On Thurs. April 9, the Sarah Lawrence College Athletic Department, Diversity and Activism Programming Sub-committee (DAPS) and the SLC Office of Diversity of Campus Engagement hosted a screening of the 2011 movie The Mighty Macs. The Mighty Macs tells the 1971 story of Cathy Rush, the head women’s basketball coach at Immaculata College, a small catholic college on the outskirts of Philadelphia.
The panel, composed of Coach Cathy Rush, an inductee into the Naismith Memorial Basketball hall of fame and immortalized by the film the Mighty Macs, Dr. Sharon Beverly, a former student athlete who played in the game depicted in The Mighty Macs, and moderated by Sarah Lawrence’s Professor Lyde Sizer, a tri season athlete at Yale as an undergraduate, discussed the roles of women in athletics. The crowd was composed of mostly women and members of the athletic department, with a strong presence of student athletes.
Professor Sizer opened the panel with remarks about athletics at Sarah Lawrence. Sizer cited a recent article by Business Insider, in which Sarah Lawrence is named the the school with the “most liberal students” as ranked by the Princeton Review. The schools included on the “most liberal” list often appear on other Princeton Review lists, including most politically active, most LGBT-friendly students, and students who are least interested in sports.
Sizer called this generalization in to question, for it seems to suggest that an interest in athletics is a-progressive, an idea Sizer called “a-historical.” She commented on the importance of women in athletics, how The Mighty Macs story was made possible by the momentum of the women’s liberation movement.
The panel then turned to the audience. Questions varied from what kinds of hardships women in athletics faced during their careers as athletes, coaches, and athletic directors.
Rush and Beverly discussed the absence of specialized equipment for women, saying they wore wool tunics.
“You don’t wash wool,” said Rush.
There was no funding for women’s athletics, so teams were forced to find private transportation to games and matches.
When asked if she understood the historical significance of playing at Madison Square Garden, Beverly said the team was focused on playing.
“It was a game. We didn’t understand the significance. We were playing. We were focused,” she said.
Rush believes it has become more socially acceptable for women to become athletes. She sites the importance of fathers understanding that their daughters have the opportunity to receive scholarships as a large help. This encouraged women to play sports and there was less of a “tom boy” stereotype.
When asked what it was like playing as a black woman, Beverly said she didn’t feel particularly discriminated against.
“There was a different dichotomy between Immaculata and Queens College,” she said. “Queens was diverse then,” and Beverly was not the only person of color player. She said she didn’t feel uncomfortable when Queens traveled, a fact she credited to her coach.
“Athletics united us all,” Beverly said.
“If you enjoy the sports, support them,” said Beverly, in response to a question about how to support women’s athletics. “Money speaks.”
Rush pushed for a more grassroots campaign, saying that in order to get women involved in athletics, starting at the middle school and high school level was the best approach.
“Women need to support women,” said Rush
Sizer, who has coached boys and girls soccer for over 16 years, said she was the only mother in her league. In the past, she has dealt with fathers who refused to shake her hand because of her gender.
“It is unusual to see women coaches in the league. [The job] is unpaid mothers who need to decide if they want to make that commitment,” said Sizer.
Title IX, which was signed into law in 1972, increased opportunities for women athletes. Beverly argued that Title IX decreased leadership roles for women. Before Title IX, women had the opportunity to coach women’s teams, without competition from men. After Title IX, only thirty percent of Division One women athletics teams wereare coached by women.
“There are some athletic departments that have no women leadership at all,” said Baker.
Towards the end of the panel, the discussion turned to concerns faced by Division One players, such as payment and students who enroll in college for one year before dropping out to play professionally.
Both Beverly and Rush agreed that paying Division One athletes is a good idea, although putting the idea into practice poses some difficulties.
When asked if paying athletes lead to making women’s sports more vulnerable, Beverly replied that, if athletic departments abide by Title IX, they would be required to pay male and female athletes the same amounts.
The panel wrapped up with a question regarding homophobia in sports. Beverly touched upon the idea of “assuming lesbianism” with regards to female athletes.
Rush admitted to the presence of homophobia. “Were there lesbians? Yes. Did they hide it? Yes.”
Sarah Lawrence College has exited the transitional period of their NCAA membership and is expected to become full members for the 2015-2016 season.
by Colette Harley