SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Donna Lopiano has been a staunch supporter of gender equity in sports ever since she stumbled across a Little League rulebook as a child. Turning to page 14, she read the words that changed her life: "No girls allowed."
Lopiano, an All-American softball player and former chief executive officer of The Women's Sports Foundation, shared that memory and many others Monday when she presented a keynote address during Slippery Rock University Diversity and Inclusion Series.
"I firmly believe that no child, male or female, should ever be told that they cannot pursue their dreams," she said.
Lopiano, described as "one of the top 10 most powerful women in sports" and one of the "100 most influential people in sports," lectured about Title IX and its significance personally and nationally. Title IX, enacted in 1972 and taking effect in 1975, requires that schools and colleges receiving federal money in any education program or activity must provide the same opportunities for females as they provide for males.
Lopiano dispelled myths about Title IX, such as the assumption that Title IX was a woman's movement, and presented statistics showing that gender disparity continues. She said 57 percent of college students in America are women, while 43 percent of the sports participation opportunities at colleges are for women.
She also decried the gender gap in professional sports, including television and print media coverage favoring men's sports, and said there are not an equal number of events for men and women in the summer and winter Olympics.
Disparities in pay continue. Lopiano said the average salary for a woman head coach in Division I is $150,000, compared to $225,000 for a man. Assistant coach salaries average $55,000 for women and $74,000 for men, she said.
"Have we reached equality yet in terms of women participating in sports? The answer is no," Lopiano said.
After an opening video summarizing her softball career and advocacy for equality, Lopiano reminisced about her childhood in Stamford, Conn. She said she loved baseball so much she threw "500 pitches a day against the wall of my parents' house and dreamed of being a New York Yankee."
While the Yankees never came calling, Lopiano excelled on the field. She is a six-time national champion and nine-time All American softball player who played at the University of Texas. A three-time American Softball Association most-valuable player, she is a member of 13 halls of fame and has received numerous award. Most recently, she was awarded the Gerald R. Ford Award at the 2013 NCAA Convention.
Lopiano said the women's movement and noted feminists such as Gloria Steinem, the journalist and activist, initially opposed Title IX. They believed competitive sports for women promoted aggressive and militaristic behavior.
"Title IX was a father-led movement," Lopiano said. "When dad found out his daughter hadn't been treated equally, it was dad who worked to bring the first legislation forward."
Lopiano said American culture, riding the crest of Title IX and the women's liberation movement, has made progress, especially since "grandma's" day when some colleges didn't enroll women. In 1972, when Title IX, was approved, gender stereotypes were rampant. She said magazines included no mention of women's sports or women's fitness and printed 'women's' ads for detergent, make up and cooking.
"Now magazine's have women editors," she said.
Today, 68 percent of the public supports Title IX, even if it means cutting opportunities for men. She said 70 percent say the law should be strengthened or left alone, she said.
Speaking in the Smith Student Center Ballroom, Lopiano closed by fielding questions from faculty and staff, who asked why cheerleading is not considered a sport by some and why men are coaching more women's sports. Lopiano said greater advocacy is needed by the current generation to affect more progress in these areas.
"You're the next generation who has to pick up where Title IX left off," she said. "It is your responsibility to be the next generation of leaders who makes it happen."
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