Geena Davis Statement on Title IX

Speech by Geena Davis at a public hearing of the Commission on Opportunity in Athletics on Nov. 20, as transcribed by the Women's Sports Foundation.

My name is Geena Davis. I am an actor, mother and amateur athlete.

My interest in Title IX stems from personal experience:

When I accepted the lead role in A League of Their Own, I had to learn to play baseball. My various coaches � all pros � told me that I was a �natural.� Up until then, I really had no idea that I could excel in sports. Let�s just say my limited childhood experiences did not convince me to pursue a basketball career, no matter how tall I was.

I subsequently trained in fencing, horseback-riding, ice-skating, pistol-shooting and tae kwon do for other films � all of which I learned well enough to make my characters, at least, look proficient in them. Clearly, I had some untapped athletic ability! So, at the age of 41, I decided to try my hand at archery. With intensive training I got good enough to eventually win the California Gold Cup, and qualified to compete in the Olympics trials for the 2000 team, placing 24th.

Becoming an athlete has changed my life utterly. The personal rewards have been so profound; I can only wonder what my life would have been like had I played sports as a girl. Yet so many women and girls never experience anything like it. Thirty years after the law was enacted, they still have not received the promise of Title IX � and one of my personal goals is to see that girls know their rights and get to play.

Now, I am not here today to encourage the Office of Civil Rights to enforce the law. This is your responsibility, and to do otherwise is to fail in your duty to the public. You know that and don�t need me to remind you.

I am not here to ask you to remember that Title IX does not require athletic programs to eliminate men�s sports to fund women�s teams. You know that and don�t need me to remind you.

I am not here to point out that millions more girls are playing sports since Title IX was enacted � and thousands more boys as well. You know that and don�t need me to remind you.

I am here to take you for a short ride in Thelma and Louise�s car � if you think it�s fair and just and right to limit a girl�s opportunity to play sports based on her response to an interest survey.

You don�t have to be an academic researcher to know that if faced with the question, �Are you interested in participating in sports?� most boys in our society would feel compelled to answer �yes.�

They�ve been raised with the idea that �real men play sports.� It is perceived as a component of manhood. They�ve been encouraged from the first time they saw a ball.

Some girls will respond with the same level of interest as boys. They grew up in families able to pay for their participation in youth sports, and they were encouraged to play.

On the other hand, many girls, when asked about their interest in sports, will respond with little or no enthusiasm. Maybe their mothers didn�t play sports; they may not have had athletic female role models. Maybe their families didn�t encourage them to play, or couldn�t afford to pay for it. Or maybe these girls fear that they will be labeled �masculine� � or at least, not a �real woman.� These girls know the answer they�re supposed to give, and it�s not, �I�d like to be a baseball player.�

Interest surveys are simply mirrors of what we have taught our children. They reflect all of our stereotypes � all of our fears.

Picture this: you administer an interest survey to all girls in any school. The next day, Julie Foudy and Cynthia Cooper come to tell the girls how much fun it is to play; they tell them how it�s affected their self-confidence, health and success. Then Julie and Cynthia assure these girls that they will be offered the same chances to excel in sports as the boys they know. You administer your interest survey again. The results will be different, I promise you.

As the mother of a seven-month-old daughter (and Stuart Little, I might add), let me assure you that every father and mother is watching what you do. We want our daughters to be treated with the same fairness, concern, respect and encouragement as our sons, whether it�s in the classroom or on the playing field.

The benefits to society of girls saying yes to sports are too great to take a step backwards now. We want them to have the undisputed positive effects of playing � like better body image and self regard, like diminished drug use and teen pregnancy. You know that and don�t need me to remind you.

But that�s what I came here to do, all the same.

Now where did I get the confidence to share my beliefs and convictions without hesitation? From sports � you know that.