Tuesday, April 26, 2011

University Sports Teams Deceive & Undermine Gender Equity

Title IX, passed in 1972, banned sex discrimination in any federally financed education program. Over the next 40 years, the law spawned a cultural transformation: the number of women competing in college sports has soared by more than 500 percent — to 186,000 a year from fewer than 30,000 in 1972.

But as women have grown to 57 percent of American colleges’ enrollment, athletic programs have increasingly struggled to field a proportional number of female athletes. And instead of pouring money into new women’s teams or trimming the rosters of prized football teams, many colleges are turning to a sleight of hand known as roster management. Many are padding women’s team rosters with underqualified, even unwitting, athletes. They are even counting male practice players as women!

This New York Times article details this deception by colleges and universities in the USA.

It makes me so angry!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tribute to RJ

On March 28, just after midnight on that Monday, my maternal grandfather, R.J. Denton, died. He was 96.

For his grandkids and great-grandkids, he was "Gran", short for "Grand-dad" - the latter of which would have been what we called him had we not already had another relative called "Grand-Dad" on my father's side (his own maternal grandfather).

Growing up, I was very close to my paternal grandparents, but not so close to my maternal grandparents, Gran and Mama Cym. I felt lost in a sea of grandchildren on that side of the family. Gran and Mama Cym did take me fishing once at Kentucky lake - just me and them - and I had a great time. But mostly, it was me and five to eight other grandkids and lots of other family, together for Sunday dinners, Christmas Eve or a summer cookout with Gran at the grill making the most delicious burgers ever and sometimes making homemade ice cream as well. I felt just part of the crowd.

That started to change a bit when I went away to university, and returned in the summer of 1985 to work in a hotel dining room on Highway 41 in my home town for the breakfast and lunch shifts: I would sneak into the adjacent bar - I was underage -- to hang out with Gran for a few minutes while he drank his glass of red wine before his weekly Lion's Club meeting. I loved it when I would hear those words from a waitress or hotel employee: "Your grandfather is in the lounge." I discovered that Gran was a rare adult family member who would be totally honest with me: anything I asked, he would tell me, no exceptions. In a family that doesn't share much, Gran would share absolutely anything with me - all I had to do was ask. That honesty meant the world to me.

Between my junior and senior year at university, I needed an internship at a newspaper for the summer. In all my life, I have never found anything more competitive than finding a journalism internship. I sent out dozens of pitch letters and clips. Only one newspaper responded: in Springfield, Illinois. Gran drove me up for my interview. We had a fun, low-key day together. When I didn't get the internship, I was devastated: I knew that a career at a newspaper wasn't going to happen for me, and it was time to look for something else. A few days later, I got a letter from Gran. Mama Cym said it was the first letter he'd written in probably 25 years. I don't remember what it said -- just that it meant the absolute world to me that Gran had felt so bad for me and wanted to cheer me up.

A few years later, while living in California. I decided to fly home to Kentucky for a visit, and upon arrival, learned that, that very night, I would be going to the Henderson County Fair to see my sister in the Miss Henderson County Fair pageant. I was mortified. I was as much a feminist then as I am now, maybe more: I abhor beauty contests, except for drag queens. I went to support my sister, but under silent protest. I was sitting next to Gran in the bleachers, watching a text book small town totally demeaning beauty pageant, complete with an opening statement that took a dig at feminists. At some point, Gran started nudging me. I was trying not to cringe at the events on stage, but I guess I wasn't hiding it from Gran at all. He would nudge me and roll his eyes at particularly cringe-worthy moments, or pretend to be saying something perky, per the painful host and the contestants (except for my sister, ofcourse).

Gran had his voice box removed when I was a little girl, and he communicated by burping his words through his tracheotomy. Yet he was surprisingly easy to understand. During intermission, he was asking me how I liked California, what I did out there, etc. - something no one ever asked me when I was home. And I suddenly felt the need to shock him. So I said, "I'm very active with a Pro-Choice group there. We're working to ensure abortion remains legal and accessible for any woman who wants such." His eyes narrowed, and he began poking me with his finger, and with each poke, he said a word: "That's... your... body... not... the... government's'!" And that was the moment I not only found out that my grandfather and I shared almost exactly the same political views, but also, that my grandfather was freakin' hilarious. We talked and laughed and carried on for the rest of the night - so much that Mama Cym threatened to make us leave.

After that, I bought Gran the paper back version of Al Franken's Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot. Mama Cym said he read it cover to cover and laughed and laughed -- the first book he'd read in many years. I sent him silly postcards mocking this or that politician. I'd bring him red wine from wherever I was living, whenever I went back to Kentucky for a visit, and Mama Cym would fuss about what a bad influence I was as she found glasses for us to have a drink together. About 10 years ago, I had a "Yellow Dog Democrat" mug sent to his house, and he acknowledged it every time I came home.

I was in my 20s, and Gran had become one of my dearest friends. He made me feel special every time I came back to Henderson. Gran made me feel like I belonged - something I've struggled with all my life. I loved the welcome he always gave me. I loved how he would say, "Your brothers are so conservative. But you're just like me!"

As an adult, I learned a lot about Gran, sometimes from himself and sometimes from my brother, who heard many a story from him that began with, "Now, I'm not proud of this...." My mother told me a couple as well. Hence why I would frequently say, "I love him, and I'm glad he's my grandfather, but I sure wouldn't want to be married to him!" Descriptions of my grandmother as a "saint" are not exaggerated. When they celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary, I sent an essay as a tribute - one that didn't talk about romance nearly as much as tolerance.

I wasn't just like Gran. He could say some awful things about particular groups of people. He could be incredibly intolerant. At such times, I would yell, "That's why people think Kentuckians are a bunch of stupid red necks!!" and he would laugh and laugh. I said that once and a person nearby chided me, saying at the time, "He's 86 years old. He's not going to change and you shouldn't make him." "Bullshit!" I replied, "He's an old fart, not a child!" That sent him into hysterics, slapping his leg and clapping his hands. Imagine my shock when I was talking to Mama Cym after the Presidential election and she said Gran was demanding to talk to me. So she put him on the phone so he could proudly tell me, "I voted for the Black!" That was Gran being racially sensitive. He heard me laugh, but actually, I cried when I got off the phone, realizing just how much I loved him.

I bragged about Gran and Mama Cym frequently: they volunteered for the Special Olympics before most people knew what it was. They were always the oldest cancer survivors participating in the Relay for Life in Henderson. Gran coached Little League for many years, and was instrumental in the movement that created a number of baseball parks built in Henderson. Gran was a former Henderson City Commissioner, a two-term Henderson County Magistrate, a life member of the Masons, a life member of Henderson City Lions Club, and a life member of the Moose Lodge. And he and Mama Cym could dance like you wouldn't believe. I found out at his funeral that he also played a massively important role in getting the public to fund the first school built in Henderson in more than 30 years, back in the 1950s. When a local election came around, local candidates came calling to Gran - the support of RJ and Cym remained THAT important.

A few years ago, my grandparents were flooded out of their home of more than 50 years. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise: they moved to a senior retirement apartment complex and got a new lease on life. It because easier for all their kids, grandkids and great-grandkids to visit them and care for them. They got that one last opportunity to be as social as they loved to be.

When I was about to move to Germany in 2001, Gran said, "You should write a book." Instead, I started a travel blog. I credit Gran with the incentive to do so.

Gran's health worsened greatly over the last three years, and it took a tremendous amount of effort to get him out. The last two times I spent with him were in 2008, when I brought my husband to Henderson specifically to meet my grandparents, and in 2009, when I took my three living grandparents to Hunan's, my hometown's beloved Chinese restaurant, where Gran was treated like a king, where other patrons came to the table to pay their respects and the staff completely fawned over him.

Gran and Mama Cym were members of different churches - he was a devout Methodist, and she a devout Baptist (yes, a dancing Baptist). They merrily went off to different churches most of their lives each and every Sunday, sometimes going to each other's church for a special event. In their more than 75 years together, I never knew there were any doctrinal conflicts between them - so you can imagine my surprise, and everyone's laughter, when, at Gran's funeral, his preacher said that Gran called him to his bedside about two weeks before his death, asking for "ammunition" against Mama Cym's efforts to get him baptized "properly", through immersion, before he died.

We joked that it took three preachers to take care of Gran's soul: his church's preacher, Mama Cym's church's preacher, and the Lion's Club minister. Gran's funeral was full of so much laughter. People got up to tell stories: my brother Barry, my aunt Charla (his youngest), a local retired politician who worked with Gran in city government, a current politician who considered him a political hero, and on and on. Outside of the services, my brothers also told stories about Gran that kept us laughing.

It's so hard to think of him gone, because I'm 45, and Gran's always been there. I was sad to learn from his minister that Gran didn't know how much of a positive influence he'd had on his family and his community - but I don't think it was because of lack of people telling him but, rather, his humbleness. The legacy of RJ Denton looms large in Henderson County, Kentucky, whether you know it or not. I just wish he'd known that before he died.

Sometimes, I hear myself say something and think, There's Gran. I was very much RJ Denton's grand-daughter, and I'm very, very proud of that.

Thanks for making me feel like I belonged, Gran.