Female Athletes Must Be Treated Equally, ACLU Tells Local Schools

February 14, 2011

DETROIT – The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan sent a letter today to the Downriver League (DRL) urging the athletic conference to immediately repeal an illegal policy that treats girls’ high school basketball less favorably than boys’ basketball. In violation of federal law, the policy reduces the number of referees for girls’ basketball while retaining the number of referees for boys’ basketball.

“By treating student-athletes differently based on gender, the Downriver League is sending a troubling message to our young people that girls’ are inferior and are therefore less valuable,” said Jessie Rossman, ACLU of Michigan staff attorney. “Our kids deserve equal treatment and the law requires it. It’s vital that the league correct this issue before the season ends.”

Due to budget concerns, DRL announced at the start of the season that it would reduce the number of officials for girls’ basketball to two while keeping the number of boys’ basketball officials at three.

Since then, Katie McFadden, Melvindale High School girls’ varsity basketball coach, has campaigned against the policy ultimately convincing two schools, Melvindale High School and Southgate Anderson High School in the league that the new policy is illegal and discriminatory. The Downriver League is comprised of 10 high schools in the downriver area.

“My girls practice as hard and work as hard and are being taught that they just don’t measure up,” said McFadden. “As coaches, it’s our job to teach our student-athletes about fairness and respect for others and the game. I’m troubled by the lessons this policy teaches the girls and boys in our league.”

In its letter, the ACLU of Michigan reminded the league that under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, they must provide equal opportunities for boys and girls in athletics. Title IX also instructs schools that “the availability, quality and kinds of benefits, opportunities and treatment afforded members of both sexes” must be equal.

This discriminatory policy is not only a clear violation of Title IX, wrote the ACLU, but also sends a damaging message to students that female athletes are second class citizens. In addition, the policy flies in the face of standards set by the Michigan High School Athletic Association for tournament games, which mandate three referees. Finally, it is clear that three referees can call a better game because they are able to position themselves more strategically to see each play.

The ACLU wrote, “It is unfair and illegal to balance the athletic budget at the expense of female athletes only. We are certain that DRL wants to comport with federal anti-discrimination laws. We feel equally confident that the DRL wants to foster a sense of equality and strength amongst all of its students. In the interest of gender equity, and in order to comply with Title IX, we strongly advise you to assign the same number of referees to the girls’ games as you do to the boys’ games beginning this week.”

Read our letter telling the Downriver League to respect female athletes (pdf)

Read more about the ACLU of Michigan's work defending women's rights
 

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