The oldest track & field blog on the internet

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Obama & Track

Have you heard? There was an election the other day.

Sportswriters are already considering how an Obama presidency might affect their world; Phil Hersh and Lester Munson give the deepest thoughts on the issue. Two points have direct impact on track & field.

First and most obvious is a big boost to Chicago's bid for the 2009 Olympics. As an ardent supporter of his adopted hometown, Obama was involved in the bid long before anyone thought he had a reasonable chance of winning the Presidency. He will almost certainly make the final presentation in Copenhagen next year, and his plans for a national infrastructure rebuilding project won't disappoint the IOC either. Here, he's an obvious plus.

The second point would give me pause if I hadn't studied Obama's style so closely. Munson:
Coaches, athletes and administrators in a number of so-called minor sports, such as wrestling, have long been wary that their sports will be eliminated to meet the equality of gender requirements of Title IX, and they cannot be happy about Obama's election.

With President Bush in the White House and Dennis Hastert, a former wrestling coach, serving as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, participants in those sports had some hope that Title IX requirements might be diluted.

Bush and his staff looked hard at Title IX and the possibility of enacting changes in the regulations of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that govern Title IX, but they backed away as opposition to any changes grew.

Obama, the father of two daughters, might not be sympathetic to those hoping to lessen the impact of Title IX.
Track coaches and fans could fit into this worried group, but I don't. Obama is not an idealogue, nor does he wish to govern divisively in an "I win, you lose" type of way. So to him, the whole "lessen the impact of Title IX" idea is a classic strawman argument. (Also, Munson might not know what he's talking about; Title IX is enforced by the Department of Education, not HHS, and it's been that way since they split off the DOE from HEW back in 1979.)

The big problem with current Title IX regulations is that institutions are allowed to show gender equity first and foremost by having equal numbers of male and female athletes, which in turn makes liabilities out of large but inexpensive men's sports such as track & field. This number-based approach is predicated on the wrong-headed assumption that all athletes place equal demands on the athletic department; an unrecruited walk-on (such as yours truly was) simply does not have much if any impact on the coach's time or the team's expenditures. This same numbers approach makes equal treatment of women's needs as athletes secondary to merely having them present in sufficient quantities. There has got to be a smarter way, one that benefits both men and women, and for the first time in decades I trust the chief executive to look for those kinds of solutions.