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Sportsmanship Has Nothing to Do With Being a Boy

September 29, 2002|BILLIE JEAN KING | Billie Jean King, U.S. Fed Cup captain, is founder of the Women's Sports Foundation, an educational organization dedicated to ensuring equal access and opportunities for girls and women in sports and fitness.

There is a lot of debate going on about Title IX, the federal law that requires gender equity in sports. I just want to weigh in on one point: girls' interest in sport.

If I had a daughter, I wouldn't want anyone telling her that boys are more interested in sports than girls or assuming that she is less interested. That would be no different than believing stereotypes such as boys are more interested in math or blacks are more interested in basketball than tennis. Sports participation is as important for our daughters as it is for our sons.

Boys have never had to prove that they were interested in sports to get the opportunity to play. Why should girls have to "prove" their interest? Society just encourages and expects boys to play. Interest is a function of the opportunity to play and encouragement to take advantage of that opportunity.

Boys are not born with a "sports interest" gene. They are pushed, cajoled, expected and sometimes even embarrassed into playing, and we provide them with every opportunity to do so. A coach who sees a big boy in school makes him come out for football. Tall boys are dragged onto the basketball team. Boys who run fast are encouraged to run track.

Sports are so important that we must encourage girls in the same way. Talk about administering interest surveys to prove that boys are more interested in sports than girls and setting quotas on the number of girls who can play based on surveys is wrong thinking and a misuse of an instrument that measures attitudes, not behavior.

I dare any school to invite Serena Williams, Cynthia Cooper or Julie Foudy to speak to the girls in that school and then administer an interest survey. Williams would tell them how much fun it is to play sports. Cooper would say that there is a sport out there in which every girl can succeed. Foudy would tell them playing is important for their confidence, health and success in life after sports. Most girls would want to play after that kind of encouragement.

So why are teachers and coaches not doing this? Why aren't our educational leaders encouraging girls to play sports?

This is not and cannot be a "male versus female" issue. Boys and girls should play sports, and they should be treated equally.

Boys and girls should grow up respecting the rights and abilities of each other in sports and in life.

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