TOMBOY: Explaining the importance of Title IX

TOMBOY: Explaining the importance of Title IX


What is Title IX?

It's something that's so commonly referred to, and while many may know its roots, they are likely not fully aware of its reach.

It’s a law that states: "No 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 financial assistance."

Seems like a no-brainer, right?

Obviously there were some who opposed the passing of this amendment which is part of the Higher Education Act. There are some still who oppose it. I was one of those people. Weird to read, probably, but I had a limited view of what I thought Title IX was, seemingly more of a hindrance to schools than something to propel and promote equality.

I saw men's sports being cut because universities needed to comply and instead of asking why the school couldn't balance itself and chose the easier route of cutting programs, I blamed Title IX. I was wrong. Yup, I'll admit it.

I don't think I fully appreciated the power of Title IX until recently. This act was passed in 1972. And I'm pretty sure that it just sunk in for me about six years ago. That's even weirder to think about when I tell you that I have wanted to be a television sports anchor since I was 11.

I know people say that, but honestly this is it for me.


I'll take you back a bit before I go forward. I was in fifth grade. By that time, you are given homework in school and you had to actually do it. I mean, research it a bit, make a visual prop to accompany the assignment, that kind of stuff. I hated homework, loathed its existence and never bought into its importance.

My mom was a teacher. So that outlook didn't exactly win me any supporters on the home front, nor should it. I come home from school that day in fifth grade, and begrudgingly answer my mom when asked what my homework was: I have to decide what I want to be when I grow up. We have to talk to someone if possible who does it, and we have to find out what it takes to be in that career and on and on and on. Not happy, one bit. I had friends to catch up with, New Kids On The Block tapes to listen to and jeans to peg.

Important stuff.

My mom, ever the optimist (which is why she was a teacher, and a great one), says, well let's see what we can come up with. She points out that I love to argue. This is true. I'm rarely wrong in my mind, and even if I am, I'll argue until I've convinced one person of my side. I'm the youngest of five kids, so this has come in handy. My mom says that people who argue for a living are lawyers and that I might be good at that. Me, being the one who dislikes homework, jumps at this chance and agrees. A lawyer it is. I'll knock out this assignment in no time and it's back to NKOTB.

I head to the trusty Encyclopedia Brittanica because that's where you did research back in the day. Really. And I found out that not only did you have to go to college for the four years, which

11-year-old me had resigned herself to, but you also have to go to law school for an additional three years after college. I closed up the “L” edition of the encyclopedia and went back to my mom.

No way. Seven years of college? I'm out. Again, the optimist wasn't giving up. My mom offered up my love of watching sports. You can do that, she said. I watched ESPN and CBS sports like they were my job so I was well aware of Lesley Visser and Robin Roberts. I loved them. But they were only two women in a sea of men. Could I possibly do that? Yup. Again, being the youngest, you don't really tell me that I can't do something.

I'll do it, even just to spite you. I'm that girl.

I researched my chosen career, and oddly enough because it was something I was so interested in, it didn't seem like homework (that feeling was short-lived, because math was still part of the curriculum). But I was hooked. I spoke with one of our local Richmond sportscasters, Ben Hamlin.

He was gracious and funny and did nothing to discourage a girl to work in that field. Fast forward a decade or so, and after attending the University of Kentucky, studying broadcast journalism, working and moving from sports anchor job to sports anchor job, I'm here.

So that brings me back to Title IX. If it did not exist, would a woman working in the sports world be not only accepted but also common? I don't think so. I believe that even though I never played a single minute of college athletics on a scholarship, I benefited from Title IX. It opened doors for women to be seen as athletes, as sports fans, and as equals in the field of athletics.

I have been lucky enough to become acquainted with one of the Title IX pioneers. And she'll probably demur when called that, but my mother-in-law, Deirdre Kane, is a pioneer. She's the first woman at the University of Dayton, from our area, growing up in South Philly before moving to New Jersey, to receive a Title IX scholarship. Deirdre played just about every sport you can imagine and was quite good, with basketball and field hockey her best. But she never imagined that she could receive money to play sports in college; it just wasn't in the cards for girls like it was for boys.

So in her final year at Dayton, the school finally implemented the legislation.

Deirdre says even she didn't view it as a landmark thing. She thought it was great that she could get money for the sports she was already playing in addition to her academic scholarship. But for her, the weight of Title IX came a little later, when after graduation she was looking for a job. She spoke at Roman Catholic about being a collegiate athlete.

Good timing, because she was hired on the spot, coaching basketball and teaching biology.

Here's the pioneer bit.

Deirdre Kane went on to coach at Camden Catholic, Swarthmore, Salisbury State and as an assistant at Penn. In 1997, she headed to West Chester and in 1988, she was the first full-time women's basketball coach in West Chester University history. Deirdre coached the Rams for 27 years and became the winningest basketball coach in WCU history.

Notice I didn't say in women's basketball history.


She's the winningest basketball coach at WCU with 447 wins. Yeah, we tried to tell her to stay for one more season because she was only 11 wins shy of 500. But she wanted to hang out with her only grandchild, and he's pretty awesome. Of course, as his mom, I'm biased. My mother-in-law really opened my eyes about Title IX and how it affects so many.

"Title IX made my career path possible," Deirdre told me. "Until that time, college coaches of women's sports were physical education professors who coached part time. Or they were athletic administrators who coached part time. Some women served as head coach in two sports, most notably field hockey and lacrosse. Can you imagine a guy coaching soccer and baseball?

"Female athletes were being discriminated against by not having the services of their coach like the men did for offseason conditioning, weight training and skill development. Title IX forced schools to afford the same opportunities to their female athletes as their male athletes, thus opening up a slew of jobs for women in athletic-related careers -- athletic trainers, strength coaches, sports information, athletic administration and of course coaching."

It was a monster of a trickle down effect and the waterfall of successful women in sports is still rolling because Title IX isn't slowing down.

Like me, Deirdre knows there are pitfalls in Title IX and the cutting of men's sports in order to be compliant.

"There are those that suggest taking football out of the equation to determine if schools are in compliance," she said. "This would make it much easier for schools to achieve compliance since football has the most athletes, equipment, coaches -- just more everything and there is no comparable sport on the women's side. My stomach turns when sports are dropped and the finger is pointed at Title IX instead of the tremendous excesses in some programs, especially football."

I agree. But I'd rather have this issue of trying to get men's and women's athletics equal than fighting for the simple right of a young girl to play a sport.

I love me some college football, don't get me wrong. It's what we do on Saturdays. But I hope there are resolutions in the coming months and years that enable universities to keep men's programs like wrestling, swimming and diving and gymnastics. Some of those men's sports are all but gone in parts of our country.

Title IX is an amendment to the Higher Education Act.

It is a way for girls to go to college. It is a way for women to be coaches at the collegiate level. It's all of those things and it's everything that comes after.

It's everything that is tangential to its aim. It's every woman working in a press box at a stadium, arena and gymnasium. I never knew its importance, even after I was in this field.

But I'm ever thankful for its presence.

TOMBOY: Why should the girls be treated any differently than the boys?

TOMBOY: Why should the girls be treated any differently than the boys?


I grew up playing sports.

For the most part I played soccer, but I also ran cross-country and track. I skied, snowboarded, and, at one point, I tried gymnastics. (It wasn't pretty.) My two younger sisters did the same. Our parents ran themselves ragged driving us to practices and tournaments, arranging carpools and fundraisers.

It never crossed our minds that we were girls playing sports. It's just what we did. And we loved it!


I didn't realize how lucky I was until visiting my grandparents in rural Ohio one summer. I found an old photo of their high school graduating class. I asked my grandmother what sports she played in school and I'll never forget her answer: "Oh, there were no sports for girls back then. We could cheer for the boys basketball team, but that was it."

I was shocked. I thought that was ridiculous. Why would the girls be treated any differently than the boys?

I couldn't comprehend it.

Looking back, I'm so thankful I grew up in a time and environment where that wasn't the case. I can't imagine my life without sports. Not only because it's what I do for a living, but because playing sports throughout my childhood is a big part of what made me the person I am today.

Sports taught me the value of hard work. Being part of a team, I learned how to communicate and work with people to accomplish a common goal . . . and discovered just how gratifying the process can be.

I became a teammate and leader who earned respect and empowered others. I made lasting friendships while stuffed like a sardine in a travel van singing Ace of Base at the top of my lungs. I wouldn't trade those experiences for anything. And I certainly wouldn't be in the position I'm in without them.


Don't get me wrong; it hasn't all been positive. Now that I'm a woman working in sports, I've had other kinds of eye-opening moments. During an interview for my first on-air job I was asked, in so many words, if this is really a career for me or if I had other plans after I found a husband.

Once I did land a job, I covered many college football games by myself. There was one small school in particular whose players relentlessly catcalled me on the sidelines.

I won't repeat the foul things they said, but I can tell you I went home feeling very dirty (and it wasn't because I was pouring sweat after lugging a camera that weighed half as much as I did from end zone to end zone in the middle of an Alabama summer). Even now, every so often, social media has a special way of reminding me how some people still view women in sports.

Surprise -- it's not good.

But if that's the worst I have to go through, I know I can't complain.

My only focus is doing my job to the very best of my abilities and working as hard as I possibly can to continue to grow and get better. We've come a long way. I'm so grateful for those who blazed the trail and made it possible for me to do what I do. And, thanks to my grandmother, I will never take my opportunities for granted. My hope is that when my daughter grows up, she will be just as surprised and appalled by some of my bad experiences as I was talking to my grandmother that day.

TOMBOY: Trenni Kusneirek and the power of language

TOMBOY: Trenni Kusneirek and the power of language

March is Women's history month and CSN is working to elevate the discussion of gender in sports. The world premiere of CSN TOMBOY takes place on Sunday, March 5 at 7:30 p.m. on CSN Mid-Atlantic, following by a live discussion panel. 


The first time I held my niece I was overcome by love.

It was the kind of love I never realized was possible. This tiny, perfect, half-asleep little girl grabbed my heart in a way that flooded me with emotion.

One of the biggest pulls: Protection. 

As my niece grew, she evolved into a beautiful little girl. She's the kind of child who prompts strangers to stop on the street and remark on her piercing blue eyes, her infectious smile, her ebullient personality. “You are such a pretty little girl,” they would say. 

While it made me smile, their observations also made me cringe. My niece was barely a toddler, yet I was terrified she would grow up believing her greatest attribute would be something mostly out of her control -- how attractive others perceived her to be. 

It was in that moment I knew I had to change the way I spoke about women and girls while also fighting to make sure others saw the importance of doing the same. 


“They're just words,”people will say. 

“Sticks and stones may break your bones but words will never hurt you.”

Except . . . words do hurt. They're more than just a compilation of letters and punctuation. 

Webster’s Dictionary provides a number of definitions for “word” but one stands out. Definition 2 a (1) states: a speech sound or series of speech sounds that symbolizes and communicates a meaning usually without being divisible into smaller units capable of independent use. 

Communicates a meaning. 

Translation: Words do matter because they carry the weight of meaning.

As my niece grew, so did my linguistic awareness.

If she wore a cute outfit or had her hair styled a certain way, of course I would give her a compliment. However, I made it my mission to ensure our time together was focused on reading, playing, engaging kindly with others and standing tall for herself.

When she did something well, I was careful to be specific with my praise using words and phrases that endorsed qualities like strength, intelligence and understanding. 

I desperately wanted this growing little girl to know she could be and do anything.


Sally. Pink Hat. Throwing like a girl. Playing in a skirt. 

How often do we still hear these terms used to describe deficiencies in male athletes or fans who lack knowledge? 

On the surface, these phrases seem harmless. At the core, they perpetuate stereotypes that women are weak and inferior to our male counterparts. 

Trust me, I fall into the trap of using demeaning language. For example, describing an upset athlete as “whining like a little girl” has been ingrained in most of us for decades. But nothing is permanent. 

We can change attitudes and perceptions with a slight shift in how we speak. 

Do we need to call a guy a “Sally” or say a team “might as well have worn skirts”? Why not be a little more creative and use our words wisely? If an athlete doesn’t play well, why not explain their performance as “poor, sad, unacceptable, dreadful, atrocious, awful, garbage, shaky, anemic, powerless, weak, etc . . . ” Shall I go on? 

Do we have to describe inept fans as “pink hats” or could we simply call them . . . inept? How about ill-informed, bumbling, or incompetent? 

The reality is, there is a term for when we use female adjectives to relay a message of weakness: Lazy. 


Five years after the birth of my niece, my sister delivered a bouncing baby boy. Any fears I had about my ability to love them both equally was swept away the first time I held his tiny, perfect, half-asleep little boy in my arms. I was once again overcome by a love I never thought possible. 

It was also the first time I realized the way I convey messages leaves an impression not just on the women in my life, but also the men. 

When we criticize men for showing emotion, or belittle them for falling short, the message we send is that males need to show perpetual strength while avoiding feelings. This only works to drive home the idea that women are to act one way, men another.

If you've ever been around children, you know that while they tend to gravitate towards certain toys and activities, it's often because those are the only choices they see or hear. I’d like to think that by displaying a multitude of options to my niece and nephew, they're perceiving the possibility of a world without limits based on gender. 

Women are not inherently weak, men are not automatically strong. Women are not born inferior, men do not emerge into this world superior. Women are not all followers just as all men are not leaders. We're each capable of what we believe is possible.

So let’s stop talking as though the only truths are those which we’ve spoken in the past.