They take it for granted: Good!

April 05, 1996|By Ellen Goodman

WASHINGTON -- On any Wide World of Sports scale, I weigh in as sports-orexic. The sound of football on television strikes my ear like a nail across a blackboard. I can't pick Marcus Camby out of a superstar lineup. I don't even use sports metaphors.

So how is it possible that I spent two nights last weekend with my game face on, watching the NCAA Women's Final Four basketball tournament? Who was this woman tuned to ESPN, counting fouls, cheering at turnovers and analyzing point guards?

Well, a funny thing happened during my winter sojourn at Stanford. I became a fan.

I wish I could say it was only because of the quality game played by the university team that made it to the Final Four in a tournament that was finally won by Tennessee. I wish I could say it was just the athleticism of Kate Starbird, who shoots like her name, or the leadership of Jamila Wideman, who plays the court like a conductor, or the aggressive intensity of Vanessa Nygaard.

But that was only part of it. Frankly, I was converted the moment I entered Maples Pavilion for my first-ever women's basketball game and saw a house full of students screaming and a scruffy band playing. For women athletes.

I was hooked when I sat down next to a 9-year-old girl with a Stanford Women's Basketball cap and sweat shirt. She could recite names of the players as if they were a rock group. I was delighted by the sight of women cheerleaders doing cartwheels for women players, my first long look at boyfriends and brothers rooting crazily for the success of these sisters.

This is old news to those who have watched college women's basketball emerge into the big time. Old news to the young players who are impatiently waiting for the bigger time -- for parity or even pro ball.

But as a woman old enough to be the mother of these players, I brought to my first season a generational delight. Not the delight of a university alumna, but that of a loyal alumna of the changes that brought these strong and talented women to star status.

When I was in college, sex discrimination was not just rampant; it was legal. Title 9 didn't pass until 1972 and the seminal sports event of the early women's movement wasn't the Final Four, but -- I blush to remember -- the 1973 tennis match between star Billie Jean King and hack Bobby Riggs.

My generation operated on the belief that if we built it, they would come. If we made way for opportunities of all kinds, the next generation would grab the ball and run.

A new playing field

Every woman who played in Charlotte, North Carolina, last weekend was born after Title 9 had changed, if not yet leveled, the playing field. They are the next generation that mine counted on.

And they take it for granted.

It is a near-ritual of my peers to feel unappreciated. Veterans of earlier fights will tell you that the young women today have no idea of our struggle. On campus, I met teachers who sounded like grumpy parents talking about children who ''take it for granted.''

I say, ''Good.''

After all, we don't pay homage to our foremothers every time we vote. Nor does every African American feel grateful when he sits at the front of the bus. We do not require a pregame nod of appreciation or a halftime dedication to the elders without whom this game would not be taking place. Those who are involved in social movements should long for the day when that change is taken for granted. That's the day, surely, when it's irrevocable.

If I could share one experience with the younger generation it wouldn't be a war story. It would be the experience of pride and connection -- a kind of parenthood -- that can eventually come to those who are part of a large movement for change.

In an era of individualism, that may be real news. Today, when they are off the court and beyond the campus, most young people are told that they are on their own. They must make it on their own. They will succeed and fail on their own. But from my spectator's seat there is much to be said for teamwork. Take it from a fan.

Ellen Goodman is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 4/05/96

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