and goodwill by officials, that the city will not change its discriminatory practices absent a court order.

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The city hides behind the excuse that there is no demand for girls' athletics. This is a shameful example of blaming the victim that ignores the city's own failure to promote girls' sports, and the city's history of active discouragement and unequal treatment of girls' sports.

The fact is, when girls demonstrate demand, as they have in the West Valley by organizing their own leagues, the city still treats them with undeniable inequality. In the case of WVGS, which has shown undeniable demand, the city's response is, "The boys got there first."

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Indeed, we discovered that the overwhelming majority of girls have no access to a city-sponsored softball league or to any girls' athletic program offered through their local Recreation and Parks facility. To the extent that city-sponsored girls' softball programs exist, they typically are small in number, play for limited seasons and at restricted times and represent only a tiny fraction of those city-sponsored baseball programs historically available to boys. We have accordingly expanded our lawsuit to address these broader practices.

Many girls fortunate enough to play in a community program intend to apply for college scholarships and aspire to compete nationally on the college or professional level, and internationally as members of the U.S. Olympics team. How can the city of Los Angeles, as past and one hopes future home of the Olympics, treat girls' sports in such a discriminatory manner? There can be no justification for the city to deny any child the opportunity to play an athletic team sport, simply because she is a girl.

Such treatment of our city's female youth is not only illegal, it is debasing and brands girls as inferior, second-class citizens. Denying girls access to public playing fields, and relegating them to temporary, inferior facilities, only serves to foster and perpetuate gender-based stereotypes that girls' athletics somehow are less deserving or inferior to boys'.

These over-broad generalizations about the different talents, capacities and preferences of males and females historically have served to deny women equal protection of the laws and cannot be tolerated.

Clearly, for the city of Los Angeles, a girl's place is at home, not home plate.

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