Why Everyone Deserves a Sporting Chance:
Education, Justice, and School Sports
Janice Moulton, Smith College
Speaking at a college athletic banquet, Donald Kennedy, the former president of
Stanford University, spoke about when he had been a college athlete thirty years
It occurs to me to wonder: what would the reaction have been if I had
predicted that soon women would run the Boston Marathon faster than it had ever
been run by men up to that point? There would have been incredulous laughter
from two-thirds of the room, accompanied by a little locker-room humor.
Yet that is just what has taken place. My classmates would be astonished at
but they would be even more astonished at the
If we look
at the past 10 years of world's best times in the Marathons for men and women, it
is clear that the women's mark has been dropping over the decade, at a rate about
seven times faster than the men's record.
While Kennedy was in school, the swimming teams of Harvard and Yale were the
best in the country. He used them for comparison:
*An earlier version of this paper was given as a talk and published in
(Judith Andre and David N. James, eds., Philadelphia, PA: Temple
University Press, 1991, pp. 210-220.)
The revisions were prompted by comments of
Bob Cohen and George Robinson, for which I thank you both.
What would have happened if you had put this year's Stanford women into the
what. Just to give you a sample,
women would have beaten my friend Dave Hedberg, Harvard's great sprint
the Yalies in the 100. The Stanford women would have swept
the 200-yard backstroke and breaststroke, and won
the other events contested.
In the 400-yard freestyle relay there would have been a 10-second wait
between Stanford's touch and the first man to arrive at the finish. Do you know
10 seconds is? Can you imagine that crowd . . . seeing a team of
line up against the two best freestyle relay groups in the East, expecting the
unexpected, and then having to wait
long-for the men to get home? (1)
Kennedy’s anecdote asks us to reexamine assumptions about male-female
differences that are based on past performance. Short-distance swimming and
long-distance track records of men are better to date than those of women, but the rate
of improvement for women is far better than the rate of improvement for men.
has changed is the opportunity for women to participate and train in these sports,
because about ten years before Donald Kennedy spoke, Title IV, the federal
legislation prohibiting sex discrimination in school programs, was passed. The lesson
is that we must be careful about attributing differences in sports ability to sex
differences: Opportunity produces far greater improvement in performance than
anyone would have predicted.
Equal opportunity is an important value in our society. It is often invoked to