We’ve come a long way, baby

Alyson Footer (@alysonfooter) is one of my favorite baseball twitter follows. She was tweeting for the Astros when I first began my love affair with twitter; the love affair with baseball and the Astros goes back much farther, as I’m sure y’all know. Now she is a correspondent for MLB and covers everything baseball, but she still obviously has a fond spot for Houston and the Astros. Happily, she doesn’t seem very unique to me, as a woman covering sports/baseball. I’m sure she understands what a “long way, baby” women in sports journalism have come, but that’s not actually where I was going with this post.

Today, she tweeted that she was interested in seeing how far Tim Tebow (the former NFL QB) gets in baseball, but that there was zero chance that he would ever play in the major leagues. She got some pushback along the never-say-never line, to which she replied that a 100 mph fastball reaches the plate in 396 milliseconds and that success in high school and monster shots in batting practice equate to nothing at the professional level. Then she and a few co-sports journos shared some of their high school sports accomplishments. It was pretty funny.  That’s not actually where I am going with this post, either, but that is what sparked my thoughts for this post, because it made me remember that my crowning athletic achievement in high school is that I was the first girl at my school to receive a varsity letter.

I know that some of my loyal readers, i.e. the daughters, might consider me old. At 56, I am not THAT old, but am old enough to have lived on the very cusp of the parts of the women’s equality movement that were sparked by Title IX.  There are some exceptions and clarifications in the full transcript of the law, but the substance of Title IX is contained in one sentence:

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.

Title IX was signed into law by Richard Nixon on June 23, 1972. I had just completed 7th grade in a Chicago suburb. In the fall of 1972, my junior high started an interscholastic girls volleyball team. This was our first official girls sport. (Note: There may have been a girls track team. Track and Field was never my interest or my forte, but I don’t recall a team.) Before I go any further, let me clarify that I have always loved sports and have never had more that average-at-best athletic ability. Summer fun league softball was a happy staple from 6th grade thru high school. An intramural athletic club (GAA) was my focus of extracurricular activity in high school, and collegiate intramurals were always terrific fun. The rise of competitive girls sports has, in many ways, diminished the opportunities for casual athletes like myself. It’s a worthwhile and necessary trade-off.

When I entered high school, girls had one, all-grade level team in four sports: track, tennis, gymnastics, and archery. From my old year book pictures, I’d guess that roughly 70 girls, out of a total school population of 500, were in interscholastic athletics (and, like today, there were probably several multi-sport athletes.) New sports for girls were gradually added. There were at least 160 girl athletes pictured in my senior year book, with the addition of volleyball, basketball, and softball teams.

Was I on any of these teams? No. So what’s with the varsity letter thing?

First of all, girls didn’t earn varsity letters. Possibly because there was only one team, not really a “varsity” team, but more likely because no one thought about it and no one really cared. Letters and letter jackets were for boys. (Also, letters were only awarded in athletics.) My sophomore year, a friend and I leapt at the opportunity to become managers (as in equipment manager) of the varsity boys baseball team. Because baseball!…and boys! That was another first for my high school. Girls back then did not help the boys’ teams as managers or trainers. This surprisingly forward thinking baseball coach was far from being an ERA supporter (the Equal Rights Amendment was also passed in 1972, but was never ratified), but he considered us a full part of the team and at the end of the season we were awarded our varsity letters along with the players. Letters for all?/some of? the girls sports began being awarded the following year. (Maybe even that same year, my memory is foggy, but if nothing else, the baseball letter ceremony was one of the first of that year. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

One final note: Girls did not get letter jackets. So I knit myself a letter sweater.

letter

The two bars signify that I earned two additional letters for two more years as manager. Because baseball!..and boys!

 

I heard several comments about how there were more women than men on the US Olympic team this summer, and how that fact is directly linked to Title IX. I’m happy to report that in a tiny way, I was a part of the beginning of that revolution. We’ve come a long way, baby.

 

 

Grapes of Wrath

grapesJohn Steinbeck, always and forever my favorite author. He observes and understands and writes so that I understand, so that I feel like I am observing his fictional and/or real world right along side of him. I think this was only the second time that I’ve read Grapes of Wrath; I remembered it as not one of my favorite Steinbeck books, but I absolutely loved it this time around.

It took me a long time to get thru it. I haven’t been in a big reading mood and this is a long and rather depressing book. I was most surprised by how relevant the book still is, it was not the escapist literature that I needed as a break from the current world news. It is the story of a family forced off of their Oklahoma farm who head west to California, but so many of the issues and the problems and injustices that Steinbeck illuminates are still central to the political discussions of today. The book alternates between telling the specific story of the Joad family and generalizing the situations in Oklahoma and California.

At its core, The Grapes of Wrath is the story of refugees forced off of their land and away from their homes. It is the story of these refugees migrating to a land where they assume they will be welcomed. It is the story of these migrants arriving and suddenly becoming a lesser class of humans. Wealth and power are concentrated in a small minority of individuals and large corporations and the law stands with them. The whole refugee crisis is ignited by an economic crisis, the Great Depression and compounded by an environmental/climate disaster, the Dustbowl. Banding together to survive, peaceful protesting and unifying movements too often are responded to with hate and fear and violence. Reading it was just like turning on the evening news.

In the West there was panic when the migrants multiplied on the highways. Men of property were terrified for their property. Men who had never been hungry saw the eyes of the hungry, Men who had never wanted anything very much saw the flare of want in the eyes of the migrants. And the men of the towns and of the soft suburban country gathered to defend themselves; and they reassured themselves that they were good and the invaders bad, as a man must do before he fights. They said, These goddamned Okies are dirty and ignorant. They’re degenerate, sexual maniacs. These goddamned Okies are thieves. They’ll steal anything. They’ve got no sense of property rights.

And the latter was true, for how can a man without property know the ache of ownership? And the defending people said, They bring disease, they’re filthy. We can’t have them in the schools. They’re strangers. How’d you like to have your sister go out with one of ’em?

The local people whipped themselves into a mold of cruelty. Then they formed units, squads, and armed them – armed them with clubs, with gas, with guns. We own the country. We can’t let these Okies get out of hand.

Written as a contemporary novel, it is now read as historical fiction. People who like to read a lot into things say that is a retelling of biblical stories. The title phrase comes from the Book of Revelations, by way of The Battle Hymn of the Republic. I don’t like to read that much into it, I think it was about current events at the time. Although considering how it could also be an allegory for what is happening in the world today, I guess we still are telling those same stories over and over. And no one tells them better than John Steinbeck.