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In sporting goods, the clock runs out on ignoring women

When 12-year-old McKenna Peterson opened her new Dick's Sporting Goods basketball catalog recently, the Arizona basketball player and superfan was frustrated to find a glaring misstep: The only girl in the catalog's pages wasn't actually playing basketball — she was sitting in the stands.

So McKenna began to type the company a fiery letter, not just praising her favorite female "dunking machines" but also tearing into the annoying imbalance the boy-heavy mailer seemed to represent. "It's hard enough for girls to break through in this sport as it is," she wrote, "without you guys excluding us from your catalog."

McKenna's letter didn't just spark a public outcry and lead the corporate giant's chief to apologize — it highlighted an unavoidable tension of the sporting-goods industry: Girls and young women are one of its fastest-growing markets, and one of its most ignored.

"That they're never represented athletically means we don't value them as athletes, and maybe, in the case of this catalog, don't value them as customers," said Janet Fink, a professor in sports management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

The business case behind appealing to women couldn't be more obvious: Women account for the vast majority of purchase decisions, Nielsen research shows, and American girls' participation in sports has been on a growth streak for years. Retailers that have devoted floor space, time and creativity to women's apparel have profited in return.

Yet analysts said the sporting-goods world remains chiefly concentrated on and controlled by men, an outgrowth of a decades-long lack of focus on female athletes and the broader gender gap that still haunts modern sports.

About 40 percent of American athletes are female, yet only 4 percent of media coverage goes to female sports, according to the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota.

Women have "been vastly underserved by the industry. Sporting goods is a guy industry, and men dominate the executive ranks," said Matt Powell, an analyst with industry researcher SportsOneSource. "Even today we don't see brands making a ton of women's sporting apparel. With footwear, for example, they still tend to be female versions of a man's shoe."

One guiding strategy for apparel for women and girls remains what is known as the "shrink it and pink it" approach, in which the only options for women brought to market are smaller, more colorful versions of men's clothes, analysts said. And though some retailers have begun designing sportswear for women, the broader marketing and media appearances of female athletes have often lagged behind.

More than 19 million girls played basketball, soccer and volleyball last year, according to the National Sporting Goods Association, and girls' participation in sports has grown an average of 50 percent a year over the last half-decade. Young female athletes are not without role models: Mo'ne Davis, 13, was celebrated on the cover of Sports Illustrated in August when she became the first girl to pitch a shutout game in Little League World Series history.

But the odds can also appear stacked against female athletes. McKenna's mother, Donna Peterson, told The Washington Post there has been a lack of leagues around their town, Gilbert, Arizona, for McKenna to play in. The choices don't get any better when they look on clothing racks, she added, because the choices are hugely limited for girls' basketball jerseys, shorts and shoes.


Some companies are pushing hard to win women's spending. At Under Armour, the Baltimore-based retailer that got its start with men's football gear, nearly a third of its $3 billion in annual sales come from women, and founder and chief executive Kevin Plank has said he expects, under the company's new strategic "womanifesto," business from women will "equal or surpass our men's business in the future."

Led by its youth and women's divisions, Under Armour sales grew 24 percent last year.

Doubling down on its women's outreach, the company just launched its first worldwide ad campaign dedicated to women, tapping elite female athletes as head sponsors, including ballerina Misty Copeland, Olympian soccer gold-medalist Kelley O'Hara and pro surfer Brianna Cope. In one commercial, supermodel Gisele Bündchen spars with a punching bag as negative quotes pulled from the Web, like "Stick to modeling, sweetie," appear on the walls.

Foot Locker chief executive Kenneth C. Hicks has called women's sports apparel the company's "biggest opportunity," and the company has begun a dramatic remodeling of its growing Lady Foot Locker brand.

Some companies' bets on women's running shoes, tank tops, yoga wear and other gear have paid off handsomely: Sports giant Nike has so far this year seen sales of its women's sports apparel grow nearly 30 percent over last year.

"Big companies are seeing that the public is ready, more than ready, for clothing that's not just pink and purple and tight or short, but is functional and appropriate for athletes and girls of all shapes and sizes," said Judy Vredenburgh, the president and chief executive of Girls Inc., a girls' advocacy nonprofit.


Before the catalog shipped, Dick's was among that core of sports retailers hoping to win over a growing market for girls. At an earnings call in August, Dick's chief executive Edward W. Stack said the company had in recent months taken space away from golf equipment, the shrinking market that once made up a fifth of its business, to add much more women's and youth apparel, one of the company's strongest-growing markets.

Dick's did not respond to messages, but Stack responded Saturday to McKenna with a tweeted letter of apology, saying "we clearly messed up" and guaranteeing that next year's catalog would feature more female athletes.

In the days since, most of the company's tweets to its nearly 300,000 followers have included pictures of young female shoppers and athletes, as well as links to buy women's leggings, running shoes and sports bras.

Market watchers say better offerings for girls and young women may get their biggest jump-start from girls like McKenna, who are vocal sports fans and unafraid to call out retailers.

"We have 30-plus years of sport media research that document exactly what she pointed out," said Nicole LaVoi, an associate director of the Tucker Center in Minnesota. "We've been sounding this bell for years. It still hasn't permeated the consciousness of some of these sporting-goods companies," LaVoi said. "Why is the voice of one girl so powerful?"

Source: Portland Press Herald


There's a Reason Why Your Kids Aren't Playing - They're Not Good Enough

The fall sports season is reaching its zenith. Boys and girls at all levels and grades are running, stretching, planning and preparing for cross-town or cross-county rivals. Fall, especially in New England, is a wondrous time of year even if the Red Sox aren't participating. [Here in Florida, it's cause for a street party whenever the temperature falls below 70 during the day.]

For high school athletes, it means all those sweaty summer practices, workouts and sports-camps are finally going to pay some dividends.

The heart of any school athletic season brings with it busy schedules, frantic parents or older siblings driving kids from one field to the next, competition, camaraderie, joy, and disappointment.

One question every coach from Pop Warner and Youth Volleyball, on up through the highest levels high school competition in Texas, has heard in their coaching career is this:

"Why isn't my kid playing?"

This topic came up in the wake of a column that ran in the Boston Globe last week about the lack of play for some in youth sports.

The absurdity of many "win-at-all-cost" coaches in youth sports is neatly matched by the fanaticism of "play-my-kid-or-else" parents at the high-school level.

When the games start to count, the main reason why your kid isn't playing is simple:

"They're just not good enough."

"He/she just isn't fast enough."

"He/she just isn't strong enough."

"He/she just isn't tall enough."

"He/she is too fat/too skinny."

"He/she just didn't try hard enough in practice."

"He/she should not play over Jimmy/Jenny because they're faster, quicker, stronger, taller, and/or try harder."

Good coaches, however, are not usually that blunt or honest.

We'll focus on football for the rest of this conversation. Although much here applies to all sports, regardless of the game or gender. Many coaches are notorious for not telling what you and I would consider the "truth."

The coach of New England's NFL entry has mastered that skill. And high school coaches who fancy themselves as the "Belichick of the _______ League" are likely to follow his lead.

Parents get a little nutty at times when it comes to their children and youth/high school sports. Nearly parent ever [this one included], at one time or another in the dark recesses of their minds, fancies a scenario where their son or daughter can master this or that sport well enough to earn a free-ride to college. When that dream/delusion is squashed after meeting the reality of genetics, talent, and/or interest, it's hard to reconcile.

For the parents, that is.

The thing is that many kids know what they're good at, and what they're not good at. When it comes to football, for instance, most of the middle-schoolers or freshman already know the one or two kids who are good enough to play on the varsity team. And be the ones likely to catch the eye of a college recruiter. Their parents do not.

The rest play because they enjoy it, need the discipline, want to belong to a team, have dreamed of it since they were 5 or 6, are trying to make their parents happy, need a varsity sport on their college application, or some combination thereof.

There is another level of high school athlete, the non-elite, that encompasses about 99 percent of those who play high school and/or youth sports. They're the ones whose career in organized athletics will end with their final high school game. Some of these kids are very talented and skilled. They're able to throw the ball AND catch the ball, much to the delight of Gisele Bundchen. They can beat anyone in a footrace. They can bench twice their body weight.

Others possess marginal athletic skills, but make up for it practice, by getting stronger and quicker, and with on-field effort.

And no matter how much little Billy tries, no matter how much little Billy wants to play, there's no guarantee that he will play. [Unless he's participating in a league that mandates or guarantees playing time.] Participating in high school sports, for instance, is no different than any other education experience. You learn about winning and losing. You learn about bad calls and bad breaks. And some kids just aren't good enough to play, at least on a routine basis.

Far too many children today are living in a world where they never learn "no." They don't know how to handle disappointment and failure. Nor do they know how to react and move on when they don't get their own way. Interacting with actual people, and not just the screens on their iPhones or iPads, is a challenge, if not an impossibility. I won't call this "abuse," but it's pretty damn close.

This is a world constructed by "well-meaning" but dangerously naïve parents. The children know no better because this is what they're taught.

Playing a team sport, like football, with the right coaching can help students learn life's difficult lessons, including Mick Jagger's truism that "you can't always get what you want."

The joy of winning, the life-time friendships that are crafted among teammates, the sense of accomplishment and, for some, that varsity letter, makes the effort worth the risk. Some kids just aren't good enough to play at any competitive level . This is not a moral judgment. They're too big, too small, too slow, don't work hard enough off the field, or aren't physically strong enough to be safe while being on the field against better athletes who won't take it easy on them.

It sucks when your kid isn't playing. Been there, done that. No reasonable parent wants to see their child hurt. But no one escapes this life unhurt, emotionally if not physically.

When these kids move on in life, they are going to get rejected when they apply for college, turned down when they ask out someone for a date, fail to get the job they want, the shift they want at work, and taste failure and disappointment on multiple fronts.

Legitimate safety concerns aside, coaches should try to get make sure everyone gets some playing time. But that should never come at expense of other kids who are more talented, try harder or spend more time practicing.

My son earned a starting spot senior year on his varsity football team. When it became evident he wasn't going to play much after the first few weeks of the season, he made the difficult decision to leave the team. He focused full-time on his studies and conditioning, so he could qualify for a military scholarship. The sophomore who replaced him is now playing at a Div. I-AA school on scholarship. This turned out to be a great decision for my son, who is a third-year US Army ROTC cadet. Win-win.

Their coach wasn't very good, and would be fired before my son graduated. This taught my son another important life-lesson: All your bosses aren't going to be great. Sometimes, leadership is going fail and take everyone down with it.

No child should be forced to play sports. And no child should ever go out for any team thinking they're going to be guaranteed a spot or playing time, no matter how loudly their parents complain. There is, however, much on the upside to playing team high school sports that barely gets mentioned nowadays.

In that sense, sports is a true metaphor for life. No one is guaranteed "playing" time in life. For the most part, hard work, effort, planning and desire is rewarded. The benefits can be wonderful. But it's good to prepared when it doesn't work out that way.



Put our kids in, coach

It was a crisp, spectacular autumn Saturday, one of those mornings the Supreme Being placed on our calendar so footballs can be passed and kicked and spiked in triumphant end-zone celebration.

We were in Marshfield. The players were 12 years old. And with each minute that drained from the scoreboard, my blood pressure rose.

Like every contest in which the combatants have yet to acquire their first shaving kit, it was a meaningless game. Still, the coaches decided the stakes were too high to play all but the most gifted of their precious pre-teen athletes.

I don't recall who won. No one there that morning does. But after the game broke up, my young son and I headed for the parking lot and encountered a scene — a full 10 Octobers ago now — that remains seared into my memory.

A coach takes one of his small players aside — and the little boy is crying.

"What's that all about?" I asked my son. "Paul didn't play," he told me. After a pause, he added: "And I didn't either, dad." And then my son, too, burst into tears. There have been few times in my life that I have seen brighter shades of red.

Like most parents, I have been the beneficiary of the fine talent and the donated time of dedicated, hard-working coaches. They inspire. They nurture. They are treasures. And, thankfully, they outnumber the knuckleheads.

But there is a healthy minority who worship only the final score. Some of them, as the great Tommy Lasorda would say, couldn't hit the water if they fell out of a [expletive] boat. They are members of the win-at-all-cost club.

If your kid is the star quarterback, or the captain of the field hockey team, you probably love them. But if you're like most, parents of kids with average ability, you want to throttle them.

An estimated 20 million children register for competitive sports each year in America. With these frustrated wannabes patrolling our sidelines, it's little wonder that, according to the National Alliance for Sports, 70 percent of them quit playing by age 13.

"There are a percentage of coaches who shouldn't be coaching and there are some who are like a gift from God," Jim Thompson told me. "Our goal is to move everyone in sports in the direction of God's gift."

Thompson is the founder and chief executive of Positive Coaching Alliance, a national nonprofit that is working to make character building, not winning, the cornerstone of youth and high school athletics. It's a borderline disgrace that we even need such a group, but we do.

The group focuses its spotlight not on the my-way-or-the-highway coach, but on women and men like Chris Lindstrom, the head coach at Shepherd Hill School in Dudley. When he collected an honor at a breakfast meeting at Fenway Park earlier this year, Lindstrom told the story about a recent Thanksgiving Day game, the last for his seniors. When Lindstrom realized one of his seniors hadn't left the bench yet, he took out his talented son, and sent the back-up senior in for his moment of glory.

"Who cares who wins the game?" Lindstrom said. The answer, sadly, is too many coaches.

Lindstrom reminds me of one of my oldest childhood friends. Paul Constantino is the head football coach of Clinton High School. He has taken his teams to Super Bowl championships. He's also gone winless. He teaches respect. He carries himself with dignity. He loves to win. He doesn't throw tantrums when he loses.

And his proudest accomplishment is not his win-loss record, but the esteem in which he is carried by boys who grow into men and remember the imprint he made on their character.

He is, as Thompson would say, a gift from God, the kind of coach any parent would love to see on their sideline, the kind of coach simply incapable of making little boys cry.

Source: Boston Globe


Murdered UMD Student Honored By Softball Team

Mandy Matula

A college athlete believed to be killed by her boyfriend was honored Saturday at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Mandy Matula disappeared in May 2013.

Police say her ex-boyfriend shot and killed her, before killing himself at the police station.

Matula was a pitcher and outfielder for the UMD softball team before she graduated in 2011.

Her teammates honored her love for the game by retiring her softball jersey, No. 14, at halftime of Saturday's football game.

Matua's coach said Mandy would have been proud of Saturday's ceremony.

"Whether she was working or helping someone, she always made things fun," her coach said. "Even if you were having a hard time, she was always there trying to make your life a lot better."

Every player on the Bulldog's softball team wore her No. 14 on the back of their jerseys.

Source: CBS Minnesota


California: Achieving Gender Equity In City Recreation Programs

In 2005, California was the first state in the nation to enforce the civil rights of girls and community athletics in local jurisdictions and special districts. AB 2404 is more than girls playing sports, it is about building an entire community institution that respects the foundation of fair play and the relationship between our sons and daughters. Like our sons, our daughters should have equal access to fields, resources and play time. Now more than ever, children and youth need to get active and reduce their sedentary lifestyles and counteract obesity and less than nutritious diets.

Although local government and special districts have ten years to comply with this new law, some ideas are discussed so that local jurisdictions can start to plan for compliance.

As our society evolves, it is recognized that our laws must also evolve to meet its changing needs. Every day we can pick up the newspaper and read about changes to our laws, which broaden the scope of achieving equality in many varied areas of our existence.

January 1, 2005, one such law went into effect (AB 2404 Chapter 852, Statutes of 2004, Steinberg), which addressed the need to ensure that any city, county, or special district cannot discriminate against any person on the basis of gender in the operation, conduct, or administration of community youth athletic programs or in the allocation of parks and recreation facilities and resources that support or enable these programs.

While the quality of life in our communities is dependent upon a variety of public services that agencies provide, youth sports activities hold a special place in the hearts of most our leaders. Almost every park and recreation department throughout the state offers baseball, soccer, basketball and other athletic opportunities to its children. However, until the passage of AB 2404, California cities, counties and special districts had little guidance in identifying criteria to ensure that discriminatory conduct did not play into the implementation of youth sports programming.

Recently agencies have faced lawsuits from female youth sports participants and their parents seeking relief to ensure equality in its youth sports programs. This article will outline the impacts of AB 2404 and provide guidance for avoiding the potential pitfalls of following a practice of maintaining an uneven playing field in the area of youth sports programming. However, in order to identify and evaluate what can be done to further ensure gender equality for youth sports activities, there are several fundamental laws that first must be visited.

Title IX

The first key law in addressing the area of women's sports equality is identified as Title IX of the Educational Amendment of 1972 to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was signed into law by President Richard Nixon. Title IX established that any educational program receiving Federal Assistance could lose its funding, if it discriminates on the basis of sex and requires equal opportunity for female athletes in government-funded institutions.

Specifically, Title IX's athletic regulations provide that "no person shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, be treated differently from another person or otherwise be discriminated against in any interscholastic, intercollegiate, club or intramural athletics offered by a recipient, and no recipient shall provide any such athletics separately on such basis."

A United States Court of Appeals decision from New York, Mc Cormick, et al. v. The School District of Mamaroneck, 370 F.3d 275 (2nd Cir. 2004), addressed the discrimination issue by examining the effect of "disparity" in athletic opportunity. The Court stated, "disparity does not mean that benefits, treatment, services, or opportunities are merely different…. Rather, compliance is assessed by first determining whether a difference…has a negative impact on one sex, and then determining whether that disparity is substantial enough to deny members of that sex equality of athletic opportunity."

The "Three-Prong Test"

The implementation of Title IX is currently governed through a series of Federal Regulations, which address procedural requirements for complying with this area of law.

One of the more important Title IX regulations enacted in 1979 by the Department of Education established a three-prong test to determine if Title IX requirements are being met by an educational institution. The three prongs include

  1. whether interscholastic level participation opportunities for male and female pupils are provided in numbers substantially proportionate to their respective enrollments;

  2. where the members of one sex have been and are underrepresented among interscholastic athletes, whether the school district can show a history and continuing practice of program expansion that is demonstrably responsive to the developing interest and abilities of the members of that sex; and

  3. where the members of one sex are underrepresented among interscholastic athletes, and the institution cannot show a history and continuing practice of program expansion, whether the school district can demonstrate that interest and abilities of the members of that sex have been fully and effectively accommodated by the present programs.

Over time, schools have used the three prong test of "proportionality," "history" and "interest" to ensure compliance with Title IX.

Unruh Civil Rights Act

The second key statute is a California law known as the Unruh Civil Rights Act. With this legislation, provisions of the California Civil Code were enacted which provided, in part, that "all persons…no matter what their sex…are entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services in all business establishments of every kind whatsoever." This Act has been held to prohibit local governmental agencies from discriminating on the basis proscribed by the Act.

However, it is important to note that actions under the Unruh Act require that a plaintiff must plead and prove intentional discrimination in violation of the terms of the Act. A disparate impact analysis or test would not apply to Unruh Act claims.

Assembly Bill 833

The third key legislation, AB 833, is a California law, which became effective January 1, 2004, that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in state secondary and postsecondary educational institutions. AB 833 set forth standards for determining whether an educational institution has effectively accommodated the interests and abilities of both sexes in athletics. This legislation also adopted the three-prong test and identified 15 different factors in evaluating whether or not an educational institution has provided equivalent opportunities to both sexes. It is the combination of these federal statutes and regulations, along with state law, that set the stage for AB 2404.

Assembly Bill 2404

This law clearly establishes the rule of existing law but does not create any new liability for cities, counties or special districts, they are already prohibited from gender discrimination in conducting youth sports programs. Over the past several years, they have faced lawsuits which have alleged that certain agencies discriminated in providing equal opportunities for girls' softball teams when compared to boys' Little League programs. While previous lawsuits were resolved without the necessity of trial proceedings, the outcome of those cases provided little guidance in evaluating what criteria should be considered to determine the merits of the claims. AB 2404 specifically addresses this dilemma.

This new law identifies twelve different factors for a court to evaluate in determining whether discrimination exists in local sports programming. These factors include:

  • whether the community youth athletic programs effectively accommodate the athletic interest and abilities of both genders;
  • the provision of monies, equipment, and supplies;
  • the scheduling of games and practice times;
  • the opportunity to receive coaching;
  • the assignment and compensation of coaches;
  • access to lands and areas available to the agency;
  • the selection of the season for a sport;
  • location of games and practices;
  • availability of locker rooms;
  • the provision of practice and competitive facilities;
  • the manner of providing publicity; and
  • the quality, training and certification standards of umpires, referees, or judges.

It is important to note that AB 2404 also provides a more comprehensive definition of park and recreation facilities. This term now includes park facilities, athletic fields, courts, gymnasiums, recreational rooms, restrooms, concession stands and storage spaces. It also includes those devices used to promote athletics including scoreboards, banners, advertising and all monies used in conjunction with youth athletic activities.

If an agency faces the unfortunate occurrence of an AB 2404 lawsuit, a court must now apply a similar Title IX three-prong test of proportionality, history and interest to the twelve factors mentioned above. To defeat a claim of discrimination, agencies can show

  1.  the percentages of boy and girl athletes are about the same as the percentages of boy and girl residents, or

  2. the community has a history and continuing practice of expanding opportunities for the underrepresented gender (this potential defense sunsets on January 1, 2015 and cannot be used as a basis for defeating discrimination claims under AB 2404 after that date), or

  3.  the community is fully and effectively accommodating female athletes' interests and abilities to participate in sports.

How to Avoid Litigation and the Pitfalls of Discrimination

Preventative measures can be taken to reduce the likelihood of litigation being brought against your agency, for which some guidance is provided in the Title IX Regulations. The Title IX Legal Manual presents certain procedural requirements for complying with Title IX. There are four topics of particular importance for local government: self evaluation, dissemination of policy, designation of an anti-discrimination coordinator and adoption of grievance procedures.

A public agency may strengthen its position by conducting an initial self-evaluation analysis of its current gender equality policies and procedures to determine whether those policies and procedures are consistent with the guidelines provided in AB 2404. Title IX Regulations mandates that, to the extent policies and procedures do not comply with the requirements of Title IX, "the provider must: 1)  modify the policies and procedures to bring them into compliance, and 2) take appropriate steps to remedy any discrimination that resulted from these practices." The regulations require that records documenting this self-evaluation process and any required modifications be retained for at least three years and that the documents must be available for review upon request.

Title IX Regulations also requires that the public be regularly and consistently notified that all participants, employees or other involved personnel cannot discriminate on the basis of sex in the activities or programs they operate. Further, that any questions regarding the application of such regulations may be referred to a Title IX coordinator or the agency providing the program.

Agencies should designate at least one employee to serve as its AB 2404 compliance coordinator. Similarly to the Title IX Regulations, this individual will be responsible for coordinating the agency's efforts to comply with and carry out its responsibilities under applicable law. The coordinator's name, business address and phone number should be communicated to all participants, operators, and employees of the program.

Lastly, Title IX requires the adoption and publication of grievance procedures in order to promptly and equitably resolve complaints alleging discrimination on the basis of sex. It is important to note that the courts have held that the failure to meet the requirement of establishing a grievance procedure under Title IX has not, by itself, amounted to discrimination on the basis of sex.

Aside from the guidance found in the Title IX Regulations, city staff can implement some very practical steps in protecting its youth sports programs from gender discrimination lawsuits.


Many gender equity cases analyze the statistical data relating to population versus participation in providing gender neutral opportunities. An agency should evaluate its census information and compare these numbers to the number of participants in its various sports programs. There should be nearly equivalent percentages of boy and girl athletes participating in your agency's sports programs as there are boy and girl residents.

Since many sports leagues allow non-residents to participate, attempt to analyze whether the agency's sports programs truly reflect the percentages within your jurisdiction. It is also important to know whether other organizations or non-profit groups are providing youth sports opportunities within an agency's area. Youth athletic programs, which are run by the YMCA or Boys and Girls Clubs may impact the test of "proportionality" but, if these programs involve agency assistance (either monetary or by use of public facilities), then these numbers cannot be overlooked.


It is critical that relationships be built between the leaders of community sports programs and those employees or volunteers who oversee an agency's athletic activities. By establishing solid lines of communication and continuing dialogue, the needs of each boys' and girls' sports league can be determined and problems or concerns remedied well in advance of litigation backlash. Working cooperatively with sports league operators and parents involved in the sports programs will foster creative ways to gain access to and increase opportunities for developing a practice of providing for the underrepresented gender.


In these financially challenging budgetary times, creating new programs or facilities, which provide a level playing field, is difficult at best. However, when resources become available that could accommodate the creation of programs or facilities directed towards female athletes, action should be taken to direct such resources towards achieving a greater balance of participation in sports programs. Agencies should recognize that the days of giving priority to certain programs, which traditionally favor participation by boys, such as Pop Warner Football and Little League Baseball leagues, is no longer legally acceptable. It is essential to identify creative sports programming strategies that promote equal participation by both boys and girls, so the success of a sports league does not rely on participation by a particular gender.

What do you do if litigation is commenced?

Unfortunately these types of lawsuits generally provide a "no-win" situation for our agencies. Even if it is decided to aggressively defend these matters, agency officials will appear to be unsympathetic to a significant portion of its youth sports participants.

Efforts should be taken to seek a reasonable resolution rather than escalating the litigation process. It has been the experience of my office that engaging in a stipulation extending the time to file a responsive pleading opens the door toward meaningful dialogue in attempting to resolve these disputes. The level of emotion with this type of issue can escalate, if litigation is aggressively pursued without the initial opportunity and attempt to resolve these differences through dialogue among the impacted parties.

However, if litigation is the direction desired by the elected officials, then all available immunities and defenses are available to the agencies and its officers.


Lessons that can be learned from previous laws addressing the issue of anti-discrimination will prove invaluable in evaluating the impacts of AB 2404. Much of what the future holds in applying the rules under AB 2404 will be left to interpretation by the courts. Now that cities have a basis by which they will be held accountable for the non-discriminatory and gender equitable conduct of sports programs, it is important to follow the specific criteria established pursuant to AB 2404 It becomes the role of the attorney to work proactively with the parks and recreation departments of our communities to both educate and implement the requirements established by both state and federal law.

Source: California Park and Recreation Society


Youth Sports Organizations: Six Ways To Increase Accountability, Transparency

Tempting targets

A former Casper, Wyoming youth baseball official accused of writing $6,600 worth of checks to himself from the organization's bank account pleads guilty to embezzlement.

The former president of a youth baseball league in Tewksbury, Massachusetts town is indicted for allegedly stealing over $400,000 from the league. That same day, newspapers in Idaho reported on a youth baseball official pleading guilty to embezzling money from the organization while newspapers in Ohio were reporting on a woman found guilty of duping local businesses out of donations to a Pee Wee football club.

A man is charged with embezzling $16,000 from Michigan youth baseball program even though a background check disclosed one of the two convictions.

Stories of youth sport embezzlement appear in the media on a regular basis. Youth sports organization embezzlers do not discriminate: Football, baseball, cheerleading clubs have all been victimized. In fact, Massachusetts holds the dubious distinction of being the first to give the phrase "soccer mom" a connotation beyond the political context when, back in 1987, a newspaper reported that a Ludlow man had stolen $7,000 from the treasury of a "soccer moms booster club" headed by his wife.

Self-regulation not the answer

In case you haven't noticed, youth sports have become big business, bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees every year. Most youth sports organizations are run like small - and, in some cases, not-so-small -businesses, with officers, boards of directors, bylaws and annual meetings. Yet most operate with virtually no oversight beyond their volunteer boards of directors, and their often lax financial controls make them easy and tempting targets for thieves.

As a result, there is an appalling lack of accountability in youth sports. While the worst offenders seem to be the unregulated so-called "travel" ball programs (which, one commentator recently analogized to the Wild West,with "relatively no laws and no sheriffs"), even local youth sports organizations affiliated with national organizations are not as accountable to the parents and children they supposedly serve as they should be.

As Paolo David writes in his book, Human Rights in Sports:A Critical Review of Children's Rights in Competitive Sports, "Sports organizations have an obligation to protect the rights of young athletes, especially when one of their employees acts unlawfully. They cannot escape their responsibilities by failing to prevent violations or refusing to act upon them. But in practice, due to the tradition of self-policing, paternalism, a fierce resistance to independent criticism and a refusal to accept that sport is not always 'pure' and free from society's problems, the principles of accountability and scrutiny are still inadequately respected by the sporting world, or at best looked upon with suspicion."

So, how can youth sports organizations be more accountable to their"customers" (you and your children)? Here are six ways:

  1. Identify decision makers. In order to hold those who run the show accountable for the "product" they produce, challenge the way they do business, and identify problem organizations, begin by finding out about the structure of the organization, says Barbara Jones, an attorney who specializes in business and corporate law. Does the group operate as a profit or not-for-profit business? Does it have a governing body? Who is accountable or responsible for the decisions made or actions taken? Is it a corporation or a partnership? By going to the website of your state's Secretary of State you can obtain annual reports of profit and not-for-profit corporations, both those incorporated in your state and "foreign" corporations (those registered to do business in your state but incorporated elsewhere) as well as the names of officers and directors. Not-for-profits are also required to register with the state's Attorney General, typically in a division relating to charities, and to file annual reports on their finances and fundraising activities. An organization that hasn't kept current with its annual filings is a red flag that it may be taking short-cuts in other areas, such as player safety, having in place the appropriate insurance in case of negligence etc.

  2.  Parent input. At the local level most youth sports organizations are run like small - and, in some cases, not-so-small - businesses, with officers, boards of directors, bylaws and annual meetings. Yet most operate with virtually no oversight beyond their volunteer boards of directors. Push for the formation of a Parent Advisory Group (PAC) consisting of representative parents with children currently playing in the program to provide the Board of Directors with feedback (both negative and positive) from other parents; the input helps to insure that its decisions are reflective of, and responsive to, a broad cross-section of the youth sports community. Run for a seat on the board. Attend meetings.

  3.  Open meetings. Ask that the mission statement of a youth sports program, its bylaws and the names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses of board members and other officers be publicly available, and that the time and place of board meetings be advertised and open to any parent or concerned individual to attend (even if only to observe). All coaches, including the middle school and high school coaches in that sport, should be encouraged to attend at least one meeting a year.

  4.  Term limits. Like our political leaders, directors, administrators and coaches who become entrenched in a program for years on end tend to put the "blinders" on and may become too comfortable with the status quo. New blood can keep a program fresh and strong. Longtime board members can be given "emeritus" or "ex officio" status.

  5.  Financial accountability. An investigation by the Toronto Star into complaints by parents wanting to know where millions of dollars in player fees were going forced minor hockey clubs in Canada to implement public financial disclosure measures. Public financial disclosure is one way to avoid embezzlement of funds in youth sports organizations. By partnering with credible, well-established online youth sports registration companies, leagues and teams who have a way to track where their money is going.

  6.  Benchmarking. The first step in implementing a public health approach to violence and abuse prevention in youth sports is surveillance: creating a consistent, comparable, and accurate data system that can track the performance of youth sports organizations, their progress in eliminating abuse and towards full inclusion and how they compare against each other. A particularly effective benchmarking tool is the Just Play Behavior Management Program designed by Elaine Raakman, a single Canadian mother of two sports-active children. Game officials are asked to complete a report card after every game rating the overall behavior of the coaches, players and spectators of each team on a 5-point scale (1=very good to 5=very poor) and the official's own personal satisfaction level within the context of the game. The report cards help identify and quantify the variables that contribute to problem behavior within the team sport environment and determine other common elements that might contribute to problem behavior.

Have the courage to speak up!

Most parents in this country want a youth sports system that serves the interests of children. They represent a vast silent majority who just need the courage to stand upand band together to fight those who want to preserve a status quo serving the interests of adults. Perhaps the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association said it best: "Carrying the torch for less pressure and more perspective in youth programs may not be a popular position. Those who demand more games, more wins, more trophies, more travel and more of everything can talk the loudest and sound convincing. It's up to all of us to have the courage to be just as passionate on the side of balance."

Source: Moms Team


Youth Sports Organizations: To Incorporate or to Not Incorporate?

Amateur sports organizations are springing up everywhere. Look around your community. You'll notice young athletes of both sexes from 5 to 18 years of age occupying nearly every baseball diamond, basketball court, football and soccer field, gymnasium, golf course, driving range, ice arena, and swimming pool in sight. If you continue to look, you'll notice new amateur sport's facilities under construction and older facilities being upgraded and expanded. It's abundantly clear: the youth of our nation, and their parents, are turned-on to recreational and competitive amateur sports in a big way.

This enthusiasm for sports has produced large numbers of youth sports clubs staffed by a large number of volunteers. In the United States, there are now more than 100,000 nonprofit, all-volunteer youth sports clubs offering team competition within leagues in nearly every conceivable sports activity. It's not unusual to find some leagues consisting of over 300 individual teams. These youth sports organizations are popular with the kids and their parents. The kids learn valuable sports skills from coaches, many of whom were athletes in high school or college, and some of whom are retired professional athletes. The kids' parents enjoy the social interaction with each other in club volunteer activities and, of course, they raise money for the club, attend the games, and cheer for their kid's team.

While amateur youth sports organizations offer a fun activity for the entire family, the kids quickly become serious competitors urged on by competitive parents, some of whom view their child as a potential professional athlete. But, as competition intensifies, the risk of kids getting injured at practice or during a game increases. The competitive nature of sports activities and the desire to win also affects parental behavior. In recent years, lawsuits have increased at an alarming rate against youth sport's organizations and their organizers. In spite of the occasional "ugly" parent behavior, most parents and their kids enjoy the spirited competition of the games and take winning and losing in stride. Apart from the coaching, playing, and officiating of games, there is, of course, the matter of club organization and operation.

Protecting the Organization and its Volunteers, Staff, and Board of Directors

Contrary to what some may believe, the legal organization and responsibilities of an amateur sports league or team is anything but a "simple" matter. This is especially true when a organization may consist of 10, 50, 100 or more teams. Yet, nevertheless, the vast majority of youth sport's organizations operate as loosely-organized, unofficial "non-profit" volunteer organizations with little awareness of the liability risk to both their organization and to themselves as volunteer members.

In all likelihood, if an operating amateur youth sports organization chooses not to incorporate under state law as a nonprofit corporation, it will be considered an Unincorporated Association. Accordingly, volunteer board members and directors would be jointly and individually liable for unpaid club debts, obligations, and lawsuits.

We have encountered many forms of amateur sports club organization. Some organizations are incorporated under state law as nonprofit corporations. Many of these organizations operate as if they were tax-exempt organizations, although no application for tax exemption was ever filed with the Internal Revenue Service. Still other clubs have not incorporated at all and operate as committees not comprehending that they are legally classified as Unincorporated Associations. Many of these clubs also operate as if they were tax-exempt organizations, although they are not so qualified. Moreover, many of the non-profit incorporated clubs have filed "bare" articles of incorporation lacking liability limiting provisions and qualifying provisions in support of exempt status. Few such organizations, even though incorporated, actually operate as an incorporated entity. And, while most amateur youth sports organizations that we have seen are capably operated by their volunteer staff, very few of these organizations appreciate the potential risk of liability to their volunteers.

Kids Non-Profit USA recommends that your organization protect itself and its volunteers in four ways: (1) by means of incorporation as a non-profit corporation, (2) by requiring adult and children's waivers of liability, (3) by obtaining insurance, and (4) requiring criminal background checks for all volunteers and staff that will be in contact with children.

Non-Profit vs. Tax Exempt

Many sports organization administrators confuse the terms "Non-Profit" and "Tax-Exempt" as being one in the same, when in fact they are not. In short, all tax exempt organizations are non-profits, but not all non-profits are tax exempt. If you have incorporated your non-profit organization in your state, you are then legally classified as a non-profit corporation. However, you are not yet tax exempt. In fact, until you apply for IRS tax exempt status, you are still liable for federal income taxes.

Organizations of all sizes stand to benefit from the additional step of incorporating in their journey to becoming tax exempt. The additional costs and paperwork are minimal compared to the addtional liability protection and peace of mind offered to your volunteers.

Source: Kids Non-Profit USA


Court Affirms Three-Part Title IX Test Applies to High Schools

In a recent decision, Ollier v. Sweetwater Union High School District, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a trial court finding that a public school district intentionally discriminated and retaliated against female athletes on the basis of their sex, violating Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The case is notable for finding that the three-part Title IX test generally applied to higher education entities also applies to high schools. The court also notably rejected the school district's argument that there is no Title IX violation if there are more sports teams for female students at school than male students, even if there are fewer spots occupied by female students at the school.

In Ollier, the court found that female athletes at a high school were supervised by overworked coaches, provided with inferior competition and practice facilities, and received less publicity than male athletes. The court found that there were fewer athletic opportunities for female students as compared to their respective enrollments. The court rejected the school's argument that there were more sports teams for girls than boys at the school, which was an attempt to justify the disparity between opportunity and enrollment. The court explained that the Title IX test requiring substantial proportionality between female athletic participation and enrollment generally applied to colleges and universities also applied to high schools, and that the test focuses on the number of participating athletes, not the number of available spots on girls' teams. The court determined that because the inequalities were the result of systemic administrative failures and the failure to implement policies and procedures to cure the inequities, the school district illegally discriminated against female athletes in violation of Title IX.

The court also found that the school district retaliated against the female athletes by firing the girls' softball coach just a few weeks after the father of two of the athletes complained about the perceived inequalities in the programs. The coach had been warned that he could be fired at any time for any reason, which he understood to be a threat that he would be fired if the female athletes continued to complain. The court explained that coaches are often the best advocates for female athletes and that employment decisions affecting them can negatively impact the athletes.

Source: JD Supra


High School keeps eye on coach-and-player boundaries

West Salem High School administrators say they're keeping a closer eye this year on how coaches interact with students after accusations surfaced that a coach sexually abused an athlete on the girls basketball team.

Parents have raised concerns about whether school officials are doing enough to protect student athletes from possible abuse.

"The main goal is to restore the trust and transparency, safety and healthy communication within the girl's basketball program, the student athletes and the parents," said Ken Phillips, the new principal at West Salem High School.

The Salem-Keizer School District has guidelines that include examples of appropriate and inappropriate behavior between staff and students.

Phillips said he talked to coaches in the summer about how they should interact or communicate with student athletes.

The conversation was meant to not only reinforce those guidelines but in some cases, new rules were put in place.

For example, if coaches send a text or email to an athlete, it should be in a group message and include the athletic director.

Even volunteers are being trained on reporting sexual abuse, expectations for behavior and what signs to look for that could indicate boundaries are being crossed between staff and students.

Some of these expectations, which Phillips said he shared verbally, are specific to the girls basketball team this year.

Team dinners should be held in a public restaurants or at the school and not in private residences. Any social media website about the girls basketball program, administered by a coach, should be shut down.

"I think (a social media page) nurtures some things that does not need to be there," Phillips said. "There's a lot of drama that gets put into that."

He said the expectations about team dinners and social media websites will be revisited at the end of the year.

Phillips said head coaches will also be meeting weekly and the administration will be monitoring communication between coaches and students more closely than they have in the past.

"We're asking parents as well to partner with us," he said. If they see a student sending a text message solely to a coach, he said, the staff wants to know about it.

When asked what the consequences were for not following these rules, Phillips said it was a "personnel decision and I'm not going to share those."

Oregon School Activities Association officials said all personnel matters, including guidelines for appropriate behavior and employment guidelines, are handled by school districts.

Inappropriate staff behavior, under district policy, includes adding students on social networking websites when it's not related to a legitimate educational purpose and discussing personal issues through electronic communication such as text messages. If a student is suspected of having a romantic feeling toward a staff member that should be reported and giving shoulder massages or asking a student for a hug isn't appropriate.

With team-building activities and away games, the relationship between coaches and student athletes can be tricky to navigate.

"(Coaches) are not treating them like they're already adults and you're not behaving like a teenager yourself. That's really what is the backbone of a quality coach is that they understand their role as a mentor, a model and there's no relationship confusion about that. They can still be very caring and very supportive and not cross any of those boundaries," said Kelly Carlisle, the district's director of high school programs.

If a parent or student spots a red flag or gets a creepy feeling, he said, they should report it to a supervisor.

Salem-Keizer employees are required under law to report suspected child abuse to law enforcement or the Department of Human Services.

Carlisle said if parents are concerned their child will be retaliated against because they complain about a coach, they should express that concern when they report the complaint. They can also raise their concerns to more than one administrator, such as the athletic director and the principal.

There are policies, he noted, against retaliation.

"We have to confront that within ourselves. We have to say even more important than that concern is safety," Carlisle said.

Source: Statesman Journal

Editors Note:  It appears that the West Salem High School has the beginnings of a good foundation.  Unfortunately, we can make rules that emails should be "group emails" or social media not be used between coaches and athletes, but there will be those that break the rules - both coaches and athletes.  Almost every coach that "gets caught" knows they've done something wrong, they've broken rules. But the problems continue.  Vigilance is the important key.

Community / Clubs should be settting their own expectations of coaches and athletes also.  This is not a "high school problem"  It's a societal problem.


How Safe Is the Artificial Turf Your Child Plays On?

Soccer coach Amy Griffin was in a Seattle hospital visiting a young goalie who was receiving chemotherapy when a nurse said something that made the hair on Griffin's neck stand up.

It was 2009. Two young female goalies Griffin knew had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Griffin, associate head coach for the University of Washington's women's soccer team, had started to visit the women and other athletes in local hospitals, helping them pass the time during chemo with war stories from her three decades of coaching.

That day, the nurse looked down at the woman Griffin was sitting with and said, "Don't tell me you guys are goalkeepers. You're the fourth goalkeeper I've hooked up this week."

Later, the young woman with the chemo needle in her arm would say, "I just have a feeling it has something to do with those black dots."

Artificial turf fields are now everywhere in the United States, from high schools to multi-million-dollar athletic complexes. As any parent or player who has been on them can testify, the tiny black rubber crumbs of which the fields are made -- chunks of old tires -- get everywhere. In players' uniforms, in their hair, in their cleats.

But for goalkeepers, whose bodies are in constant contact with the turf, it can be far worse. In practices and games, they make hundreds of dives, and each plunge sends a black cloud of tire pellets into the air. The granules get into their cuts and scrapes, and into their mouths. Griffin wondered if those crumbs -- which have been known to contain carcinogens and chemicals -- were making players sick.

"I've coached for 26, 27 years," she said. "My first 15 years, I never heard anything about this. All of a sudden it seems to be a stream of kids."

Since then, Griffin has compiled a list of 38 American soccer players -- 34 of them goalies -- who have been diagnosed with cancer. At least a dozen played in Washington, but the geographic spread is nationwide. Blood cancers like lymphoma and leukemia dominate the list.

No research has linked cancer to artificial turf. Griffin collected names through personal experience with sick players, and acknowledges that her list is not a scientific data set. But it's enough to make her ask whether crumb rubber artificial turf, a product that has been rolled out in tens of thousands of parks, playgrounds, schools and stadiums in the U.S., is safe for the athletes and kids who play on it. Others across the country are raising similar questions, arguing that the now-ubiquitous material, made out of synthetic fibers and scrap tire -- which can contain benzene, carbon black and lead, among other substances -- has not been adequately tested. Few studies have measured the risk of ingesting crumb rubber orally, for example.

The Synthetic Turf Council, an industry group, says that the evidence collected so far by scientists and state and federal agencies proves that artificial turf is safe.

"We've got 14 studies on our website that says we can find no negative health effects," said Dr. Davis Lee, a Turf Council board member. While those studies aren't "absolutely conclusive," he added, "There's certainly a preponderance of evidence to this point that says, in fact, it is safe."

Environmental advocates want the Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Product Safety Commission to take a closer look. While both the CPSC and the EPA performed studies over five years ago, both agencies recently backtracked on their assurances the material was safe, calling their studies "limited." But while the EPA told NBC News in a statement that "more testing needs to be done," the agency also said it considered artificial turf to be a "state and local decision," and would not be commissioning further research.

"There's a host of concerns that are being raised," said Jeff Ruch, executive director of PEER, an environmental watchdog group. PEER has lodged complaints against both agencies. "None have risen to the level of regulatory interest."

Full Article: NBC News