SBJ/February 24 - March 2, 2003/Opinion
XI women who took Title IX to front office
Published February 24, 2003
While much of the debate over Title IX has centered on playing opportunities for women in U.S. higher education (women's NCAA Division I teams now outnumber men's teams, as USA Today has noted), I got to thinking about whether this 1972 federal legislation has spurred notable contributions by women in the front office.
The obvious answer is yes. For the last three decades, women have enjoyed increased opportunities on the business side of the sport ledger and, in many cases, have successfully entered what was once a "boys only" club. But who were the pioneers? Who really helped diversify American boardrooms, conference rooms or broadcast studios?
Here's my take on the most notable:
While many sport historians point first to Billie Jean
Donna Lopiano, the former University of Texas
She recently suggested the Commission on Athletic Opportunity (initiated by U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige to study and suggest possible changes to Title IX) was a sham because, in part, 60 percent of the committee members represented Division I-A football schools. Lopiano holds firm to her belief that gender discrimination still exists in America.
One of the most powerful people in the sponsorship world for the last three decades has been Philip Morris' Ina Broeman. The best example of her influence was the co-branding relationship she helped create between the giant cigarette manufacturer and women's tennis with the Virginia Slims Championship. When Virginia Slims created "You've come a long way, baby," the beneficiaries included King, Rosie Casals, Chris Evert Lloyd, Martina Navratilova, their agents and financial advisers.
Broeman's legendary work for the Virginia Slims Championship (which ran from 1972 to 1994) connected female athletes, events and sponsors in the most comprehensive way ever.
To some, the selection of Phyllis George as an NFL broadcaster was nothing more than a move toward big hair and Southern accents. But when George joined CBS' "The NFL Today" pregame show with Brent Musburger, Irv Cross and Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder in 1975, she became the first woman ever in an NFL broadcast studio. That she held that position for 10 years spoke to her professionalism and talent. That a host of women now cover sports on-air for TV networks, affiliates and radio groups, speaks to her pioneering influence.
A bronze medalist in the women's eight-oared shell at
Hedges and Judith Sweet
The first woman ever to run an NCAA Division I program, Barbara Hedges took over the University of Washington's athletic department in 1991 and promptly watched the Huskies go 12-0 in football, defeat Michigan in the Rose Bowl and win college football's national championship. Additionally, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Hedges moved UW to a point where it was "the only Division I institution with an undergraduate enrollment at least 50 percent female to have achieved substantial proportionality in both scholarships and participation."
Hedges, however, was not the first female athletic director to run a program involving both men's and women's teams. That honor belonged to Judith Sweet, who took over the University of California-San Diego athletic department in 1974 and ran it for 24 years before leaving to join the NCAA. UCSD won the Sears Director's Cup for Division III in 1998.
While the Gateway Conference was founded as a women's athletics group in August 1982 (with Patty Viverito as commissioner), it was 1992 when Viverito became the first woman to govern a conference that played football. Today, eight schools in the Missouri Valley Conference (Illinois State, Indiana State, Northern Iowa, Southern Illinois, Southwest Missouri State, Western Illinois, Western Kentucky and Youngstown State) take their football directives from Viverito.
Viverito's performance with the Gateway Conference may have helped create opportunities for women such as Linda Bruno, who became commissioner of the Atlantic 10 Conference in June 1994, and Brenda Weare, interim commissioner (and now associate commissioner) of Conference USA.
Levinson and Amy Trask
When Sara Levinson came to NFL Properties from MTV in late 1995, some league insiders felt it was just a publicity stunt to shake up the league's internal power structure. But Levinson's keen eye for emerging demographics, including female NFL fans, gave America's most powerful league a chance to approach the new millennium thinking beyond just men and boys. Levinson's selection probably helped pave the road for WNBA President Val Ackerman (selected by NBA Commissioner David Stern and the league's board of governors in 1996) and USOC presidents Sandra Baldwin (named president in 2000) and Marty Mankamyer (2002).
Amy Trask made her mark on the NFL at the team level when she became the first female chief executive in the league's history in 1997.
ESPN may be well regarded for its "SportsCenter"
Daly joined ESPN in 1997 as vice president of advertising and by 2000, ESPN was named the "Promotional Marketer of the Year." ESPN's advertising, frequently featuring top athletes such as Roger Clemens, Evander Holyfield and Michael Andretti, has been instrumental in building awareness for ESPN's popular "SportsCenter" and is annually considered for the ad world's most prestigious awards.
Rick Burton is executive director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon.