If you are a woman, there are only three ways to get the sports
world to notice you:
1. Strip down to your panties and bra and wrestle over beer.
2. Play crappy tennis but look hot pulling the second ball out of
3. Tweak Hootie's nose.
Break records? Win at unthinkable rates? Push the envelope of
female athletic achievement? Forget it, sweetheart! How 'bout a
Exhibit A: The Connecticut women's basketball team wins its 55th
straight game last Saturday, breaking the alltime women's record.
But unless you happened to get the feed from the Connecticut
Public Television network, you couldn't see the game live. ESPN
will show men fishing heroically, and Fox will show a man trying
to outrun a giraffe, but televise one of the landmark events in
women's hoops history? Sorry, baby, you haven't come a long way.
Exhibit B: Tennessee's women's basketball genius Pat Summitt
quietly wins her 800th game on Tuesday of last week, becoming the
first woman and only the fourth Division I coach to do it.
Nationally, it made all the splash of a marshmallow landing in a
bog. When North Carolina's Dean Smith hit 800 in 1994, there was
so much coverage, you'd have thought he'd just returned from
"I'm surprised she hasn't gotten more attention for it," says no
less than John Wooden, the former UCLA coach who is one of
Summitt's biggest fans. "She's only 50. She could win many, many
more games." In fact if she coaches as long as Smith did--until
she's 66--and keeps winning at her current pace, she'd blow by
Smith like he was roadkill and wind up with more than 1,200 wins.
Hey, maybe then she'd get on Live with Regis and Kelly!
Exhibit C: At the Australian Open, Serena Williams tries to win
her fourth consecutive major--the Serena Slam, if you will--and
America barely looks up from Joe Millionaire. Of course when
Tiger Woods completed his Tiger Slam at the Masters in 2001, a
national holiday was nearly declared.
You remember Tiger, right? Used to be Most Dominating Golfer in
the World? Not anymore. That title belongs to Exhibit D: Annika
Sorenstam, who is coming off one of the most brain-bending
seasons since Byron Nelson in 1945. The Ice Queen of Sweden won
more than half her starts last year, 13 victories in 25
tournaments around the world. Tiger in 2002? He won six of 22
You mean you didn't see her on the cover of TIME? Or this
magazine? Or Golf Digest? Or Golf? Or on the Today show? Or
Letterman or Leno? No? Maybe that's because it never happened.
"If Tiger had a year like Annika," says LPGA player Jill McGill,
"they'd reschedule sunsets for him."
Sorenstam's agent, Mark Steinberg, also happens to represent
Tiger. "She and I talk about it all the time," Steinberg says.
"She'd love to have more opportunities, but what can you do?"
Last year Tiger did whip Sorenstam in one department. He earned
more than $60 million in endorsements to her $2.5 million. Hey,
Annika, ever tried a short tennis skirt?
And forget anybody having heard of Exhibit E: Paula Radcliffe.
All she did in October was run a marathon in 2 hours, 17 minutes,
not only shattering the women's world record but also narrowing
to 12 minutes the gap between the men's and women's best times.
That means, in the past 40 years, women have improved their
record by more than an hour and men by nine minutes. (And to
think they used to warn women not to run because their uteruses
might fall out.)
All of this crinkles the nose of Exhibit F: Gail Goestenkors,
coach of the No. 1 women's basketball team in the land, Duke,
which also happened to have the No. 1--ranked men's team last
week. The Duke men have sold out every home game since 1990. The
Duke women have never sold out.
It doesn't bother the unsquashable Coach G. "We play for
ourselves," she says, "for our own excellence." In fact the only
opponent who really scares her is George W. Bush. "I'm afraid
he's going to change Title IX," she says of the law that requires
equal opportunity for men and women to participate in sports at
schools that receive federal funding. "He's talking about making
[compliance] voluntary. That would be a travesty."
She would know. In seventh grade her school did not have a girls'
track team, so she had to run on the boys' squad. The guys hated
her for it, and when she'd get into the starting blocks, they
would comment on her butt. Or the way she looked in her shorts.
"We can't lose Title IX," she says, "because I know what girls
would have to go back to."
True, Title IX has caused brutal cuts in men's sports over the
past 30 years. But women suffered for 100 years without it. As
Wooden says, "The problem with Title IX is that it started way
too late. I wouldn't want anything to happen to that program."
A piece of advice, Mr. President: Don't touch Title IX, because
the only thing women resent more than being ignored is being
"they'd reschedule sunsets for him."