Ginny Gilder: Nine Questions on Title IX

O
n March 3, 1976, the Yale University Womenís Crew Team had finally had enough. Tired of their repeated requests for equal access to facilities being ignored, they decided to take action. So they banded together, scribbled TITLE IX on their bodies under their training sweats, marched into the office of the Yale administrator in charge and proceeded to take off their sweats, as team captain Christ Ernst officially aired their grievances.

They got what they came for. Yale soon relented, giving equal treatment to the men's and women's crew programs. But the naked truth -- and lingering legacy -- of what happened was that a group of female athletes had stood up to years of injustice, empowered by a new piece of legislation. Ginny Gilder, now part of the ownership group of the WNBAís Seattle Storm, was a member of that historic group of rowers. She took a few minutes to answer nine questions on Title IX, as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the landmark legislation.

GilderSeattle Storm co-owner Ginny Gilder
1) When was the first time you heard of Title IX, and what did you think about it?

Gilder: February of 1976 when I was a freshman at Yale. The captain of my team, Chris Ernst, was discussing how we could address this inequity with the University, and brought up Title IX. This was something that would give us some real teeth -- something powerful -- to use, and we could get the University to listen.

2) What were the conditions on the 1976 Yale Womenís Crew team that you felt were unjust?

Gilder: The main boathouse used by both the menís and womenís crew teams at the time was in Derby, Conn., about a 25-minute drive from the University. Now, this was a great location for rowing. It was nice and wide and there wasnít a lot of traffic, so for rowing it was great. But it was a hike from the University, so there was a bus that took us back and forth, both teams. And the thing was, there was only a locker room and toilets for the men. At the time, for them, it was a great setup. We had, I think, out back, like one toilet, but no place to get changed or shower. There was a trailer with like four small showers, but the University and the town couldnít work out the logistics, so even that wasnít available. Now, something you need to realize is, this is winter time up in Yale and when you are rowing, you are getting very wet, from both sides. By that, I mean you are sweating, getting wet that way, and then with the backsplash from the oars, or if the boat rocks, you get wet that way too. So, combine the cold weather, and the being soaking wet, and after practice you want to go in, use the facilities, dry off and get back to campus. But the guys were in the locker room, while we were waiting outside, in the bus, wet and cold. We were waiting on the bus to get back to campus to use proper facilities.One of our teammates, Anne Warren, who medaled in the 1976 Olympics, got pneumonia. It was rough, and completely unfair.

3) When the team began discussing a protest, were you afraid of repercussions?

Gilder: There were people who considered it, who chose not be a part of the protest for those very reasons. Now, for me, I was young, a freshman, and really, really looked up to our captains, Chris and Anne, who were upperclassmen. They were so adamant. It was unfair and it was obvious, so I guess, being young, I didnít really give too much weight to any possible repercussions. It was the principle.

4) What role did you play in the protest?

I was a loud, obnoxious face in the crowd.
Gilder: I was just at the beginning of my student career and rowing, and it wasnít like at that time I was considered one of the great rowers. I was good, not great, just a young member of the team, but I guess you could say my role was as a willing participant. I was a loud, obnoxious face in the crowd.

5) Were you happy with the results of the team's actions?

Gilder: I was proud of what we had done, and satisfied. The University listened and built an addition to the boat house. We stood up for ourselves and they heard us.

6) What's your view on the impact of the 1976 Yale Crew team on women's athletics?

Gilder: What I would have said a few months ago would be different than what I would say now. I just found out that after our protest, Coach Harry Parker from Harvard, said his administration came to him and said that they wanted to be sure that a similar inequity between the menís and womenís teams wasnít happening at Harvard. And when I think that what we did then caused other Universityís to act accordingly, thatís something that Iím very proud of, very happy about.

7) How did your experience with the 1976 Yale Crew team shape your future?

Gilder: Well, itís probably not a tremendous coincidence that Iím now part of the ownership group of the Seattle Storm of the WNBA. Like I said, I was a young kid on that team, and after the protest I learned an important lesson: Donít take no for an answer. Donít let people tell you your dreams canít come true. And I applied that first, athletically, where I wouldnít take no for answer when naysayers said I would never medal in rowing at the Olympics. I become feisty and tough as a result of that experience and it propelled me forward, first in athletics and later in my life after athletics.

The WNBA built windows where there used to be walls.

8) What role does the WNBA play in creating opportunities for girls and women?

Gilder: All you have to do is listen to the young women who just got drafted into the WNBA this season, and there is your answer. None of them even remember a world without the WNBA. Itís always been there for them as an inspiration, as something they can strive for and fight for and thatís something you cannot possibly put a price on. My daughter played Division 1 soccer and she asked, ďWhen will there be a pro womenís soccer league, like the WNBA for basketball.Ē And thatís the role the WNBA has played, when I was a young female athlete it was a fantasy that you could play in a pro womenís league, and now itís a dream. Thatís a big difference. The WNBA built windows where there used to be walls.

9) Now that the country is celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Title IX, what do you think is the next big hurdle?

Gilder: I think the next shift is a cultural one. We need to expand on what weíve built to the point where we all recognize the validity of womenís professional sports. We are not yet fully celebrating the beauty and power and grace of what women do athletically. And itís not just about the professional athletes. How many young girls are out there playing basketball today? Hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, and only a small, small percentage will ever reach the pro ranks. But whatís important is that all those players can come to an arena with their family and have fun and connect with female athletes performing on the floor. Thatís the real value in all this and that should be a goal for all of us.

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