Reflections on Social Change in Women's Sports

Tuti Scott - Tuesday, August 06, 2013

To change the behaviors, policies and engagement on a topic or issue takes time. One need only to look at movements such as labor, health care, voting, and sports to see the length of time it has taken for change to occur. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, the 40th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, and the 41st anniversary of Title IX. 

I had a front row seat for the women’s sports movement and am so excited to see the recent work of ESPNW in crafting the Nine for IX stories showcasing the issues, leaders, and barrier breakers of the movement. Most people inside sport probably wouldn't call the women's rights advances in sports a ;movement. Sometimes, we are “too close to the forest to see the trees”, but it is clear that some changes exhibit linear growth. For instance, girls sports participation has ebbed from a trickle to a fire hose. In 1972 only 294,000 girls played high school sports; today that figure is 3.2 million. Prior to the Title IX amendment, only one out of every twenty-seven girls played high school sports, only two percent of college athletic budgets were for female college athletes and there was not an availability of college scholarships for women. Now, one out of every 2.5 high school girls play sports, women receive 28% of college athletic budgets and 42% of college athletic scholarship dollars (Athletics under Title IX, 2013).

But progress has been uneven or non-existent on many fronts like employment of female coaches and administrators and exploding the myths still used to justify greater support of male sports and advanced through a media ‘circus’ on various issues and events. Like other social justice movements the public advances of the women’s sports movement from the 1972 passage of Title IX to today is a story of repeated struggles for acceptance and recognition.  In 1995, CBS Sportscaster Ben Wright announced that Laura Davies boobs got in the way of her golf swing and impressive drives on the LPGA tour.   Eight years later in 2003 Annika Sorenstam took on the men at the Bank of America Colonial PGA tour stop amidst thousands of “Go Annika” buttons and the grumbles of only two male pro golfers. What a huge sea change from the 1973 Billie Jean King versus Bobby Riggs “Battle of the Sexes” which had divided a nation. 

 In 2000, sports media was abuzz with Tiger Woods seeking six consecutive wins on the PGA tour, but hardly heralded the fact that Karrie Webb had won 18 events in her first four years on the LPGA tour, finishing in the top three in 41 of 101 events. Track phenom Marion Jones is still the only athlete (male or female) to serve jail time for use of steroids (and she served while she was a new mother!).  No male athlete who has admitted such use has ever served a day in jail.And what was the ridiculous media focus on Brandi Chastain taking her shirt off (a soccer celebratory ritual) after scoring the winning goal in the 1999 World Cup in a sold out Rose Bowl.  We could go on and on. Female athletes are sexualized, sensationalized or coverage is non-existent in the sport media. Race horses and dog racing get more coverage in newspaper and total newspaper coverage of women’s sports is less than 2% of the total sports coverage!

The one element that remains unchanged is the persistence of those men and women who initiated the women’s equity movement in sport. Their passion for social justice has not dimmed. And it is this persistent effort and commitment over time that now and again results in celebratory moments, memorable in their power and packed with emotion.  A high five to ESPNW and Robin Roberts for producing and airing the Nine for IX television series this year.  Nine stories have been released, depicting an incredible portrayal of the vocal leaders who went up against the stereotyping of women, the injustices of pay or access, the harassment by the media and more.  

The faces and stories brought to life (Venus Williams, Pat Summitt, Sheryl Swoopes, etc.) remind us of the decades of persuasion, conversation, and influence it takes for equity to take hold and stand tall.  Each of these voices spoke truth to those in power and eventually they were heard by the general public despite their efforts on and off the court being virtually ignored or mis-portrayed by the media.  Download the Title IX ESPNW shows on iTunes to witness the heroism of these women and the lessons we can learn from them individually. They are examples of what happens when good people persist over time in their efforts to achieve social justice. Their stories inspire all of us.More important, they show that working on social justice issues may take decades of labor and effort and often result in successful social change movements.Onward!

Appreciating the Value of Marketing

Tuti Scott - Monday, November 15, 2010

Amidst the political banter, I would imagine that there is consensus on one thing;  there are far too many great organizations going unnoticed.  I call them diamonds in the rough.  Meanwhile there are thousands of folks who need their services and funders who would appreciate their smart work.  How do we resolve this issue in the philanthropic community and inspire donors to invest in marketing and technology?  

Everyone knows that a business spends a tremendous amount of money bringing their product to market.  They do focus groups, create brand profiles, build marketing plans for several audiences, and use a myriad of avenues to promote their product.  For a nonprofit, it is challenging to get a funder who understands that 1.  Spending money on marketing will make money, 2. Doing marketing is imperative for success, 3. Nonprofits are a business with customers, and 4.  Smart branding, media relations, and marketing is not cheap.  

Time and again at the Women’s Sports Foundation we struggled to fundraise for dollars that would pay for consulting help for a marketing plan or to underwrite promotional pieces about the programs.  We would build the costs into the annual budget to do marketing events, hire public relations firms, pay for print materials, etc. and always, when budget challenges arose, this was the place that was cut first.

Thankfully, the work we did was not so edgy or radical that corporations were willing to step up and carry the logo or message on their packaging.  This helped build the visibility of the organization for sure.  But it took a sophisticated donor who agreed to release some of her endowed gift to help update the organization’s brand, messaging, and website; an organization’s most important marketing platform.  I promised her we would return the funds to the endowment within a year because the new look and website would build shareholder confidence.   Donors had made it clear the image did not match the level of excellence of the organization.  As a former corporate marketing executive, she got it.  And yes, within a year we did repay the $300,000 to the endowment.

I know that some of you are thinking – wow, $300,000 seems like a huge sum of money!   But guess what, that is what it costs to do it right!  Recently I had lunch with Jason Franklin, the Executive Director of Bolder Giving, a great next generation mind and spokesperson for what I am calling the “generosity movement”.  He and his organization have a three year history of providing quality resources for giving and, with a recent matching gift from Gates Foundation, they are investing wisely in marketing. 

The investment Bolder Giving is making in a branding consultant, social media coach, and web development and media relations teams has paid off.  The organization was named or referred to every other week in the Chronicle of Philanthropy for three consecutive months and they are well on their way to meeting their fundraising goal with a dollar-for-dollar match by the Gates Foundation. 

Jason is engaging regularly with writers from more than 50 philanthropic outlets and, in so doing, is building public engagement on ‘what is enough?’ and making bolder gifts.  “We have made an investment of more than 25% of our budget on media, web, and communications and we know this is already paying off with increased interest and investment in the work,” says Jason.  

Suffice it to say, the next generation gets it.  The challenge is convincing some of the longer standing or smaller organizations Boards and funders that this is important.  

For additional resources on branding and use of social media check out Beth's Kanter's Blog, Big Duck, Non-Profit Marketing Guide and  Non-Profit Marketing and Fundraising Zone


International Women's Sports Themes

Tuti Scott - Friday, May 21, 2010


This post is shared with gratitude to the smart women from Wellesley who did this fabulous summary of what is happening at the International Women's Sports conference we are attending.  I had dinner with Sarah and Lindsay last night and enjoyed their quick minds and passion! Here is their post which lives on the blog - FairGameNews.com

By Sarah Odell and Lindsay Rico

Have you ever considered access to athletics a human right? Do you wonder why it it matters for women to play sports? And, what the heck is Netball?

These are a few of the questions being put forth at the Fifth World Conference on Women & Sport. Some 500 people from 60 countries have made their way Down Under to Sydney, Australia to examine the implications — and complications — facing the worldwide women’s athletic community.

The four-day conference is raising challenging issues, but there is already one overwhelming response: Women’s access to sports is more than just a game.  FairGameNews.com is on site and blogging (watch for Q&A’s with key leaders coming up).

While female athletes (and would-be female athletes) may face particular barriers in their home nations, it is striking how much about the nature of the struggle for access, equity, and support are common across the globe. Some big themes:

– SPORT IS POWER: Women’s access to sport is not just a privilege, but  a right. This has been recognized in official declarations for years, but increasingly, this is not just about fitness, health, and the right to control one’s body, but about the political, economic and social tools that come as part of involvement in sports and sports culture.

– EQUITY IN SPORT IS A PUBLIC MATTER: Governments DO have an interest and a role to play in seeking — even regulating — gender equity in sports, several presenters have suggested. And one — Kate Ellis, Australian Minister of Sport — is actually taking action. She announced at the conference that her government would track and publish the gender make-up of sports governing boards and compile a Women in Sport Register to counter men who say they can’t find any qualified women to fill leadership roles. “If it’s really that hard for sport to go out there and find these women, then I’m prepared to work with them to do it,” she said.

– WOMEN’S SPORTS ARE MISSING FROM THE MEDIA: Female athletes around the globe are poorly covered and represented in the print and TV coverage (several studies showed a reproducibly predictable breakdown or representation: 80% men; 10% women; 10% other – horse racing typically gets more coverage than women, several speakers noted). What’s more, researchers say it hasn’t gotten any better in the past 30 years. As a result, said Toni Bruce, PhD, “we are teaching girls to be happy watching boys [play sports] and  teaching boys that they don’t have to watch girls [play sports].”



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Tuti Scott is a thought leader on women's philanthropy, leadership, and social change. These are her ideas...

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