A fair bit of ink has been spilled lately about the plight, or at least the struggle against their plight, of small-scale men’s athletic programs devastated by Title IX implementation at universities around the country. (Journalists as a rule approve of the plight, but find the struggle entertaining). Wrestling, swimming, track and gymnastic programs, its chief victims, are featured in these unctuous news pieces about program closures under an implementation scheme for the law recently imposed by a Clinton administration appointee. The scheme obliges schools to cut programs for men until they serve male athletes in numbers no larger than those of the female students electing to participate in similar programs (proportionate to each gender’s overall enrollment).
The journalistic attention to this subject results partly because the victims are organized into an active and coherent lobby, and partly because, though widely esteemed for purity of athleticism and many other virtues, these sports are nonetheless so insignificant in the national consciousness (unless it’s an Olympic year) that they make for sympathetic subjects. However, to the participants discredit, the focus of their lobby, the College Sports Council, has been on simply pleading with the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department to abandon the current scheme in favor of a older, less onerous version under which schools that demonstrated support for growth in their women’s athletic programs were considered in compliance. The difference between the two enforcement approaches is simply in who is going to be robbed first and most vigorously, the male athletes whose programs will be cut, or the entire student population whose fees are tapped and raised to provide female programs for which there is insufficient interest to generate uncoerced support..
These victims should rather take the bull by the horns in a forthright confrontation of the whole defective “affirmative action” concept. Its transformation of simple legislation outlawing deliberate governmental barriers to access against certain persons into a positive obligation to create a reality imagined by some bureaucrat to be that which should exist (and would have, they believe, in the absence throughout the past of pervasive barriers) is indefensible.
The act, after all, is as simple as this:
person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from
participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to
discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal
Happily, a large and highly visible American company has just stepped into the ring with a bold and principled policy initiative which models the approach that the offended athletes (and the rest of us, for that matter) should adopt.
The Home Depot company, which employs 250,000 people and did over $53 billion in sales last year (and which can be contacted here for the proffer of congratulations) has announced a policy of declining all federal government orders so as to insulate itself from legislative impositions for which no Constitutional authority exists but which are forced upon private actors as a consequence of accepting federal subsidies or contracts. Though the company only specifically identifies three particularly obnoxious demands that it will thus nullify, which, combined, amount to what we think of as affirmative action in employment, it will enjoy a general relief from bureaucratic meddling in innumerable areas.
Having pulled its head out of the sand and gotten up off its knees, the company is likely to see more freedom than has been enjoyed by most American businesses (and individuals) in 70 years. There is a lot of liberty to be found on the horizons that are lost to your view when you’re not standing tall.
The CSC members should similarly wean themselves from the federal teat. They should move off campus and set up shop as independent operations taking no funding from the schools with which they are associated; they should charge participants directly and demand that the schools lower student fees accordingly. The uncompromised independents could still bill themselves as the official program of their own particular institution, if they wished to, by limiting enrollment to students from that school. This might mean that the coaching staff has to take a pay cut, or the program has to charge the athletes more, or hold bake sales, but that’s life in a free market.
Independence is, after all, the essential characteristic of the sports at issue here. These are sports in which one man is matched against one other man, or against themselves. Though the athletes are (often) nominally part of a team, there is no division of responsibility and coordinated team effort. The closest that these men come to acting in concert is in a relay race, in which the aggregate total of a number of individual performances is compared to that of the competition; there is no analog to the group play of football or basketball or other team sports.
The individualists that proudly compete in these contests of self-mastery have learned to draw on every ounce of resolve and fortitude, and to be confident that if they persevere, they will prevail. They don’t belong buried in a centralized, subsidy-dependent institution in the first place, and they should seize upon this current circumstance to break out into the open air.
The separation might be tough, but athletes like these have got the talent to go it on their own. They can get any tools they might need at Home Depot.
© Peter E. Hendrickson